Written by Writer’s Corps member Carrie Manner
Pop culture has a bad habit of presenting stalking as normal dating behavior. Rom-coms and popular TV series feature lovable underdogs fumbling in their quest for love as they study their crush, join the same activities, ask around about them, and coordinate “coincidental” meetups. If the object of their affection doesn’t instantly fall for them, they’re seen as playing “hard to get” and efforts to win them over get ramped up. Through these unrealistic depictions of “love,” viewers are socialized to perceive these grand gestures as romantic and suitors “are socialized to be persistent,” University of Michigan professor, Julie Lippman told the Huffington Post.
IRL, these actions are often unwelcome, unwanted, and downright creepy. When partners try these grand gestures it’s easy to confuse their actions with intense love since “we’re taught that we should want this” from a partner said Lippman. But stalking is less about love and more about obsession and control. To complicate matters further, most stalkers or someone who repeatedly harasses or threatens another person are people you already know. According to Stalking Resource Center, 61% of women and 44% of men have been stalked by a current or former intimate partner.
If you haven’t already, check out our article It’s Not Cute, It’s Stalking to learn the basic warning signs of stalking. Then learn about additional signs below to help you determine if you’re being stalked by a former or current partner.
You Get Hang-up Calls and Messages from Unknown Contacts
Are you receiving calls from blocked numbers who hang up or breathe into the phone until you disconnect? Is your current or former SO keeping tabs on you through email, texts and DM’s on social media? If this is happening to you (and you’re sure it’s not a prank) then it may be cause for alarm. Stalking is more common than you may think, it affects 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men in their lifetime. People experiencing stalking are often cautioned not to ignore their stalker however, psychologist Kris Mohandie told NBC that “this doesn’t work with stalkers who are already violating the boundaries of normal behavior.” Instead, he recommends you remain alert and avoid engaging your stalker directly. Inform key people if you feel unsafe and increase security measures such as locks, alarms and security cameras.
They’re Always Driving By
It’s never okay for anyone to continually drive by your house, school, or work when you’ve explicitly asked them not to. A stalker may try to convince you that they’re only “checking in” to make sure you’re safe but in reality, it’s part of their obsession. If your partner continues to check on you, or you notice they’re driving past your house even after you’ve asked them to stop, this could be cause for alarm. What may appear as heartfelt admiration can feel overwhelming and intimidating to you later on. If you notice someone actively circling your neighborhood and/or following you, it may be time to get the authorities involved.
They Obtain Info On You Before You Provide it
Does your current or potential SO ask you questions that make you feel like you’re being interrogated? For example, are they asking about your schedule? Or your exes? Being interested in you is one thing, but a potential stalker’s aim is to know everything. You do not owe your SO information about your whereabouts or details about the people you’ve dated in the past. If someone continually pries on you or asks your friends for details you won’t provide, this may be a precursor to more intensified behaviors. If this is happening to you, please visit our real-time resources to get help.
They Use Gifts to Make up for Obsessive Behavior
Let’s face it, accepting gifts can be flattering, but it’s a hallmark move stalkers use to gain their target’s affection. Accepting gifts from someone may not seem like an issue at first, however, experts say stalkers will do anything to gain attention and elicit a response from the person they’re pursuing. Any response you give a potential stalker can be misinterpreted as interest in them or interest in continuing an unhealthy relationship.
They Have a Sixth Sense About When You Leave
Does your SO have a “sixth sense” about your whereabouts whenever you stray from your normal routine? No, they aren’t “gifted,” they’re likely using a tracking app or spyware to cyberstalk you. Everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to sharing their whereabouts with their partner. In a healthy relationship, couples are able to come to a happy medium that makes both partners comfortable with how much they share. If your partner does not respect your comfort level or worse violates it by resorting to apps to track your location than it may be time to exit the relationship. Tracking you in this way has nothing to do with being considerate or attentive and everything to do with needing to have control. If you’re concerned about your safety, please contact the authorities. And if you suspect you are being cyberstalked, there are a few precautions you could take to protect yourself:
- Change the password of apps, emails, and social media accounts
- Turn off the location on all apps
- Erase your browser history
- Monitor your bank account
- Factory reset your phone to get rid of spyware
- Set up an Emergency SOS on your phone
For more tips on tech safety, check out Techsafety.org to learn more.
They Damage Property and Threaten You
Your SO’s behavior has become increasingly obsessive. Not only do they NEED to know where you are all the time but they’re showing up to your home unannounced when you’ve asked them not to. They aren’t respecting you or your boundaries and so you have no other choice but to end the relationship. You feel sad but relieved until you wake up the next morning to find your car tires slashed. According to Protection Against Stalking (PAS), two-thirds of stalkers commit property damage. Feeling they’ve lost the relationship, many stalkers resort to fear tactics to regain power and control. According to PAS, “Property damage may be associated with rage and a wish to undermine your belief in a safe environment.” Experts say this kind of behavior often precedes physical attacks. Should you discover any type of damage- a smashed window, spray-painted message, or a slashed tire etc.- take photos and immediately contact the authorities to get the incident on record.
Also, keep in mind that threatening behavior does not have to be physical. Using explicit photos to blackmail a partner is a common theme in abusive relationships. Contact the authorities if a stalker attempts to manipulate you by releasing sensitive information.
They Attack Your Reputation
Some would lead you to believe an ex that trash-talks you, spreads rumors, or attacks you in online posts still loves you and wants you back. In reality, this person is trying to provoke you through unhealthy, attention-grabbing behaviors to maintain a sense of control. “According to Reputation Defender, an online reputation management company “Online stalkers may try to coerce you into doing what they want by publishing defamatory, malicious information or private, personal data that can hurt your online reputation, your relationships and your professional career.” They recommend these digital hygiene tips to prevent stalking online:
- Using nonsuggestive screen names
- Remove personal information from social media profiles
- Remove your personal information from People Finder Sites ie Spokeo, People Smart
- Never give out personal information such as phone numbers or physical addresses
- Document incoming correspondence, including emails and instant messages
What to Do if You’re Being Stalked
Experts say intimate partner stalkers repeatedly approach their target before their behavior escalates. If you suspect your ex or SO is stalking you there are a few definitive steps you can take to protect yourself:
o Trust Your Gut – If your current or former SO’s behavior makes you feel unsafe for any reason then it may be time to exit the relationship. Expert criminology at California State University at Bakersfield, Dr. Doris M. Hall told the New York Times, when it comes to stalking ”you have a better chance of putting a stop to it if you don’t give it a chance to accelerate.”
o Don’t Rationalize the Stalking Behavior – Many people make excuses for their ex or SO’s actions because they believe their stalker is acting from a place of love or a past wound, such as a childhood trauma. It’s important to understand that you will not be able to “fix” or bargain with someone who is stalking you. Their behavior alone is proof that they lack personal boundaries and respect. You need to be firm and protect yourself.
o Keep the Evidence – Stalking can be difficult to prove legally so gather as much evidence as possible, this could include phone records, screenshots, photos of damages and witness accounts, in case you need to take legal action.
o Alert Others –Talk to friends, family, your employer and professors about your stalker if you are concerned that they will show up at your home, campus or job unannounced.
o Connect with an Advocate – Stalking Victims Sanctuary is a nonprofit that offers resources for people being stalked. Other valuable resources include Womenslaw.org and the Stalking Resource Center.
o Stalking Safety Plan – Create a plan to keep you out of dangerous situations with your stalker. Click here to learn more about safety planning.
o Contact Law Enforcement – Get the authorities involved as early as possible to make sure your stalker is on their radar.
If you believe you’re being stalked, do not panic. There are ways you can empower yourself to keep you and your loved ones safe. Keep a record of their harassment until you have enough evidence to take legal action. For immediate help, contact the Stalking Resource Center or call 800-FYI-CALL (800-394-2255) Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST. And for more tips and facts from the experts, check out our top 5 picks for resources on stalking.