From “Facebook stalking” to Twilight: Stalking is NOT Romantic
Written by: Tanisha Barker, Awareness & Prevention Staff CCS
Our culture normalizes stalking. We joke about “Facebook stalking”, movies portray stalking behaviors as romantic, and narratives about relationships communicate that it’s okay or even expected for a person to repeatedly or constantly contact and follow someone as a response to unrequited love or a break up.
Stalking is none of these things; it’s not a joke and it’s not romantic. In fact, stalking isn’t just annoying or not okay—it’s incredibly dangerous. 76% of women murdered by an intimate partner were stalked first and 85% of women who survived murder attempts were stalked. 54% of femicide victims reported stalking to the police before they were killed by their stalkers. Survivors of stalking often experience anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, personality changes and other trauma-related responses. Some stalking survivors also experience the financial strains of missed work and even having to move in response to being stalked.
January is National Stalking Awareness Month and we at Canyon Creek Services want to ensure that the communities we serve know what stalking is, how dangerous it can be and how to help individuals who have experienced stalking.
So, what exactly is stalking?
Stalking is defined as two or more behaviors directed at a specific person that causes them to feel fear or emotional distress. Stalking is a crime in all 50 United States and many countries around the world. Even if the behavior itself isn’t illegal (such as sending someone a text or coming to their house) in the context of stalking, it is illegal. Stalking can look like:
Unwanted contact in person or through other means (call, text, email, online messaging, letters, unwanted gifts, etc.)
Following you or waiting at your home, work, school, etc.
Tracking you using technology (like GPS, apps, or hidden cameras)
Threatening to hurt you or damaging your property
Spreading rumors and sharing (or threatening to share) intimate pictures of you
Harassing/threatening those close to you (family, friends, coworkers, pets)
Gathering information by going through your trash, searching the internet or public records, or contacting those close to you
Essentially, stalking is an abusive tactic where one person attempts to exert power and control over another person either directly or indirectly. Behaviors that may seem innocent to an outsider may actually be threatening and dangerous to the person experiencing them. For example, a person’s ex may have a gift delivered to their place of work. This act can seem innocent or even romantic, but continuing to contact someone after a break up is sending a message of power: their ex knows where they work and believes they alone can override the decision to end the relationship.
Research shows that people are usually stalked by someone they know such as a current or former intimate partner. 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men have experienced stalking at some point in their lives. Stalking often correlates with intimate partner violence and can occur before, during, or after a relationship has ended. Perpetrators who are intimate partners or past partners are more likely to use weapons, make and follow through on threats, be repeat offenders, and physically harm or murder the victim.
The first step to stopping stalking is to call it what it is: dangerous and abusive. If you see movies or TV shows portraying stalking as romantic or harmless, call it out by having a conversation with your friends and family. If you see someone engaging in stalking behaviors, consider telling them that what they’re doing is unhealthy and not okay as long as it is safe to do so. Above all else, support all survivors by believing them and validating the seriousness of the abuse they’ve experienced. Together, we can work to change the harmful social norms surrounding stalking.
How do I support someone if they’re being stalked?
Believe them. Listen to what they have to say and don’t downplay or excuse what’s happening to them. Say things like, “I’m here for you”, “You don’t deserve that”, or “I’m sorry this happened to you”.
Take the behavior seriously. Don’t minimize their experience, and express your concern for their safety if they don’t appear to realize the severity of what is happening. Don’t share information about them with the stalker.
Remind them that it’s not their fault. No matter the situation, the stalking is never their fault, even if they feel like it is. Everyone deserves to feel safe and respected.
Encourage them to call or text the Canyon Creek Services 24/7 hotline or contact us yourself: 435.233.5732. An advocate can help develop a safety plan, file a stalking injunction or protective order and offer whatever resources and support are needed.
Help document each stalking incident and develop a safety plan. The Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Center has tools on how to help. Please keep in mind that a trained advocate at Canyon Creek Services can also help you or them with documenting stalking and making a safety plan.
Respect their choices. Regardless of how they respond to the stalking or whether or not they get help, check up on them regularly and let them know you’re there for them.
Canyon Creek Services (CCS) provides free and confidential services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Iron, Beaver and Garfield counties. Services include emergency shelter, crisis intervention, information and referral, court and medical advocacy, mental health services, housing advocacy, safety planning and more. Help is available via the 24-hour hotline 435-233-5732 (call or text). CCS also provides awareness, education and prevention services in order to achieve our vision of “Communities Free of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.” For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.