Stalking

What Is Stalking?

The Department of Justice defines stalking as “a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.”

Stalking can include the following behaviors:

  • Repeated, unwanted communications via phone, mail, email, or social media
  • Leaving or sending someone unwanted items, presents, or flowers
  • Following someone
  • Waiting for someone at their school, work, or home
  • Damaging or threatening to damage property
  • Threats to harm someone or the people they know
  • Defaming someone's character by posting and/or spreading rumors in public, on the internet, or by word of mouth

Perpetrators can also stalk survivors through the use of technology.

Cyberstalking can include:

  • Persistently sending unwanted communication through the internet
  • Posting threatening or personal information about someone (including private photographs)
  • Spreading rumors on the internet about someone
  • Installing video cameras that give access to someone’s personal life
  • Using a tracking system to monitor someone without their knowledge
  • Using someone’s computer to track their activity

If you or someone you know is being stalked, find out what to do.

Safety Tips

  • Vary your physical daily routes and routines  
  • Change your locks and install security devices 
  • Instruct your school or place of work not to disclose your contact information 
  • Keep a log of all stalking incidents including date, time, location, what happened, and any witnesses who may have been present. A standard stalking log sheet can be found here.
  • Photograph evidence of trespassing, property damage, or unwanted gifts  
  • If you receive an order of protection, provide a copy to your school or place of work and keep a copy on you at all times  
  • Create a Technology Safety Plan
    • Do not share your passwords or account information with others 
    • Do an internet search of your name to see what personal information about you is available online and notify a site’s webmaster to request any information be removed
    • Disable apps and websites from automatically tracking your location and be mindful of posting public content that may reveal where you are (ex: listing your location on Social Media posts) 
    • If possible, preserve unwanted digital contact in its original form (voicemails, text conversations, messaging platforms, social media posts, etc.) rather than as recordings or screenshots. However, screenshots are at times the only option

Intersections with Other Forms of Sexual Violence

Often overlooked is the link between stalking and (power based) violence. Stalking is a crime that is often co-perpetrated with other crimes, including intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Stalking is often used as an extension of power and control and may occur before, during or after the relationship ends, or both. Research supports a connection between stalking and sexual assault – both pre- and post-assault. 

  • 81% of survivors who were stalked by a current or former partner had been physically assaulted by that partner 
  • 57% of intimate partner stalking survivors reported being stalked before the relationship ended 
  • 2% of stalking survivors are assaulted by their stalker, but 31% of women stalked by an intimate partner report also being sexually assaulted 
  • Of the 70% of femicide victims who were physically assaulted before their murder, 90% reported at least one episode of stalking in the 12 months before their murder 

What Is the Impact of Stalking on Survivors?

  • Post-traumatic stress 
  • Depressive and somatic symptoms 
  • Lower mental well-being  
  • Anxiety  
  • Guilt 
  • Humiliation  
  • Shame 
  • Helplessness 
  • Hopelessness 
  • Suicidal ideation/attempts 
  • Fatigue from inability to sleep 
  • Chronic stress 
  • Increased use of substances 
  • Development or exacerbation of pre-existing conditions 
  • Fluctuations in weight 
  • Sexual dysfunction 
  • Costs of replacing damaged property and compromised devices  
  • Loss of wages due to sick leave, being terminated, or changing careers 
  • Costs of engaging legal assistance   
  • Penalty fees and lost deposits for breaking leases 
  • Poor work/school performance 
  • Problems with intimacy  
  • Inability to trust others  
  • Avoidance of usual activities  
  • Avoidance of friends/family for fear of perpetrator hurting them

Barriers to Seeking Support

Many stalking survivors fear they will not be believed or taken seriously if they report stalking to authorities. This is a well-founded concern given that research indicates that for all genders and identities, the criminal justice system often minimizes the severity of stalking, which increases the risk for a dangerous outcome. Due to gender stereotypes, male survivors are especially at risk for having their experience and concerns minimized.  

In addition to these obstacles, survivors from marginalized and underserved populations may face added barriers that can include discrimination, language barriers, fear of law enforcement, and lack of accessibility. Support for survivors of stalking is not one size fits all. It is important to take social identities, cultural needs, disabilities, and immigration status into consideration in order to provide appropriate resources and referrals. In some circumstances stalking can be perpetrated by families, communities and/or other networks of people.  

Additional Resources

For more information and facts about stalking:

Read about Columbia’s definition of stalking and other gender-based misconduct and learn about how stalking affects different communities.

Check out the Stalking Resource Center website and on the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Visit The Stalking Prevention Awareness and Resource Center (SPARC) for additional literature.

For New York City-specific resources:

  • New York City Domestic Violence Hotline: safety planning, referrals, and access to emergency housing for survivors of stalking and domestic violence. Call 1-800-621-HOPE (4673), or 311 to get connected. For TDD, call 1- 866-604-5350.  
  • New York City Family Justice Centers: Located in all five boroughs providing walk-in service for comprehensive civil legal assistance, counseling, and supportive services to victims of domestic and gender-based violence
  • New York City Coordinated Approach to Preventing Stalking (CAPS): call 212-788-3156 or visit their website.
  • The New York City Hope Online Resource Directory  

Sources

“Responding to Stalking: A Guide for Advocates,” The Stalking Prevention Awareness and Resource Center (SPARC), 2018. https://www.stalkingawareness.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Advocate-Guide.pdf