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Stalking Risk Reduction Strategies

Stalking:

  • Stalking is 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:
    • Following you and show up wherever you are.
    • Sending unwanted gifts, letters, cards, or e-mails.
    • Damaging your home, car, or other property.
    • Monitoring your phone calls or computer use.
    • Using technology, like hidden cameras or global positioning systems (GPS), to track where you go.
    • Threatening to hurt you, your family, friends, or pets.
    • Finding out about you by using public records or online search services, hiring investigators, going through your garbage, or contacting friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers.
    • Posting information or spreading rumors about you on the Internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth.
    • Other actions that control, track, or frighten you.

Source: National Center for Victims of Crime: Stalking Resource Center                                                      

Underlying Motives

  • One widely accepted typology of stalkers is based on the stalker's underlying motives. These types of stalkers are essentially general classifications. Therefore, individual stalkers may not exactly fit in one single category, but instead may exhibit characteristics associated with more than one category. The categories are as follows:
    • Simple Obsessional: This is the most common type of stalker. The stalker is usually a male and the focus of the stalking is an ex-wife, ex-lover or former boss. In intimate relationships, the stalking frequently starts before the break-up. The stalking can sometimes result from the stalker feeling that he or she has been mistreated by the victim.
    • Love Obsessional: In this type of stalking, the stalker is a stranger or a casual acquaintance to the victim. Nonetheless, the stalker becomes obsessed and begins a pattern of behavior as a means of making the victim aware of his or her existence. High profile examples of this type of stalking include when celebrities or public figures become the target. However, this type of stalking can be focused on an "average" citizen as well.
    • Erotomania: In this type of stalking, the stalker incorrectly believes that the victim is in love with him or her, and that, but for some external barrier or interference, the two of them would be together. Given that perceived "love" between the stalker and the victim, the stalker can also pose a risk to those persons close to the victim since they may be viewed as "being in the way."
    • False Victimization Syndrome: This involves an individual who either consciously or subconsciously seeks to play the role of the "victim." As such, the individual may invent a detailed tale in which he or she claims to be a stalking victim. In reality, however, the would-be victim is sometimes the actual stalker and the alleged stalker is actually the real victim. This is an extremely rare form of stalking.

Relationship to Victim

  • Another method used to classify stalkers defines them according to their relationship to the victim. This typology divides stalkers into two basic categories:
    • Intimate: In this type of stalking, the stalker and victim had a former relationship with each other. Often times, the stalker seeks to reestablish a relationship with the victim which has either ended or which the victim has tried to end. It is likely that there is a history of abuse, including domestic violence, by the stalker.
    • Nonintimate: Here, the stalker and victim have absolutely no interpersonal relationship with each other. Rather, the stalker may select and focus on the victim following a brief encounter with each other, or merely after observing the victim. The victim is often at a loss to readily identify the stalker once he or she becomes aware of the conduct. Nonintimate stalking is further divided into the two following categories:
      • Organized:The "relationship" between the stalker and victim is characterized by one-way, anonymous communications from the stalker to victim. The stalker is methodical and calculating such that the victim usually does not know the identity of the stalking.
      • Delusional:The "relationship" between the stalker and victim is based exclusively on the stalker's psychological fixation on the victim. The stalker's delusion is falsely believing that he or she in fact has a relationship or some other connection with the victim.

Resources:
Meloy, J. (1998). The Psychology of Stalking: Clinical and Forensic Perspectives. New York: Academic Press.
Wright, J., Burgess, A., Burgess, A., Laszlo, A., McCrary, G., and Douglas, J. (1996). "A Typology of Interpersonal Stalking." Journal of Interpersonal Violence 11 (4): 487-502.

The Use of Technology to Stalk:

  • Stalkers often use technology to assist them in stalking their victims. This section provides information about how different technologies can be used to stalk, measures victims can take to keep safe, and additional information and resources.
  • Computers and the Internet
    • Computer Monitoring Software: Stalkers are increasingly using computer monitoring software, or “spyware,” to track their victims’ computer activity, including all emails or instant messages, websites visited, programs launched, and keystrokes typed (which gives abusers access to passwords). Spyware can be installed on a computer either directly or remotely, through an attachment in an email or instant message. All of this occurs without notification to victims or victims’ awareness.
    • Keystroke Logging Software: stalkers can use hardware devices called “keystroke loggers” which are inserted between keyboard cables and the backs of computers. These tiny devices contain small hard drives that record every key typed, including all passwords, personal identification numbers, and website and email addresses.
    • Email: Anonymous email services are marketed for users to “confess your love to someone,” “contact someone who has blocked your email address,” and “email people without leaving a trace.” These services appear on websites, often advertised as “revenge” sites, and allow perpetrators to harass victims and to anonymously publicize personal information (accurate or not) about them, ultimately making it more difficult, although not impossible, to identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable for their actions.

Telephone Technology

  • Cell Phones: Stalkers can use cell phone monitoring software, such as Mobile Spy, to track individuals’ cell phone activity and to identify their locations through the cell phone’s GPS. Some software even offers the ability to control monitored phones, allowing stalkers to block certain numbers on their victims’ phones or turn off the phone completely.
  • Text Messaging: Various websites allow perpetrators to falsify their phone numbers when they send multiple harassing and/or threatening text messages. Many cell phone providers also allow text messages to be sent over the Internet via a website where senders’ numbers can be faked.
  • In addition, some stalkers send text messages using free web-based email services that allow them to create multiple email addresses. This enables them to send texts from accounts that victims don’t recognize.
  • Voice Messages: Stalkers may use several methods to make repeated and harassing telephone calls to victims while on probation or parole. Purchasing prepaid phone cards or “pay-as-you-go” cell phones with cash makes it easier for them to call their victims without identifying themselves through caller ID or another method.
  • Caller ID: Various services exist that allow stalkers to “spoof” the phone numbers that are displayed on caller ID.
    • One example, SpoofCard, gives callers the ability to fake the numbers from which they are calling, allowing them to enter any number they want to be displayed on the caller ID. SpoofCard even gives callers the option to record their calls and fake their voices, for example, changing a man’s voice to sound like a woman’s and vice versa.
    • VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone systems, which include Vonage and other digital phone services, can be manipulated to allow stalkers to call their victims without displaying their caller ID. Using three-way calling, a stalker can call a friend, put the friend on hold, and then call the victim, who will see the friend’s number on the caller ID and not the stalker’s.
    • A subscription service called TrapCall makes it easy for perpetrators to unmask blocked calls and expose the callers’ blocked numbers, and sometimes their names and addresses. Subscribers push a button on their phones when 86 Perspectives they receive a call from a blocked number, and TrapCall unblocks the number within seconds, without any notice to the caller.

Global Positioning Devices (GPS)

  • GPS devices are now cheaper, smaller, and more accessible than ever. Many GPS packages that can be installed on vehicles come with companion software that abusers can use on their own computers to track every movement of their victims’ cars.
  • Geofencing, part of many of these packages, allows users to assign a physical parameter around a town or city, designating where a person’s vehicle can and cannot go. If a vehicle goes beyond this parameter or to a location designated “off limits,” the service will notify the user via email or text message.
  • Hidden Cameras: Small, wireless, high-resolution cameras can be hidden or purchased already installed in a wide array of items, including smoke detectors, lamps, clocks, and teddy bears. Many cameras can be activated remotely, providing offenders with real-time surveillance of their victims.      

Sources:
Domestic Violence & Stalking in a Digital Age: Information for Community Corrections Agencies & Professionals. By Erica Oldsen and the Safety Net Team at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.http://victimsofcrime.org/docs/src/community-corrections-stalkingfrom-perspectives_2012_spotlight.pdf?sfvrsn=2  
Baum, K., Catalano, S., Rand, M., & Rose, K. (2009, January). Stalking victimization in the United States (NCJ 224527). Retrieved from U.S. Department of Justice website: http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/docs/stalkingvictimization.pdf   
Resource Center. (2003, Fall). Using probation and parole to stop stalkers. The Source, 3(3). Retrieved from the National Center for Victims of Crime website: http://www.ncvc.org/src/main.aspx?dbName=DocumentViewer&DocumentID= 37128  

What can you do if you or a friend are being stalked?

  • Tell Someone. Let friends, family, college personnel, employers, and the police know about your situation.
  • Keep a record. Document each incident to demonstrate that it fits into a pattern of behaviors for safety planning, police reports, and to obtain a protective order.
  • Set clear boundaries. What you tell a stalker not to contact you, be short and firm, leaving no room for misunderstanding.
  • Change your routine. Be aware of your daily routine and begin to alter it over time. Switch up the way you commute more often, taking different routes or different modes of transportation.
  • Be prepared to reach out. If possible, keep your cell phone charged and have emergency contact numbers programmed ahead of time. You may want to save these contacts under a different name. Memorize a few numbers in case you don’t have cell phone access in the future.
  • Develop a safety plan. A safety plan analyzes risk factors and develops ways to reduce the risk of harm. Victim advocates and law enforcement officers can help victims create plans that fit their situation.

What is Stalking?

  • Stalking is a form of harassment. It consists of repeated threats that cause a person to feel fear. Some of the things a stalker might do to the person they are targeting include:
  • Following or spying on them
  • Sending unwanted gifts
  • Gossiping or spreading rumors about them
  • Damaging their property
  • Breaking into their online accounts
  • Harassing the person on social media

How Common a Problem is Stalking?

  • The National Center for Victims of Crimes fact sheet states that “one in six women and one in 19 men have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime.”
  • And according to a report on the prevalence and characteristics of sexual violence from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 60.8 percent of female stalking victims and 43.5 percent male victims reported being stalked by a current or former intimate partner.
  • College students aren’t immune from stalking. In fact, Patrick Brady, M.A. and Leana Bouffard, Ph.D. from The Crime Victims' Institute at Sam Houston State University found that college students are actually more likely than the general public to be stalked and less likely to report it to the authorities.
  • But that doesn’t mean stalking isn’t just something for students to be aware of. Faculty, administrators and staff need to understand what to do if they witness or experience stalking.

What SHOULDN’T Stalking Victims Do?

  • Stalking is extremely serious. And if someone is stalking you, remember NOT to do any of the following:
    • Don’t assume it will stop on its own
    • Don’t ignore a potential problem
    • Don’t try to handle it yourself
    • Don’t engage or confront the stalker

What Can You Do If You’re Being Stalked?

  • There are things you should do if you’re being stalked. This includes:
    • Keeping evidence of the behavior to show to the authorities
    • Get a new phone number to help restrict contact and immediately add it to any applicable “do not call” lists (to prevent it from being shared publicly)
    • Take down your personal information from any public places or websites, such as whitepages.com, etc. (It’s surprising how easy it can be to find a home address or phone number with only a few key pieces of information about a person)
    • Seek help from the police, your school and/or victims’ rights groups

What Can You Do If a Friend or Someone You Know is Being Stalked?

  • One of the ways to make our College a safe place is to encourage bystander intervention. So if a friend or someone you know if being stalked here are some ways you can step in to help:
    • Watch out for the stalker when you are with the person
    • Help the person leave a place if they spot their stalker
    • Offer to provide transportation or walk with them so they’re not alone
    • Encourage and go with the person to report the stalking to the authorities

What Should You Do If You Are the One Stalking?

  • If you start to notice these negative behaviors in yourself:
    • Stop the unwanted contact immediately
    • Find help to help manage your feelings and impulses
    • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes when making decisions you aren’t sure would be perceived as stalking

How Can Schools Help to Prevent Stalking?

  • Title IX, VAWA and the Clery Act require schools that receive federal funding to offer sexual violence prevention programs and training. And the training offered should be comprehensive.
  • From their research on stalking, Brady and Bouffard make the point that sexual violence prevention training should emphasize stalking awareness and give learners the skills they need to navigate potentially dangerous situations.