January is National Stalking Awareness Month. This year’s theme is “Stalking: Know it. Name it. Stop it” calls upon the nation to become educated about and fight this dangerous crime that perpetuates a host of health-related problems in its victims.
What is stalking?
Stalking is a course of behavior directed at a specific individual that would cause them to feel fear. Although the legal definition of stalking varies between jurisdictions, stalking is a crime under the laws of all 50 US states, the District of Columbia, the US Territories, and the Federal government.
Shocking statistics: The Stalking Resource Center reports that…
- 3.4 million people over the age of 18 are stalked each year in the United States
- 3 in 4 stalking victims are stalked by someone they know (only 10% are stalked by a stranger), and 30% of victims are stalked by a current or former intimate partner
- Stalking is a significant risk factor for femicide (homicide of women) in abusive relationships–76% of intimate partner femicide victims have been stalked by their intimate partner
What kinds of behaviors do stalkers often engage in?
While not all stalkers engage in all of these behaviors, many of them engage in some of these behaviors.
- Following you and showing up wherever you are, whether it’s at home, work, school, or other places that you frequent
- Sending unwanted gifts, letters, or cards
- Threatening to hurt you and/or your loved ones
- Damaging your property
- Using technology like GPS or hidden cameras to track and monitor your activities and whereabouts
- Relentlessly attempting to dig up information about you by using online searches and/or public records, going through your garbage, or trying to get people close to you (family, friends, neighbors, co-workers) to give them information
What kind of impact does stalking have on its victims’ health and well-being?
- The Stalking Resource Center reports that the prevalence of insomnia, anxiety, social dysfunction, and severe depression is much higher among stalking victims than among the general population
- 1 in 8 employed stalking victims lose time from work as a result of their victimization; more than half of these lose 5 working days or more
- In 1 of every 5 stalking cases, stalkers use weapons to harm or threaten victims, affecting both their physical and emotional well-being
What should you do if you are being stalked? The Stalking Resource Center recommends…
- Always call 911 if you feel you’re in immediate danger, and especially if you suffer any physical assault as a result of stalking. Trust your instincts; don’t downplay danger.
- Contact the police so that they’re aware of what’s going on. Consider asking them about getting a court order that tells the stalker to stay away from you.
- Contact a crisis hotline, victim services agency, or domestic violence or rape crisis program. They can give you advice on staying safe, provide you with information on local stalking laws, and more.
- Develop a safety plan. Consider changing up your routine, arranging a place to stay, having a bag with essentials packed in advance if you need to make a quick getaway, and having other people accompany you places so you are not alone.
- Keep any evidence of the stalking. If the stalker follows you, note the time, date, and place. keep emails, letters, text and voicemail messages, and any other correspondence from your stalker. Take photographs of any damage or injury a stalker causes to you and/or your property.
Additionally, if you are being stalked…
- You may wish to talk to a counselor. If you do not already see a counselor, consider reaching out to an advocacy service like Health Advocate or Health Proponent–they can help you find an in-network counselor to talk to. They can sometimes even expedite an appointment.
- Use your employer’s EAP plan, if available. They can connect you to a variety of helpful resources. In many cases, they can even provide you with immediate telephonic counseling.