Recently there have been a number of sad and disturbing stories in the news about stalking crimes, including murder of stalking victims. And recently I’ve had a number of clients who have definitely been victims of stalking behaviors by their “former” significant other.
As a bystander, I was able to see the red flags all over the place, and once I pointed out the classic stalking behavior to my client, you could almost see a shiver go through them. It is very scary to be on the other end of a stalker’s attention.
What exactly is stalking then? The definition goes something like this: “A course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated (two or more) visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communications, or verbal, written or implied threats or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person to fear.” And like domestic violence, it’s a crime of power and control.
But how do you know whether you are being stalked or the person is just annoying? This is the key question, and this is where a lot of people will minimize stalking behaviors.
Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist and frequent guest on Good Morning America, says there are several clues to help you decide whether a person is just being an annoyance or whether you should have legitimate concerns that he or she is stalking you. He says there are two questions you should ask yourself before deciding what action to take:
- Do you feel you are being stalked?
- Do you feel it’s dangerous?
If you feel you are being stalked, you must inform the person who is bothering you that you want no further contact of any kind whatsoever. No phone calls, no emails, no text messages, no letters, no showing up at the same place. No contact. And you must do this in writing for legal reasons. You want to be able to show that this person was put on notice that his or her behavior was scaring you.
If you feel you are truly in danger from this person, Dr. Welner says the most important thing to do is to create distance between you and the stalker. This means either you leave town or you go to the authorities and have the person arrested and put in jail. And if you go to the authorities and they tell you they can’t help you, then you need to leave for your own safety. I don’t mean to sound the alarm here, but if you feel in your gut that you are not safe, you must pay attention to that and take appropriate action.
Here are some sobering facts about stalking from the Stalking Resource Center (www.ncvc.org):
- 3.4 million people over the age of 18 are stalked each year in the U.S.
- 3 in 4 stalking victims are stalked by someone they know
- 1 in 3 stalking victims are stalked by a current or former intimate partner
- 76% of intimate partner homicides victims have been stalked by their intimate partner
- 54% of female victims reported stalking to police before they were killed by their stalkers
Stalking is often so subtle that the victim has a hard time identifying the behavior as stalking. Yet, if it is persistent and unwanted, it can ultimately be very dangerous. Don’t minimize this behavior if it’s happening to you. Contact your local law enforcement and find out what you need to do in order to stop anyone who may be stalking you – and, more importantly, to protect yourself.