Last reviewed: 1/4/2023
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
Harassment can accompany stalking behaviors
If you or someone you know is being stalked, find out what to do.
- Assess for technology misuse
- Vary your daily routes and routines
- Change your locks and install security devices
- Instruct your school or place of work not to disclose your contact information
- Document incidents
- Keep a log of all stalking incidents including date, time, location, what happened, and any witnesses who may have been present.
- 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
- Be aware of what information you choose to share publicly or privately by checking and adjusting your settings on social media platforms.
- When accepting friends or followers on social media, check in with yourself to make sure you want them to have access to your social media profile. Someone you know (who you do not want to access your profile) may use an alias and try to follow you.
- 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 (for example: 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.
- Before downloading applications, consider whether it's safe to do so.
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
- 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: 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 and many LGBTQIA-identified individuals are especially at risk for having their experiences 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.
Visit the Coping Tools webpage for local and national resources for survivors of stalking and other forms of gender and power-based violence.
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 the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. Visit The Stalking Prevention Awareness and Resource Center (SPARC) for additional literature.
To learn how to be safe while using technology:
- Tech Safety App: Educational resource to learn how to increase privacy and security while using technology. It contains information that can help users identify technology-facilitated harassment, stalking, and abuse, and includes tips on what can be done.
- DocuSAFE App: Collect, store, and share evidence of abuse, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, online harassment, and dating violence. Survivors can document abuse by logging individual incidents, including any photos, screenshots, or video documentation of threatening messages, harassing social media posts, unwanted repeat calls, or online impersonation, among other abusive behaviors.
“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