Someone’s Gotta Say It
When Following Becomes Obsessive: Stalking
By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia
“He just won’t accept that our relationship is over. I’ve blocked him and he texts me from odd numbers and has friends text me and comment on my IG. He’ll show up outside my dorm or classroom and just stare at me, no talking. It’s creepy and I’ve changed my routine to avoid him. I’m on pins and needles – not sure what he’ll do next. I wake up with nightmares and it’s messing up my life. I didn’t know what he’s doing is against the law.”
Stalking is an insidious, deeply unsettling, harmful and dangerous behavior done to millions of people worldwide. It’s a crime that often goes largely unreported, in part because socially acceptable tools and behaviors are used in obsessive and threatening ways. Even when it is reported, victims find responses vary by police and the courts. This article aims to shed light on stalking, exploring who is at risk, and offering essential steps to protect yourself if you find yourself the target of a stalker.
What is Stalking?
While Stalking is a crime in all 50 states, the legal definition varies. In Georgia (OCGA § 16-5-90), “A person commits the offense of stalking when he or she follows, places under surveillance, or contacts another person at or about a place or places without the consent of the other person for the purpose of harassing and intimidating the other person.” An overt threat of death or bodily injury is not required to be made.
For academic institutions, per Title IX and the Clery Act, stalking involves engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or suffer substantial emotional distress. This definition is included in every student code of conduct policy. This means that the behavior does not need to be adjudicated in the court system to be an infraction.
Stalking behaviors span from unsettling or creepy to downright frightening, even escalating to violence or worse. In some cases, stalking serves as the “warm up” crime and the stalker escalates to property damage, physical assault, rape or murder. In other cases, stalking occurs after a physical or sexual relationship ends.
Stalking behavior is coercive and controlling. Victims usually don’t realize what is happening immediately. Stalking often accompanies gaslighting. Gaslighting is a common form of psychological manipulation that triggers self-doubt of the victim’s own perceptions, memories, and even sanity. This self-questioning creates a state of emotional turmoil and uncertainty.
After a sexual assault, even seemingly friendly contact can be traumatic and unsafe for the victim. Sometimes a perpetrator utilizes stalking techniques to try to prevent the victim from reporting the sexual assault. In fact, 43% of college student stalking victims do not identify their experience as “stalking.” Stalking offenders are diverse in gender, age, or background; and anyone can become a victim.
Stalking is characterized by a pattern of unwanted, disturbing, and/or threatening behaviors. Initial unwanted contact may appear harmless to outsiders but have threatening meaning to the victim. Continued rejection or ignoring of contacts can trigger escalated tactics. There are many ways a disturbed person can stalk others. Here are the most common types. It’s important to know that these have serious impacts on the targeted person. Any one action is typically brushed off by the victim and their friends/family. But collectively, these are not only harmful, they are dangerous and costly.
Surveillance is the most common method of stalking. Technology is used to monitor, watch, contact, control, threaten, sabotage, isolate, and frighten victims. They also use technology to damage the victim’s credibility or reputation. From hacking accounts and changing passwords, keyboard tracking, location tags and apps, using smart home technology, and more. Some stalkers engage others to monitor the victim and report back.
Life invasion methods range from repeated unwanted contact to showing up at places when the victim does not want them to be there (i.e., victim’s work, gym, church), sending unwanted “gifts”, using social media to monitor or harass, or spreading sexual rumors. Some have impersonated the victim to change their personal accounts.
Intimidation methods of stalking include threats to publish or share sexual images or information to employers, family members, on social media, etc. This includes creation of fake sexual images through photoshop, artificial intelligence, or deepfakes. Persistent blackmailing of the victim in exchange for sexual activity, photos, or videos is also common.
Interference through reputation sabotage or inciting others to attack the victim. Some create fake profiles pretending to be the victim, then make statements or comments to sabotage their victim’s reputation. This can be done through spoofing (call, text, email appears to be coming from someone else), doxing the victim (publish private information publicly online often encouraging others to harass),
stealing and/or sharing sexual photos/videos without consent (e.g., “revenge porn”).
Gangstalking, also known as organized stalking, involves a group of people covertly targeting an individual with consistent harassment, surveillance, and psychological intimidation. These actions lead to their victim being sabotaged, discredited, and isolated.
The Mind of a Stalker
Stalking is a complex behavior driven by various factors — none of which make harms acceptable. Stalkers may be motivated by obsession, desire for control, or revenge for being rejected. Some enjoy the adrenaline rush of pursuing someone and causing their discomfort, and eluding authorities.
Mental health issues, isolation, or low self-esteem are factors. Regardless of their reasons, stalking is illegal and can cause severe distress and fear for victims.
Stalkers devote a fair amount of time and energy to this behavior. Two-thirds of stalkers pursue their victims at least once per week, using more than one method. 78% of stalkers use more than one tactic. Weapons are used to harm or threaten victims in 20% of cases.
Stalker’s Relationship to Their Victim
No one is immune from becoming the object of a stalker.
- Former Intimate Partners: Stalking often begins after the end of an abusive relationship. Perpetrators may feel a loss of control and resort to stalking to maintain a sense of power over their former partner.
- Current or Former Acquaintances: Sometimes, stalkers are acquaintances who become obsessed or feel spurned by the victim. This can include coworkers, classmates, or even neighbors.
- Strangers: In some cases, stalkers have no prior relationship with the victim. They become fixated on someone they’ve seen or heard about and may escalate their behavior over time.
- Public Figures: Celebrities and public figures are at a higher risk due to their visibility. Obsessed fans or individuals seeking attention may engage in stalking behaviors.
Steps to Protect Yourself from Stalking
If you suspect you’re being stalked or subjected to unwanted attention, taking immediate steps to protect yourself is crucial:
- Trust Your Instincts: Don’t downplay your feelings of threat or discomfort.
- Document Everything: Keep a detailed record of incidents (date and time) and save evidence like texts, emails, and voicemails.
- Inform Trusted Friends and Family: Share your concerns with close ones for emotional support.
- Create a Safety Plan: Adjust your online presence, change routines, install security measures, and establish a support system.
- Seek Assistance: Contact Mosaic Georgia or your local sexual assault center or domestic violence organization for guidance and help. Victim advocates can assist with your options. Consult law enforcement and obtain a restraining order if necessary.
- Self-Defense Training: Boost your confidence and physical safety by enrolling in self-defense classes.
Stalking is a distressing situation that can happen to anyone. Understanding its signs, recognizing risk factors, and taking proactive measures are essential. You don’t have to face it alone; there are resources and support available to help you regain control over your life.
The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC) offers many resources at www.stalkingawareness.org. Remember that your safety and well-being are paramount, so trust your instincts and seek help when needed.