The Myths & Facts of Stalking

Written by: Maia McCoy, MSW, Victim Services Coordinator
Myth #1: Stalking happens only between intimate partners.
Fact: It is true that overwhelmingly, stalking victims are stalked by an intimate partner. 44% of male victims and 61% of female victims are stalked by an intimate partner. However, many stalking cases occur between acquaintances. What this means is that neighbors, coworkers, and classmates are also very likely to be stalkers.  
Myth #2: Or, stalkers are strangers.
Fact: The majority of stalking cases are those perpetrated by intimate partners or perpetrated by acquaintances. 32% of male victims and 25% of female victims are stalked by an acquaintance according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2011. This leaves only a small percentage of victims being stalked by a stranger, which makes sense given that an acquaintance or partner would be more likely to know the victim’s personal details and comings and goings.
Myth #3: Stalking doesn’t cause physical harm, or stalking is annoying but not harmful.
Fact: 76% of intimate partner femicides were stalked before being murdered. While stalking might not kill, it indicates a high risk of lethality. Further, the stress and trauma resultant of stalking takes a serious toll on the mind and body. Many crime victims experience PTSD. However, the protracted nature of stalking can make it very difficult for the survivor to both sustain and manage symptoms of PTSD, such as high anxiety, severe depression, prolonged increased adrenaline, and chronic insomnia. The whole body experiences trauma, and until safety is realized on a cellular level symptoms of hypervigilance and PTSD will persist, wearing down the immune system. Because safety is perpetually compromised in a stalking situation, the stalking victim may have a very difficult time coping, as we are not meant to sustain high levels of adrenaline and live under constant threat. Long-term counseling and evidence-based practices like EMDR can be particularly helpful for stalking victims.
Myth #4: Why don’t you just move, or change your class schedule?
Fact: Moving and enrolling in the Address Confidentiality Program can go a long way in helping to keep yourself safe, as does changing up your patterns. However, the victim can only do what is in their power; no one can stop the criminal behavior but the stalker. Unfortunately, the stalking of today also looks much different than the stalking of yesteryear. The internet has made it much easier to cyberstalk persons through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and any other social media platform or forum. It is not uncommon for perpetrators to place ads on websites using the victim’s contact information and photographs — called doxing. If you are a victim, it’s important to report this information to law enforcement. Nude photographs posted online can result in additional charges under revenge porn statutes. Check your privacy settings, replace profile photos with cat photos, or just suspend your social media presence.
Myth #5: The stalking will stop if you ignore it.
Fact: Unfortunately, the very nature of stalking and stalkers is persistence. The behavior will likely continue, and stalking perpetrators tend to behave very erratically. While one of the hallmarks of PTSD is avoidant behavior, it is so important to acknowledge stalking and to report the separate incidences to law enforcement as soon as you notice the pattern. One of the things that can make it difficult to prosecute these cases is lack of evidence, so it helps to keep a stalking log and to set-up a security system with cameras if you can afford it. The stalking log will help you to remember each separate incidence. In the description of the incident, also include how it made you feel, as it can be helpful when the officer is referring the case to a prosecutor, and it can be helpful to you in the long run. As a threatening situation wears on, we can numb/avoid and lose our ability to fully feel what is happening. As painful as it may be, staying tuned into your feelings can help you to calibrate a plan of action for getting out of the situation.
Myth #6: No one cares.
Fact: Stalking is a chargeable criminal offense across jurisdictions in the United States. The criminal justice system in our country was erected to punish crimes, which have already been committed, and not to prevent crimes. As a result stalking statutes tend to impose less harsh sentencing/penalties than those for violence against persons, as in a first offense for stalking is often charged as a gross misdemeanor with subsequent offenses charged as felonies. Attitudes are changing though. Keep making reports to law enforcement and documenting. It may be especially helpful to file an Order for Protection petition, which can result in additional criminal charges if violated. Seek out a trained victim advocate for help with the paperwork, courtroom support, and to learn more about legal and other remedies to help protect yourself. We truly care.