Stalking is a pattern of behavior, directed at a specific individual, that causes that person to feel harrassed, afraid, and emotionally distraught. This form of intimidation and control can involve any of a broad range of actions, some that are more difficult to spot than others. In most cases, there are subtle stalking warning signs that appear prior to more blatant and harmful behaviors. Since stalking tends to escalate over time, identifying red flags early is essential. Once warning signs of stalking are noted, there are safety measures that can be implemented, recommendations for evidence collection and incident documentation, and resources for victims.
- The overwhelming majority of those who experience stalking are stalked by someone they know
- More than 50% of incidents involving stalking behavior are targeting current or former intimate partners
- 1 in 7 victims relocate their residence as a result of the victimization
- Most stalkers pursue their victims once a week or more
Concerns around this issue should be taken seriously, stalking warning signs should not be ignored.
Common Stalking Behaviors
Some of the behaviors commonly reported as part of patterns of stalking include, but are not limited to:
- Continuing to send unwanted communications, or leave gifts for someone after being asked not to
- Constant, and continuous communication
- Following someone in person, or tracking them using technology
- Hiring or recruiting someone to track or monitor the targeted individual
- Identity theft, impersonation
- Using mutual acquaintances as a source of information or research
- Invading someone’s privacy or stealing their personal belongings
- Reading someone’s emails, texts, or other communications without their knowledge or consent
- Showing up or waiting at someone’s home, workplace, or classes
- Spreading rumors intended to ruin someone’s reputation or call their character into question
- Threatening to hurt oneself in order to control another’s behavior
- Threatening the target, their loved ones, or their pets
- Trespassing on or damaging someone’s property
- Watching, monitoring, or spying on someone in person or through the use of technology
Some of the behaviors listed above are crimes on their own. Others are only criminal in conjunction with other behaviors. Because of this, it’s vital for victims to maintain a Stalking Incident and Behavior Log that documents every known incident, and keeps all evidence of communication.
“There’s a lesson in real-life stalking cases that [people] can benefit from learning: persistence only proves persistence—it does not prove love. The fact that a romantic pursuer is relentless doesn’t mean you are special—it means [they’re] troubled.”Gavin de Becker
The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence
Early Warning Signs of Stalking
Appearing Unannounced and Uninvited
It’s not unusual to bump into someone, out and about, now and then. But, if it begins to happen more frequently than you feel could be coincidental, it’s cause for concern. Running into someone could be the result of their tracking you, monitoring you, or studying your schedule. It’s one of the more subtle stalking warning signs.
When someone is insisting on more time or attention than you have to offer. Particularly if it’s at the expense of others, or your occupation, take it as a red flag.
Being in the Right Place at the Right Time
If you find yourself needing assistance, and someone just happens to be there ready to lend a hand, that is a stalking red flag. It could be they were following you.
A more sinister possibility is that they sabotaged you, in some way, to cause your distress in the first place. A stalker may, for example, tamper with your car, then be there with jumper cables when it won’t start. Or they might take your phone off your table at a restaurant, when your not looking, then pretend to “kindly” return it to you.
History of Abuse is a Stalking Red Flag
Someone who has a history of relationship abuse, sexual harassment, or stalking poses a greater risk.
Relational Assumptions (or Delusions)
Be cautious around someone who seems to feel your relationship is more than it is, or has blatant disregard for your feelings (or lack of them). “Love Obsession” stalkers can become so determined to create a more intimate personal relationship with their target that they imagine, or invent, romantic dimensions that don’t actually exist. Delusions of a nonexistent relationship are a stalking red flag.
Suspicious Commenting May be a Stalking Warning Sign
Someone commenting on too many posts, commenting as soon as you post, or liking and commenting on things that were posted a long time ago might indicate they are studying, or researching, you.
Catching someone impersonating a friend, family member, or associate, online or off, is a red flag. A stalker might also catfish, pretend to be an authority figure, or pose as an employee of a company, when they are not.
Fishing for Personal Information
One warning sign of stalking is someone attempting to draw out personal details. Particularly if they’re prying into locations: where you live, work, spend time, etc.
Inappropriate gifts, including those that are overly personal, expensive, extravagant, sexual, romantic, or anonymous. A gift can also be inappropriate, based not on what is given, but where, when, and in front of whom it’s presented. Receiving gifts that make you feel awkward, embarrassed, or uncomfortable is another subtle stalking warning sign.
Someone repeatedly asking where you are, who you’re with, or what you’re doing, may be an indication of trouble ahead.
A stranger who’s attempting to maneuver you, to a place where you’ll be alone with them, is a red flag of stalking (or kidnapping).
Too Much Information
Another potential red flag is someone knowing things you don’t recall telling them. They may be searching for information online or obtaining it through their interactions with others. Either way, it may indicate a lack of respect for your privacy or an unhealthy fixation.
Strange Calls are a Stalking Warning Sign
Receiving calls from a private number, especially if the caller remains silent (breathing heavily) or hangs up, should send up some red flags.
Stalking Warning Signs May Be More Subtle When Technology Is Involved
Depending on the medium through which unwanted communication is received, a victim may not know the identity of a stalker. Stalking behaviors that utilize technology and do not involve direct communication can go unnoticed and undetected for long periods of time.
Stalking Precautions and Safety Measures
Because there is such a broad range of behaviors, and combinations of behavior involved in stalking, two cases may have very little in common. can be very different than others. This makes it difficult to propose a single set of appropriate responses. To some degree the precautions and safety measures should be modified based on the particular situation a victim is facing.
There are precautions and safety measures that can be implemented if you, or someone you know, fears they are the target of this type of behavior:
- Trust your instincts
- Learn, and watch for, red flags
- Report incidents to the police; also consider filing for a Stalking Order of Protection
- Keep track of every incident, no matter how minor, on a Stalking Incident and Behavior Log
- Tell your friends, colleagues, and people with authority about your situation
- Describe, and if possible, show a photograph of the person who is engaged in stalking behavior to the security guards where you work
- Maintain all evidence, or photographs of evidence, including all unwanted communications
- Change your routes and daily routines
- Change all of your passwords and phone number
- Disable location services on your devices
- Block the person on your devices and social media accounts
- Engage in safety planning
- Predetermine and prearrange places you could go, or stay the night at, if you were being followed, or the person was waiting for you at your house
- Refrain from, or immediately terminate, any contact with the person
- Do not post plans or your location on social media
- Take personal information off of websites and social media
- Do not assume the behavior will diminish over time or stop on its own. Stalking tends to get worse, to escalate over time.
It’s tempting to dismiss those things that we find odd, suspicious, or uncomfortable. When we notice red flags and warning signs, it’s easy to dismiss our concerns. We tend to rationalize or justify the behavior of others.
“Believing that others will react as we would is the single most dangerous myth of intervention.”Gavin de Becker
The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence
Err on the Side of Caution When You Notice Stalking Warning Signs
With cases of potential stalking, when in doubt, err on the side of caution. Reach out for help immediately, seek the expertise of those with more experience. Safety is the first and top priority!