What Is Stalking?

How to Know If You're Being Stalked

Stalking is a word we often use jokingly, such as telling a friend you "stalked" their social media profile. But actual stalking is a serious and dangerous crime, and it can lead to terrible consequences for its victims.

About 8% of women and 2% of men are stalked at some point in their lives, and people who stalk are most often men. Read on to learn what constitutes stalking, why it happens, and what actions you can take if you're being stalked.

What Constitutes Stalking

Stalking involves behaviors towards a person that make them feel unsafe. Someone who stalks may know their victim intimately, as in a former partner or loved one, or barely at all, as in a celebrity they've never met. There are numerous behaviors that count as stalking. They include:

  • Calling, Texting or Emailing: One person may reach out to another, even if it goes unreciprocated and that is okay. However, it is not okay to repeatedly call, text or email someone who has told you they don't want to talk to you. Whether you've told someone not to contact you repeatedly or just once, if they continue to reach out, it can be considered stalking.
  • Following and Monitoring: When a person follows you from one place to another, that is stalking. It doesn't matter which places—it is stalking if someone follows you home from work, to a friend's house, or anywhere else. If someone monitors or tracks your movement and/or location, that is stalking.
  • Loitering: This is the act of hanging around a place, and it can be considered stalking if a person is doing so just because you are there. A person doesn't need to try to communicate with you for it to be stalking. This behavior is tricky, because the person stalking can claim they have reason to be somewhere when they don't.
  • Communication Through Others: Someone who is stalking you might find they are blocked from the ability to communicate. In this case, they may try to communicate with your family or friends through calls, texts, emails, or in person.
  • Damage: Someone who is stalking may damage a person's home or other property. This can be done with intent to harm, or to get the victim's attention. If you've told someone you don't want to speak to them, and their response is to damage your property, that is stalking.
  • Threats: Someone who is stalking may tell their victim that they will do something harmful to the victim unless they are willing to engage with them. Any act of threatening another person or making them feel unsafe or harassed constitutes stalking.

Why People Stalk

There are several reasons one person might stalk another. None of these reasons are an acceptable excuse, since stalking is a behavior, or pattern of behaviors, that leads someone to feel unsafe. People who stalk often suffer from delusions and/or delusional thinking.

Rejection

If a person has been rejected romantically, they may find it difficult to get over, to the point that they take to stalking a victim to win them back. They also may be seeking revenge on the person who rejected them, and stalk them in hopes of scaring or hurting them as payback.

Fantasy

When a person stalks someone they've never met, they may be trying to get that person to see and validate them, in the hopes that the stalking victim will become interested in them. This reason for stalking may also be associated with delusions or delusional thinking.

For instance, it is unlikely that stalking someone would make that person interested in spending genuine time with you. However, the person committing the stalking likely sees it differently.

Incompetence

Someone who stalks might be genuinely surprised that their behavior is stalking if they have difficulties understand social cues and societal norms. When this is the cause of stalking, they may be very surprised to learn they are causing harm to the victim.

The Effects of Stalking

Stalking is dangerous to its victims on both emotional and physical levels. The effects of stalking include fear, trauma, and a reduction in quality of life.

A victim of stalking might become full of fear and scared to leave their home, make phone calls, or conduct other normal activities. They may fear for their safety and their life.

Stalking is a form of abuse. As such, a victim may develop PTSD from the stalking event(s). They may experience flashbacks afterwards, difficulty getting close to new people or being intimate, and may become depressed or hopeless.

Because of their fear or PTSD, a stalking victim may not feel safe or able to do everything they did before being stalked. This could cause life issues such as job loss, or ruin a person's romantic relationship.

What To Do If You Think You're Being Stalked

If you have experienced events or behavior from someone that could be considered stalking or that threaten your own sense of safety, it is important to take action. Though it isn't always easy, the following steps can be extremely helpful in coping with the situation.

Don't Engage

It may be tempting to tell the person stalking you to leave you alone, but it's best to refrain from communicating with them. Oftentimes, they might feel more encouraged by the fact that you communicate with them. In other words, they may feel that their stalking means that you'll speak with them.

Tell Loved Ones

Sharing this experience with others can lead to a greater sense of safety in your life. Tell the people in your life whom you trust about being stalked, so that they can help you in any ways they can—including not engaging with the person who is doing the stalking.

Call 911

If someone is stalking you and you are in immediate danger, don't hesitate to call for help. Explain to a dispatcher that you're being stalked and are fearful for your safety.

Record Incidents

Having evidence is important. Every time someone who is stalking you calls you, follows you, harasses you, or otherwise engages in stalking behavior towards you, write it down. Include as many details as possible, and always log the time, location, and date.

File a Restraining Order

If someone won't leave you alone, you can file a restraining order against them so that a judge orders them to not come near or contact you. Usually you need to do this in person, and have a court date where you explain the situation to a judge. Your records of stalking incidents will be helpful in successfully obtaining a restraining order.

Find an Advocate

There are agencies with the resources to help you through this. Your town may have a domestic violence shelter or a sexual assault hotline. Advocates can help you take steps to keep yourself safe, such as creating a personal safety plan.

A Word From Verywell

If you are being stalked, there are steps you can take to feel safe again. Advocates are available, and the law is on your side. Don't hesitate to reach out to a trusted family member, friend, or mental health professional when coping with the effects of stalking. Remember, it is nothing to be ashamed of and taking precautions to protect yourself will be helpful for you to move forward and cope with the effects.

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  1. Sansone RA, Sansone LA. Fatal attraction syndrome. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2010;7(5):42-46.

Additional Reading
  • Stalking. The United States Department of Justice.

  • Faden J, Levin J, Mistry R, Wang J. Delusional Disorder, Erotomanic Type, Exacerbated by Social Media Use. Case reports in psychiatry. DOI: 10.1155/2017/8652524