What is Stalking?

Stalking literally means to pursue prey or quarry. Legally, it is defined by state statutes, and is generally considered a course of conduct that places a person in fear for their safety. Stalking also applies to acts committed against the person’s family, friends, and acquaintances in an act of conduct that puts a person in fear for their safety. The variety of specific strategies employed and behaviors displayed by stalkers are limited only by the creativity and ingenuity of the stalkers themselves.

In Colorado, stalking is defined as harassing someone (i.e., following, contacting, or watching another person) in a way that causes them to feel fearful. A first time offense is considered a Class 5 Felony, and a Class 4 Felony when there is a restraining order or injunction already in place. However, the term “stalking” is more commonly used to describe specific kinds of behavior directed at a particular person, such as harassing or threatening another products person.

Stalking is a gender neutral crime, with both male and female perpetrators and victims. However, best statistics indicate that 75-80% of all stalking cases involve men stalking women. Most stalkers tend to fall into the young to middle-aged categories. Most stalkers have above-average intelligence. Stalkers come from every walk of life and every socioeconomic background. Virtually anyone can be a stalker, just as anyone can be a stalking victim.

For excellent information on stalking, including stalking behavior logs, safety plan guidelines, and a complete handbook for victims, contact the National Center for Victims of Crime Stalking Resource Center.

More About Stalking

General

  • One in 6 women (16.2%) and 1 in 19 men (5.2%) in the United States have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.1 
  • According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 1,006,970 women and 370,000 men are stalked annually in the United States.
  • Two-thirds (66.2%) of female victims of stalking were stalked by a current or former intimate partner; men were primarily stalked by an intimate partner or an acquaintance, 41.4% and 40.0%, respectively.2
  • Repeatedly receiving unwanted telephone calls, voice, or text messages was the most commonly experienced stalking tactic for both female and male victims of stalking (78.8% for women and 75.9% for men).3
  • Approximately 1 in 3 multiracial non-Hispanic women (30.6%) and 1 in 4 American Indian or Alaska Native women (22.7%) reported being stalked during their lifetimes. One in 5 Black non-Hispanic women (19.6%), 1 in 6 White non-Hispanic women (16.0%), and 1 in 7 Hispanic women (15.2%) experienced stalking in their lifetimes.4
  • There is a strong link between stalking and other forms of violence in intimate relationships: 81% of women were also physically assaulted; 31% of women were also sexually assaulted.5

College

  • Stalking starts young: “[52%] of stalking victims were 18-29 years old when the stalking started”.6
  • More than 13% of college women indicated that they had been stalked during one college year.7
  • Campus stalking incidents lasted an average of 60 days.8
  • The most common consequence of campus stalking was psychological effects. In over 15% of the incidents, victims reported that the stalker threatened harm. In over 10% of the incidents, they reported forced or attempted sexual contact.9
  • The “highest rates of stalking victimization” occur in persons ages 18 to 19 and 20 to 24.10
  • On college campuses, 3 in 10 college women report being injured emotionally or psychologically from being stalked.11
  • According to a recent study of college students, those who self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender “were twice as likely to experience cyberstalking or e-mail harassment from a stranger as were students who identified themselves as heterosexual”.12
  • Four in five campus victims knew their attackers – boyfriend or ex-boyfriend (42.4%), classmate (24.5%), acquaintance (1 0.3%), friend (9.3%), or coworker (5.6%).13

Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. Be wary about how much information you reveal and advertise to others. Keeping a low profile, especially in regards to cyber-stalking, is important for maintaining your privacy. If possible, carry a cell phone on you at all times in case you need to call for help.

If you are being stalked, you need to make it very clear to the stalker that you are not interested. A firm “No” is a clear and concise message that you are not interested in their advances. Don’t try to be polite by making up other excuses, as this leaves open windows for the stalker to think there is a chance.

Notify family members or close friends if you believe you are being stalked, both to build support and put them on the lookout. When going on a trip, give trusted a friend your itinerary so that they can notify authorities if something goes wrong. Vary your habits (ex: taking different ways to class) so that you are not an easy target for your stalker to follow.

Document Everything. The key to prosecuting a stalker is to document. Everything this individual does must be chronicled from the moment you believe you are being stalked. Also save everything the stalker sends you and record when and where you found it. Tape record phone calls the stalker leaves you and save voicemails, emails, instant messages, text messages and any social media contacts (facebook, twitter, etc). Experts also recommend that victims keep a journal to document all contacts and incidents, along with the time, date and other relevant information. Keep your records in a safe place and make a copy to leave in another location.

You may want to contact victim’s rights advocate groups (such as the Women and Gender Advocacy Center) who provide domestic violence or stalking advocacy and/or can get you connected to the appropriate resources. Early intervention is always best when trying to stop stalking.

To file a complaint with law enforcement that will trigger an arrest and prosecution, it must be accompanied with sufficient evidence to establish “probable cause” that the stalker engaged in conduct that is illegal under the state’s stalking statute. If law enforcement officials do not witness such conduct first-hand, it is often up to the victim to provide them with the evidence necessary to establish probable cause. It is for this reason that it is crucial for stalking victims to document every stalking incident as thoroughly as possible.

Regardless of whether or not they have sufficient evidence to prove a stalking violation, victims wishing to file a stalking complaint with law enforcement officials should do so at the earliest possible point in time. In some cases, victims may also be able to file a complaint in the jurisdiction where the offender resides, if it is different from the victim’s. At Colorado State University (CSU) it may also be likely that you can report to the CSU Police Department if the stalking is happening on CSU campus or electronically.

Temporary Restraining Orders (called Orders of Protection in Colorado) are intended to notify your stalker that they must immediately stop harassing and otherwise contacting you. You must file paperwork with the court requesting such an order. You may also petition for a Work Place Restraining Order which is similar to the TRO.

Stalking Emergency Protective Orders allows for police to immediately obtain emergency protection for victims in domestic violence and stalking cases. These can only be obtained with the help of a police officer.

If you are considering seeking police or civil court help with your stalking situation, the advocates at the WGAC can help you talk through the various options. They can be contacted at 970-491-6384.

  • Gifts or Notes: Stalking may start off as little gifts or notes either given to the victim or left where they will find it. The notes may be pleasant, sexually oriented, or simply off-the-wall depending on the stalker. They typically get worse as the gifts are continually rebuked.
  • Constant Communication: Stalkers work to harass their victims with a continual stream of information so that they know the assailant is always lurking out there.
  • Surveillance: Most stalkers are very good at tracking their victims. They follow, peep, and record. They usually keep logs or diaries, or memorize as much about the victim as possible. Electronic means of stalking have increased significantly in recent years.
  • Threats of Violence: Threats of violence may be a way to get the victim to do the stalker’s bidding. Also, there are stalkers who make no direct threat but do in fact commit acts of violence against their victims. Even if there are no physical threats of harm, continual harassment and surveillance become a very real emotional and psychological threat to victims of stalking.
  • Legal Harassment Tactics: Stalkers may file small claims or other legal actions against their victims. These cases are usually eventually dropped, and are strictly used to harass and manipulate the victim.
  • Libel and/or Slander: Stalkers may make slanderous (put downs, harmful words and or implications, etc.) remarks to victims’ friends or associates, thereby causing victims damage in both interpersonal relationships and associations in the workplace.
  • Harassment of Family Members: Stalkers may resort to harassing family members if they are not able to contact the victim directly. A jealous stalker may make threats to a significant other if they view them as a barrier. Some stalkers may harass victims’ pets.
  • Fraud: A stalker may run up large bills on the victim’s calling and credit cards, or go through the mail to disrupt services.
  • Vandalism: This is a common tactic used by stalkers, causing emotional and financial burden on the victim.
  • Trophy Collection: Some stalkers will commit burglary both to further their information gathering as well as spur on their fantasies. Several types of stalkers are known to collect items from their victims residences.

Stalking with technology involves the use of a wide array of technologies to stalk victims. Cyber-stalking, defined as “threatening behavior or unwanted advances directed at another using the internet and other forms of online and computer communications”(Kilmartin & Allison, 2007), and “the repeated use of the internet, e-mail, or related digital electronic communication devices to annoy, alarm, or threaten a specific individual or group of individuals”(Kilmartin & Allison, 2007 (pg. 29)), is the most commonly researched form of stalking with technology. Cyber-stalking also includes the use of spyware to monitor a victim’s computer use. Online databases prove problematic for victims because many public records, such as housing location and tax information, can allow a stalker access to a victim’s personal information. In many states, the removal of this information is allowed only for the personal records of peace officers and other public officials (Southworth, Finn, Dawson, Fraser, & Tucker, 2007). A 2009 BJS survey also found that of its participants, “[m]ore than 1 in 4 stalking victims reported some form of cyberstalking was used”(Baum, Catalano, & Rand, 2009).

  • Small camera technologies enable a stalker to survey a victim’s activities and guests, to ascertain a victim’s current location, and to enable more sophisticated acts of peeping, among other uses. Footage may also be used to gather information to insult, intimidate, and harass victims.
  • Global positioning systems (GPS) are used by stalkers to monitor victim movement by the placement of a device in cars, purses, or other personal belongings. This enables stalkers to surprise victims by showing up without announcement. You may not be aware that these devices are being used. They can be small and well hidden.
  • Faxes: Though not used as widely now as they once were. Many official businesses may still require this option.  When faxes are sent, they are often imprinted with identifiable or traceable information about where the fax originated. Faxes can provide stalkers information to locate you in safe housing, lawyers’ offices, or on a new job.
  • Social Media: Stalkers often utilize social media sites to gain knowledge about the daily habits of their victims. They may have access to specific locations if you have the GPS activated on the sites when uploading pictures or giving specific status updates. In dating/former dating relationships it may be likely that you have shared a password with your stalker. If so, change the password or discontinue use of that site.
  • Telephones equipped with caller-ID have provided stalkers with information about victim’s work or home location. Cordless (land based) phones are easily intercepted by baby monitors, walkietalkies, and other cordless phones, compromising personal discussions and safety planning. Cellular telephones can also be intercepted. Cell phones also allow a stalker to send unwanted text and picture messages to a victim. And often times Smartphones have GPS enabled as a default. This can give your stalker access to your locations. Additionally, printed and online cell phone billing records show one’s entire call log, making that information available to a stalker.
  • Chat Room: Even if you are not using a chat room, your stalker can use this forum to have others contact you for them, keep track of your movements, etc.
  • Instant Messages (IM): Similar to chat rooms but it is one-to-one communication.
  • Internet Service Provider (ISP): The host from which one gains the Internet connection and ability. Most colleges and universities provide Internet services for their students. Some students also choose to acquire a private host. If your stalker has access to your computer they can easily check your activity to monitor your daily activities.
  • Spam: A message sent many times via email and posted to newsgroups. When receiving it through email, the person’s name is usually not in the TO: line. The return address is usually forged or fake. There are websites that stalkers can access to send you unidentifiable emails.

While technologies can offer protection for victims (for example, the ability to call 911 from anywhere with a cellular phone), it is important to note the potential danger of these technologies when employed by a stalker.