We may joke around about social media “stalking” people, but in real life, getting stalked is a horrifying, nightmarish situation. Sadly, every year millions of people fall victim to stalking in the United States. In fact, Michael Proctor, a retired detective who’s worked for the Westminster Police Department in California for over thirty years, tells Oxygen.com that over 7.5 million people are stalked annually in the United States. (Proctor is also president of Duck Works Criminal Consulting and the author of the book, “Antidote for a Stalker.”)
About 75 percent of the victims are women, he notes.
We most often hear about stalking in context of celebrities: Recently, model Bella Hadid was allegedly stalked by a man who was arrested after supposedly sending Hadid a series of threatening messages, and just this month, Kendall Jenner was awarded a temporary restraining order against her alleged stalker. However, Proctor notes that only 10 percent of stalking revolves around celebrities, even though they get the most attention. In reality, about 80 percent of stalking is domestic violence and/or intimate partner stalking, he explains.
Quoting a California penal code, Proctor says stalking is defined as, “Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or willfully and maliciously harasses another person and who makes a credible threat (does not have to be a direct threat) with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family is guilty of the crime of stalking.”
Dr. Kris Mohandie, a forensic psychologist who previously worked for LAPD’s Threat Management Unit and assisted the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office with the prosecution of Steven Spielberg’s stalker, tells Oxygen.com that signs of stalking happen early — especially when the stalker is a partner.
“Often, the stalking begins even before the relationship ends with controlling behavior, intrusive boundary-violating behavior, accessing personal information on the victim’s phone or their belongings, showing up unannounced, and other invasive behavior,” he says. “So recognition of a potentially problematic relationship partner might be a good place to start.”
So what should you do if you think you are being stalked?
Look For Red Flags
Red flags to look out for, according to Mohandie, include unwanted phone calls, texts, social media contacts, and in-person approaches that are unannounced, uncomfortable, and beyond the status of the relationship. Threatening or ominous statements, including suicidal threats, are also indicators of a future stalker. Known weapon possession, as well as a history of violence, are other high-risk indicators, according to Mohandie.
Set Some Boundaries
Mohandie says it’s important to set boundaries early on in a relationship, but he urges people to seek help in learning how to do that safely. He says the most dangerous time for relationship violence is the point of separation.
Call The Police
“If you think you are being stalked, first and foremost, get help and reach out to law enforcement or even 911 if there appears to be an immediate danger of someone showing up,” Mohandie says.
Keep a record of the stalking. Do not delete texts or letters. Save it all. Mohandie says this will help law enforcement recognize the pattern if and when it is reported.
Know That Ignoring Won’t Work
“Ignoring a stalker will not cause that individual to cease or desist,” Proctor says, adding that stalkers are typically serial in nature. Even if a stalker stops going after one target, he or she will move to another, he explains.
Take Safety Precautions
Safety precautions might include relocating, obtaining a restraining order, and enhancing personal security through alarm systems and video surveillance systems, Mohandie says, adding that every scenario is a little different.
“It is important for victims to realize they may need to take a fair amount of responsibility for getting help and their own personal safety: Restraining orders are useful tools, but they don’t protect against weapons,” Mohandie notes.
Know What Kind Of Stalker You Have
Proctor has divided stalkers into three categories: Domestic Violence or Intimate Partner Stalking, Acquaintance Stalking (where no sexual relationship has transpired but there’s been casual contact like in a workplace), and Stranger Stalking.
“When I teach or consult, there is one thing that is paramount — you must know the type of stalker you are dealing with if you are going to be successful in your investigation,” he says. “The domestic violence type stalker seems to be the most violent type of stalker, and there can be an escalation to violence, and even death. The folks that keep the statistics on stalking indicate that of those stalked annually in the US about 1 to 1.5 percent end up killing their victims. At least 80 percent of those women killed by their significant others were stalked prior to death.”
However, he added that in his opinion, just about every stalker, if placed in the right set of circumstances, can resort to violence.
What To Know If The Stalker Hasn’t Broken The Law
Mohandie urges victims of stalking to continue to “document, enhance personal safety, and continue working with law enforcement to advocate for solutions.” He says cases seldom resolve immediately and often quiet down just to start up again.
“At these points, re-notifying the law enforcement contact is necessary,” he says, so keeping a record is key.
Look Into Relevant State Stalking Laws
Stalking laws can vary from state to state, according to the Bureau of Justice. It’s always helpful to get up to speed on the local laws. Some state laws require prosecutors to establish fear of death or serious bodily harm, according to the Bureau of Justice. Meanwhile, other states only require that prosecutors establish that the victim suffered emotional distress because of the stalking. There is also interstate stalking (stalking that happens between states), which is covered by national law.
Proctor says more information is available at the National Center for Victims of Crime.
Credible Threat, Not Direct Threat
“Stalking only takes a credible threat, not a direct threat,” Proctor tells Oxygen.com. “In other words, stalking is a course of conduct crime — meaning that when a stalker commits a series of acts (or contacts) in many states, at least two, over a period of time, evidencing a continuity of purpose, that causes the victim fear or extreme emotional distress, constitutes a credible threat.”
Contact A Domestic Violence Detective
If frustrated by trying to report stalking to the standard police, Proctor urges people to “contact a detective who works domestic violence who at the very least should have some training in stalking.”
He says that many police patrol personnel are not well-versed in stalking.
Take Care Of Yourself
People should make sure to take care of themselves, Mohandie says.
“It is often helpful to get therapy or counseling as these cases can be overwhelming for the victim,” he tells Oxygen.com. “There are also a number of national advocacy groups who have additional information about stalking.”
- Inside the Mind of a Stalker
- What Motivates a Stalker
- How Stalkers Use Manipulation to Feed Their Obsession
- Common Characteristics of a
- So What Can You Do?
- What to do if you’re being stalked
- 1. Talk to someone
- 2. Record what’s happening
- 3. Take digital safety seriously
- 4. Vary your routine
- 5. Call the police
- It’s Not Cute, It’s Stalking: The Warning Signs
- 1. Contacting you Constantly
- 2. Obtaining Details Before You Provided Them.
- 3. Monitoring you Excessively.
- 4. Showing up Unannounced
- 7 Signs You’re Being Facebook Stalked, Because OMG There Are So Many Clues
- Is Someone Stalking You?
- Motivations for online harassment
- Types of harassing online behaviours
- What to do if you are being stalking online.
- Stalking: Don’t Confuse the Signs with Love
- You Get Hang-up Calls and Messages from Unknown Contacts
- They’re Always Driving By
- They Obtain Info On You Before You Provide it
- They Use Gifts to Make up for Obsessive Behavior
- They Have a Sixth Sense About When You Leave
- They Damage Property and Threaten You
- They Attack Your Reputation
- What to Do if You’re Being Stalked
- Top 10 Signs You are Being Stalked
- 10 Signs You Are Being Stalked
- Don’t Fight Stalking Alone
- General advice for victims
Inside the Mind of a Stalker
1K Shares Written by Writer’s Corps member Carrie Manner
People joke about “google stalking” their potential partners all the time but stalking is no laughing matter. Stalking is a pattern of behavior that makes you feel nervous and susceptible to attack. Each scenario with a stalker may differ (from repeated contact to unwanted gifts), but the goal remains the same, to make you feel vulnerable.
Stalking affects 6.6 million people in the U.S. each year and 3 out of 10 of those people report experiencing emotional and psychological harm as a result. In 1999, the Stalking Resource Center published a handbook about stalking with fascinating facts that uncover what motivates someone to harass another person. The following information was gathered from that handbook to provide a captivating glance into the mind of a stalker.
What Motivates a Stalker
Stalkers may begin their harassment by repeatedly calling or contacting their target via email and social media but it doesn’t always end there. If these methods of contact are ineffective “the individual may escalate to more intrusive behaviors such as spying on, and unexpectedly confronting their victims,” said Robert T. Muller in his article, Mind of a Stalker. In many cases, stalking begins at the end of a relationship, however, there is no perfect science to determine who will or won’t become a stalker. But, thanks to researchers we now know motivating factors that drive some people to stalk. These factors include:
Whether the rejection is real or merely perceived by the stalker it comes as a critical blow. Stalkers see themselves as the victims of being led on or toyed with. Their fear of abandonment doesn’t allow them to reason, so it’s impossible to let them down easy.
Stalkers are often obsessive in multiple areas of their life including their romantic inclinations. They usually have repetitive thought patterns that play like a broken record, so they gradually become so preoccupied with their target, they’re unable to sleep, forget to eat, and let their jobs go to the wayside.
Stalkers blur the lines between fact and fiction. They harbor a sense of entitlement that their targets belong to them which feeds the fantasy that they’re destined to be together. Some become so convinced, they’ll invent details in their head about a romantic relationship that doesn’t exist, and they’ll be so sure of it, they’re able to convince others.
Stalkers are unable to recognize or respect the feelings or boundaries of others. They also lack healthy coping skills to deal with rejection, embarrassment, shame, or loss. This becomes especially problematic if you previously had a romantic relationship as they may justify their actions with “If I’m suffering, so should you” logic or the “If I can’t have you, no one can.”
How Stalkers Use Manipulation to Feed Their Obsession
Manipulation is one of a stalker’s greatest tool, particularity with an ex. Below are some common ways a stalker will try to lure you back in.
- They’ll guilt you or invent emergencies to elicit sympathy. Example: “Why are you doing this to me? Don’t you care about me?”
- They make empty promises to prolong contact. Example: “This is the last time, I swear. I just need closure.”
- They’ll resort to blackmail, no matter how far of a stretch. Example: “I’ll tell your boss about the time you called in sick.”
- They play on your insecurities and make unfounded accusations. Example: “You don’t care about anyone but yourself.”
- They’ll twist your words to suit their agenda. Example: “I know that you really do love me and that your friends are just trying to brainwash you against me.”
- They’ll give expensive or elaborate gifts with strings attached. Example: “After all I’ve done for you…”
Common Characteristics of a
It’s important to note that stalkers aren’t monsters that hide under your bed. In fact, there are no rules on how to spot a one. Common misconceptions about stalkers include ideas about stalkers being lonely, socially awkward and generally undesirable people. But experts say that many stalkers are charming and seemingly “average” people that you would never guess have an unhealthy obsession with their ex, their neighbor or a complete stranger. That said, there are certain characteristics that many stalkers share and are important to know. Taken directly from the stalking handbook, below is an interesting list of personality traits that most stalkers possess. If you noticed these traits in someone pursuing a relationship with you, you might want to think twice.
- Obsessive and compulsive
- Falls “instantly” in love (Intensity)
- Does not take responsibility for their own feelings or actions
- Needs to have control over others
- Socially awkward or uncomfortable
- Views self as victim of society, family, and others
- Unable to take “no” for an answer
- Often switches between rage and “love”
- Difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality
- Sense of entitlement (“You owe me…”)
- Unable to cope with rejection
- Dependent on others for sense of “self”
- Views his or her problems as someone else’s fault
So What Can You Do?
If someone makes you feel uncomfortable or afraid, that’s your gut sending up the bat signal that something is wrong. Trust it. Sometimes we sense something’s wrong before we can see proof. Dealing with a stalker can be uncomfortable, but there are ways to protect yourself early on:
- Be firm and let the person making you uncomfortable know you’re unwilling to continue contact. Do this at the first sign of intrusive behavior and stick to it. Once you say no to contact, you must quit responding to avoid encouraging them.
- Don’t worry if you’re hurting their feelings when you end contact since it was their unwelcome behavior that created this situation. You’re simply setting boundaries to keep yourself safe.
- Be mindful of what kind of personal information you’re posting online and what you let your friends tag you in.
- Don’t allow apps to show your location.
- Keep your car and home locked.
- Alternate the driving routes you use. Don’t maintain a predictable pattern.
- Don’t say you’re going to contact the police unless you plan to do it. Not following through with what you say you will do signals to your stalker that you do not mean what you say.
- Keep cool, stay firm, and remain calm so you avoid feeding into your stalkers need to create an emotional response from you.
As scary as it may seem, we can put stalking to an end. The key is to be alert, educate yourself, and to find help. The earlier you do this, the more successful you’ll be. Never forget: no one can take your power away from you. So hold onto to it, and remember you’re in control. For more tips on dealing with a stalker, call 800-FYI-CALL (800-394-2255) Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST., or visit the Stalking Resource Center. Also, don’t forget to check out our post with our top 5 picks for resources on stalking.
Disclaimer: Please note, this is not an exhaustive list of the characteristics of a stalker. If someone you know makes you feel uncomfortable in any way, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you suspect you are being stalked, have a conversation with someone you trust and reach out to an advocate to determine your next steps.
What to do if you’re being stalked
More than one million people are thought to be victims of stalking every year, according to official estimates.
While a majority of the victims are women, men face high rates too and the impact of stalking can be devastating.
So what can you do if you are worried you’re being stalked?
The legal definition of stalking is unusual as it relies on the effect it has on a victim to decide whether or not a crime has been committed.
The law was changed to make stalking a specific crime six years ago. In black and white it reads like this:
” a course of conduct, it may then cause significant alarm, harassment or distress to the victim.”
So that can mean as little as two text messages (a course of conduct) – or anything and everything beyond that.
Despite the large number of victims, statistics from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) show there were only 780 prosecutions in England and Wales in 2015/16 for stalking, with just 529 convictions.
A man who’s been stalking BBC News presenter Emily Maitlis for more than 20 years was recently jailed.
She’s spoken about the impact it’s had on her and her family.
Clare Elcombe Webber, who’s in charge of the National Stalking Helpline, has advice for people worried they’re being stalked:
1. Talk to someone
“The most important thing is to tell someone. Stalking thrives on secrecy – if nobody knows what’s going on that gives the stalker the opportunity to keep on going. Whereas if people know they can do things to keep you safe and they can take power away from the stalker.”
2. Record what’s happening
“Keep a log of any events or contact, any evidence you might have. It helps victims themselves understand there’s a pattern of behaviour. Also if they do want to go to the police or take any formal action it gives people a really clear picture of what’s been going on.”
3. Take digital safety seriously
“About 40% of people who contact us have experienced some kind of cyber stalking. Not only the individual but also their friends and family – so all their social media is as secure as it possibly can be. They don’t let people post pictures of them or check them in to places, for example.”
4. Vary your routine
“Talk to schools, places of work, colleges – make sure people are aware there may be a problem. That helps other people actively keep you safe as well.”
5. Call the police
“If at any point somebody feels unsafe for any reason they need to be calling 999. We want the police to be on board in these situations and on board as early as possible. We know that the sooner there’s some kind of formal intervention the sooner it’s likely to stop. We know that stalkers don’t generally stop on their own.”
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It’s Not Cute, It’s Stalking: The Warning Signs
2K Shares Written by Writer’s Corps member Hannah Anain
For many people, stalking is a distant thought: it happens in horror movies, we laugh about “Facebook” stalking our friends, but we couldn’t possibly imagine someone stalking us or someone we know. Unfortunately, stalking is much more common than most people believe, and it is oftentimes difficult to recognize from afar. According to the Stalking Resource Center, approximately 7.5 million people are stalked each year in the United States. An estimated 15% of women and 6% of men have been a victim of stalking during their lifetimes, and of those, around 61% of female victims and 44% of male victims were stalked by a current or former intimate partner. Even when the stalkers are not current or former partners, the victim usually knows them in some way. Below are four big warning signs of stalking to beware of for yourself or loved ones.
1. Contacting you Constantly
Calling multiple times a day may be confused with clinginess or interest, but don’t be fooled: constant contact may be an early sign of stalking. Stalkers feel the need to know what you’re doing at all times, and the easiest way for them to do that when they’re not around is to call and text incessantly. In this era of advanced technology, constant communication is all too easy to initiate, therefore it is all too easy to blow off as normal. However, this behavior often escalates into stalking.
2. Obtaining Details Before You Provided Them.
Browsing a new fling’s social media accounts is pretty typical, but if someone starts asking extremely specific questions about an Insta-post with your ex, that should raise an eyebrow. Again, technology makes online stalking extremely easy, and an in-depth study of your presence on the internet could lead to digital tracking in the future. Making sure your passwords aren’t obvious is always a good idea because hackers and stalkers alike will try to guess or steal them; making you vulnerable.
3. Monitoring you Excessively.
Asking about your day is normal; inquiring countless times a day about your location and company and digitally tracking you are not. What may at first appear as extreme curiosity is often a sign of extreme control. If you notice that someone is asking a few too many questions about your activity, who you’re hanging out with, when you might be free, seek help: especially if they start showing up uninvited.
4. Showing up Unannounced
The occasional surprise is sweet if you make it clear to your partner or friend that you don’t mind or like it, but unannounced (and undesired) appearances are the brightest red flag of stalking. (Watch Intensity from our Behind the Post campaign to see a great example of what we mean). If you tell someone that you have plans to meet up with friends after work and he or she is waiting outside as soon as you’re finished, don’t blow it off as affectionate: this type of behavior can become extremely dangerous. Likewise, if you start receiving unwanted, unnecessary, and even inappropriate gifts, you may want to reassess your relationship.
If you only take away one thing from these warning signs, it is that you should always, always trust your gut: if it feels off, it probably is. To learn more about stalking and what you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe, visit the Stalking Resource Center or call 800-FYI-CALL (800-394-2255) Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST. And check out our top 5 picks for resources on stalking.
7 Signs You’re Being Facebook Stalked, Because OMG There Are So Many Clues
Is there anyone among us who hasn’t used Facebook once or twice to snoop on somebody? An ex perhaps? An old friend or relative? Let’s face it, the site is the first place most people turn to when they want to get the lowdown, and the sheer number of users means it’s essentially a worldwide directory. But there is a difference between having a cheeky nose and obsessive monitoring, which is not OK. With that in mind, there are a few warning signs that you’re being Facebook stalked to keep an eye out for.
As of April 2018, the social media giant reported that there were2.2 billion active Facebook users every month, which means that chances are, if someone wants to keep an eye on you, this is where they will turn. And I’m not just talking about exes. Even to recruit new employees, according to a report in The Telegraph. Given the amount of information people share on social media, from relationship statuses to personal pictures and your exact location, recognising the warnings of when somebody is shadowing your profile is more important than ever. But how can you tell if there is someone out there obsessed with your profile? Here are some red flags that could give the game away.
1. The Obvious First Sign
Get a friend request from somebody you don’t know? It happens often. Maybe a guy you’ve seen on your commute or at your coffee shop, or a friend of a friend of a friend? It sounds obvious, but it’s probably best to avoid accepting people you don’t know. If you do want to make new friends, perhaps accept but with limited profile visibility.
2. Your Friends List
When you check out your own profile, the selection of friends that Facebook displays as a preview to your entire friends list is not random but actually part of an algorithm that may give you insight into who has recently visited your profile, according to a report by Vice. As this algorithm also brings up friends who you’ve contacted recently, spotting a name among pals who you haven’t talked to recently could be a sign they are Facebook stalking you, with the app placing them there as encouragement for you to reach out.
3. They’re Obsessed With Your Old Photos
Look, it’s happened to the best of us. You’re two years deep in your ex’s new girlfriend’s profile and then accidentally tag yourself in her Tenerife With The Gals photo album and liked her graduation pics. It can happen easily. When it happens a lot, however, you know something is up. Notifications from someone on old posts and photos is a dead giveaway they’re spending WAY too much time on your Facebook.
4. A Third Party App
If you really want to check if somebody is stalking your Facebook page, the Daily Star reports that you could use a third party app. But given recent privacy breaches, this is not always secure. Apps like these claim to give you the lowdown on who has been visiting your profile, how often, and often what they’ve been hovering over. Yikes.
5. Blast From The Past
If you have a friend request you didn’t accept or maybe even someone you blocked, there’s a reason you did it. And the average person can take a hint and know when they’re not wanted. However when someone reappears with a new profile with the intention of connecting despite previously being rejected, it’s a definite warning sign that they’re paying too much attention to your Facebook.
6. Next Level Snooping
If somebody wants to take Facebook stalking to the next level and actually log into your account, the scary thing is that it’s very possible. Scouring your profile’s contact details as well as checking against your other social media presences can make tracking down a login email and resetting your password, well, not entirely difficult. Hackers can also use so-called “scraping tools” to mine for more information. Currently logging off forever.
7. Log Off ASAP
If somebody has tried to log in to your account, you will receive an email saying just that. Another useful feature to keep an eye on if you feel somebody may be stalking you, is Active Sessions, which lets you see a comprehensive list of where and when your account is signed in. It also allows you see what device was used, just so you can be extra sure.
Trying to find out who’s been stalking your Facebook isn’t an exact science, but there are some red flags to look out for, and the results may even make you think twice about the information you share online. The good thing is that there are things you can do about it, like being careful about friend requests you accept and keeping your profile private.
Is Someone Stalking You?
Stalking is repeated harassing or threatening behavior, or any unwanted contact that gives the victim reason to be afraid. It’s also a crime. We often associate stalking with celebrities, but the truth is about 3.4 million people report being stalked in the US every year. Most of them know their stalker.
If you’ve been stalked, you know it’s infuriating—and that it can also be terrifying. Your spouse or former partner paces back and forth in front of your office building, or repeatedly appears when you turn a corner. Maybe they track your activities through the kids or friends and then lets you know they know what you did last weekend. Perhaps they email you constantly, or makes unwanted posts to your Facebook page. Chances are they repeatedly plead with you “just to talk,” but what they really want is to resume the relationship.
Someone is stalking you if they:
- Repeatedly follow or spy on you.
- Constantly call you, at home or at work.
- Repeatedly send you unwanted emails, letters, or gifts.
- Vandalize or damage your property or repeatedly leave signs to let you know they’ve been around.
- Threaten you or someone you care about.
- Ask family members or friends for information about you.
- Repeatedly—and inexplicably—show up wherever you are.
Sometimes stalking is obvious and the pattern of repeated and unwanted attention is a clear problem. Sometimes stalking can seem surreal and you’ll wonder if there’s really a problem at all. But if you’re wondering, there probably is.
Stalking is usually a sign that your former partner is unwilling to let go of the relationship, or that your current partner wants even more control within your relationship. It’s also an indication that violence may erupt or escalate. You should always take stalking seriously.
If you think you’re being stalked, here are some steps to take:
- Call the Partners for Peace helpline at 1.800.863.9909 for help making a safety plan.
- Tell the stalker to leave you alone—firmly and only once. Don’t negotiate or engage in conversation.
- Keep a stalking incident log and record every occurrence, including date, time, description of what happened, and the names of any witnesses.
- Make copies if you get a restraining order, and always keep one with you.
- Save everything the stalker sends you—letters, emails, gifts.
- Get a post office box from a private company—like a local mailing center or shipping store—and use it instead of your home address. If you need to receive a package from FedEx or another company that won’t deliver to a PO Box, use the word “Apartment” instead when giving your address.
- Screen calls with an answering machine.
- Save any voicemail messages from the stalker or record them with a tape recorder and save the tape.
- Call the Unlawful Call Center at 1.800.518.5507 to report and get help documenting harassing or threatening phone calls.
- Learn where the 24-hour stores are located and go there or to a hospital emergency room—anywhere there are a lot of people—if someone is following you. Then call the police. Don’t go home.
Here are some informative statistics:
- About 77 percent of female and 64 percent of male victims know their stalker.
- Seventy-six percent of the women killed by a romantic partner were stalked by that person before the murder.
- The average time a stalker keeps stalking is 1.8 years.
- If stalking involves romantic partners, that time increases to 2.2 years.
- Thirty-one percent of women stalked by a current or former partner are also physically abused by that partner.
Stalking involves intentional and repeated behaviors that cause someone reasonable fear about their safety. And, like all forms of abuse, it involves one person’s consistent attempts—often referred to as a course of conduct—to maintain contact with or gain power and control over another person.
For more information visit the Stalking Resource Center.
As the world becomes more dependent on technology as a means of communication and recreation, computer crime has been increasing at an alarming rate. One type of computer crime that has the potential to cause immense distress and damage is termed cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is defined as using the Internet or other electronic means as a way to harass, intimidate, threaten, monitor or make unwanted advances towards another. It can involve direct communications through e-mails, chat rooms, bulletin boards or social sites such as Facebook, the surreptitious gathering of information regarding the target, or covert observation.
Although in many cases of real-life or off-line stalking, the use of the computer is only one of the means used to harass the victim, harassment in cyberspace is growing. For the victim, who does not know if the harasser is on the other side of the globe or living next door, the fear or embarrassment is real. This fear is justified as there are many incidents where harassment that has originated in cyberspace has crossed into offline, real-life physical stalking. Whilst a number of countries are attempting to incorporate this form of harassment into their anti-stalking legislation, the laws against cyberstalking in many jurisdictions are either limited or non-existent due to the prerequisite in most anti-stalking laws of their being a credible threat or due to the failure of legislative structures to keep up with technology. The effects of cyberstalking can be identical to those in real-life stalking situations (see Impact of stalking on victims) because the stalking occurs online does not make it any less terrifying or damaging. In fact, with the Internet reaching millions of people, the damage can be far wider reaching and enduring.
Cyberstalkers often work under the assumption that they are anonymous and often they are. This means that it is up to you to protect yourself from this form of harassment. However, if you find that you are being stalked online, it is crucial that you take appropriate action to bring it to an end. Some information is outlined below and additional information can be found at the US-based Stalking Resource Center’s cyberstalking page and also via the links at the bottom of the Victim Resources page.
Motivations for online harassment
- Seeking a romantic attachment
- Rejected partner trying to reconcile
- Rejected partner seeking revenge
- Delusional or imagined attachment to the victim, be it romantic or another connection
- Revenge for actual or perceived injustices
- Hate or intolerance towards a specific group
- Random attacks – the victim being in the wrong place at the wrong time
Types of harassing online behaviours
Unsolicited e-mails involving contacting someone person against their wishes
Spamming – sending bulk messages to someone which may jam their e-mail address or make it hard to find legitimate communications.
Flaming – on-line verbal abuse.
Infecting the victim’s computer with malicious programs, such as Trojans, keyloggers, spyware or viruses. These programs can allow the stalker to remotely monitor the victim’s computer use down to every keystroke (which can include the victim’s address, planned activities, credit card details or people they communicate with) or download private data stored on the victim’s computer or control the functions of the computer (e.g. turn on webcams). This information can be used to impersonate the victim online. Viruses or worms can also be used to cause damage to the victim’s computer.
Identity fraud which can involve a wide range of activities, including posting communications as if they are from victim that may include personal ads of items for sale or of a sexually explicit or provocative nature, bidding in on-line auctions in the victim’s name, or simply communicating with others as if they were the victim.
Spreading rumours or revealing extremely personal information or posting intimate photographs.
Abusive messages that attack the victim’s reputation personally or in the workplace.
Threats to harm the victim or someone they care for either physically, by reputation or some other means.
Many people leave themselves vulnerable to on-line harassment. Tips to increase your online security include:
- Always have the most up-to-date virus and firewall protection from a reputable source.
- Never share personal information in on-line profiles or public spaces. You should be suspicious of anyone who is pushing you to reveal details of your private life.
- Password protect all accounts including cell/mobile phones, land lines, e-mails, banking and credit cards. Use nonsense passwords for your accounts that include a combination of numbers, symbols, and letters. Change your password/s regularly and do not use the same password for different accounts. NEVER give your passwords to anyone and make “reminder questions” difficult for anyone to guess.
- Remember that any information you provide on the Internet, even to trusted or popular sites, is potentially susceptible to hackers.
- Never open attachments from people you do not know or trust.
- If you are ending an abusive relationship, change all of your passwords to something the stalker could not know or guess.
- Choose screen names that are gender and age neutral.
- Do not flirt on-line and be careful of what you post. Once it is out there, it is difficult or impossible to take back.
- Ask your friends never to give out your details to anyone and be discerning regarding who you accept as friends on social pages.
- Make sure your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has an acceptable policy prohibiting cyberstalking.
- Check the status of your credit card account regularly and keep a check on purchases you make. If there are any irregularities, notify your bank.
- If someone knows your phone number, it is technically possible to tap into your GPS locator, thus knowing where you are at any time. If you are concerned about this , turn off your GPS application. If you really need this service, get another device that cannot be traced.
- If you are using dating websites, set up a dedicated e-mail for that purpose. Do not give out any personal information at all. If you do arrange to meet someone, do so in a safe public environment and let someone else know what you are doing in advance. Be careful not to be followed home. If you begin to talk to someone you have met online on the telephone, block your user ID or preferably use a pre-paid, non-traceable number on a simple phone.
- Be aware of what information about you is available online. Google your name in quotes, e.g. “Joe Bloggs”, and review the information that is on the net. Do the same with all variations of your home address, phone number and combinations of the two, using quotation marks, hyphens and underscores. If you have children, do the same with their names. Another site to explore is Dogpile.
- If you have a website or blog, use a counter that will record all incoming traffic and allow you to view who is accessing your site.
What to do if you are being stalking online.
The golden rule here is not to make the mistake of underestimating the seriousness of the situation. Go with your instinct. If you feel uncomfortable, end all communications immediately. If you think that you are being stalked on-line, the following steps are recommended:
- Give a clear message to the person that is not rude, insulting or personal, that they must stop contacting you. Do not respond to them in any form after that.
- Tell other people what is happening, so they do not give out any information about you.
- Change your e-mail address to one that does not readily identify who you are, and only give it to those you trust completely.
- Save all communications with the harasser and keep a hard copy that is not on your computer.
- Block or filter all messages.
- If you are being harassed via e-mail, visit a site such as www.staysmartonline.gov.au for advice or SpamCop, which will determine the point of origin of a message and generate a report that is sent to the appropriate system administrator.
- File a complaint with the harasser’s ISP or the administrator of the on-line community.
- If you genuinely believe that you might be at risk of physical harm, contact the local police.
- Keep a non-computerised log of the harassment (or one on another computer that is not on-line). This can be used as evidence, should the case go to court.
- Keep documentary evidence of any contacts with Internet system administrators and/or police. Again, not only on your computer.
Stalking: Don’t Confuse the Signs with Love
530 Shares Written by Writer’s Corps member Carrie Manner
Pop culture has a bad habit of presenting stalking as normal dating behavior. Rom-coms and popular TV series feature lovable underdogs fumbling in their quest for love as they study their crush, join the same activities, ask around about them, and coordinate “coincidental” meetups. If the object of their affection doesn’t instantly fall for them, they’re seen as playing “hard to get” and efforts to win them over get ramped up. Through these unrealistic depictions of “love,” viewers are socialized to perceive these grand gestures as romantic and suitors “are socialized to be persistent,” University of Michigan professor, Julie Lippman told the Huffington Post.
IRL, these actions are often unwelcome, unwanted, and downright creepy. When partners try these grand gestures it’s easy to confuse their actions with intense love since “we’re taught that we should want this” from a partner said Lippman. But stalking is less about love and more about obsession and control. To complicate matters further, most stalkers or someone who repeatedly harasses or threatens another person are people you already know. According to Stalking Resource Center, 61% of women and 44% of men have been stalked by a current or former intimate partner.
If you haven’t already, check out our article It’s Not Cute, It’s Stalking to learn the basic warning signs of stalking. Then learn about additional signs below to help you determine if you’re being stalked by a former or current partner.
You Get Hang-up Calls and Messages from Unknown Contacts
Are you receiving calls from blocked numbers who hang up or breathe into the phone until you disconnect? Is your current or former SO keeping tabs on you through email, texts and DM’s on social media? If this is happening to you (and you’re sure it’s not a prank) then it may be cause for alarm. Stalking is more common than you may think, it affects 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men in their lifetime. People experiencing stalking are often cautioned not to ignore their stalker however, psychologist Kris Mohandie told NBC that “this doesn’t work with stalkers who are already violating the boundaries of normal behavior.” Instead, he recommends you remain alert and avoid engaging your stalker directly. Inform key people if you feel unsafe and increase security measures such as locks, alarms and security cameras.
They’re Always Driving By
It’s never okay for anyone to continually drive by your house, school, or work when you’ve explicitly asked them not to. A stalker may try to convince you that they’re only “checking in” to make sure you’re safe but in reality, it’s part of their obsession. If your partner continues to check on you, or you notice they’re driving past your house even after you’ve asked them to stop, this could be cause for alarm. What may appear as heartfelt admiration can feel overwhelming and intimidating to you later on. If you notice someone actively circling your neighborhood and/or following you, it may be time to get the authorities involved.
They Obtain Info On You Before You Provide it
Does your current or potential SO ask you questions that make you feel like you’re being interrogated? For example, are they asking about your schedule? Or your exes? Being interested in you is one thing, but a potential stalker’s aim is to know everything. You do not owe your SO information about your whereabouts or details about the people you’ve dated in the past. If someone continually pries on you or asks your friends for details you won’t provide, this may be a precursor to more intensified behaviors. If this is happening to you, please visit our real-time resources to get help.
They Use Gifts to Make up for Obsessive Behavior
Let’s face it, accepting gifts can be flattering, but it’s a hallmark move stalkers use to gain their target’s affection. Accepting gifts from someone may not seem like an issue at first, however, experts say stalkers will do anything to gain attention and elicit a response from the person they’re pursuing. Any response you give a potential stalker can be misinterpreted as interest in them or interest in continuing an unhealthy relationship.
They Have a Sixth Sense About When You Leave
Does your SO have a “sixth sense” about your whereabouts whenever you stray from your normal routine? No, they aren’t “gifted,” they’re likely using a tracking app or spyware to cyberstalk you. Everyone has different comfort levels when it comes to sharing their whereabouts with their partner. In a healthy relationship, couples are able to come to a happy medium that makes both partners comfortable with how much they share. If your partner does not respect your comfort level or worse violates it by resorting to apps to track your location than it may be time to exit the relationship. Tracking you in this way has nothing to do with being considerate or attentive and everything to do with needing to have control. If you’re concerned about your safety, please contact the authorities. And if you suspect you are being cyberstalked, there are a few precautions you could take to protect yourself:
- Change the password of apps, emails, and social media accounts
- Turn off the location on all apps
- Erase your browser history
- Monitor your bank account
- Factory reset your phone to get rid of spyware
- Set up an Emergency SOS on your phone
For more tips on tech safety, check out Techsafety.org to learn more.
They Damage Property and Threaten You
Your SO’s behavior has become increasingly obsessive. Not only do they NEED to know where you are all the time but they’re showing up to your home unannounced when you’ve asked them not to. They aren’t respecting you or your boundaries and so you have no other choice but to end the relationship. You feel sad but relieved until you wake up the next morning to find your car tires slashed. According to Protection Against Stalking (PAS), two-thirds of stalkers commit property damage. Feeling they’ve lost the relationship, many stalkers resort to fear tactics to regain power and control. According to PAS, “Property damage may be associated with rage and a wish to undermine your belief in a safe environment.” Experts say this kind of behavior often precedes physical attacks. Should you discover any type of damage- a smashed window, spray-painted message, or a slashed tire etc.- take photos and immediately contact the authorities to get the incident on record.
Also, keep in mind that threatening behavior does not have to be physical. Using explicit photos to blackmail a partner is a common theme in abusive relationships. Contact the authorities if a stalker attempts to manipulate you by releasing sensitive information.
They Attack Your Reputation
Some would lead you to believe an ex that trash-talks you, spreads rumors, or attacks you in online posts still loves you and wants you back. In reality, this person is trying to provoke you through unhealthy, attention-grabbing behaviors to maintain a sense of control. “According to Reputation Defender, an online reputation management company “Online stalkers may try to coerce you into doing what they want by publishing defamatory, malicious information or private, personal data that can hurt your online reputation, your relationships and your professional career.” They recommend these digital hygiene tips to prevent stalking online:
- Using nonsuggestive screen names
- Remove personal information from social media profiles
- Remove your personal information from People Finder Sites ie Spokeo, People Smart
- Never give out personal information such as phone numbers or physical addresses
- Document incoming correspondence, including emails and instant messages
What to Do if You’re Being Stalked
Experts say intimate partner stalkers repeatedly approach their target before their behavior escalates. If you suspect your ex or SO is stalking you there are a few definitive steps you can take to protect yourself:
o Trust Your Gut – If your current or former SO’s behavior makes you feel unsafe for any reason then it may be time to exit the relationship. Expert criminology at California State University at Bakersfield, Dr. Doris M. Hall told the New York Times, when it comes to stalking ”you have a better chance of putting a stop to it if you don’t give it a chance to accelerate.”
o Don’t Rationalize the Stalking Behavior – Many people make excuses for their ex or SO’s actions because they believe their stalker is acting from a place of love or a past wound, such as a childhood trauma. It’s important to understand that you will not be able to “fix” or bargain with someone who is stalking you. Their behavior alone is proof that they lack personal boundaries and respect. You need to be firm and protect yourself.
o Keep the Evidence – Stalking can be difficult to prove legally so gather as much evidence as possible, this could include phone records, screenshots, photos of damages and witness accounts, in case you need to take legal action.
o Alert Others –Talk to friends, family, your employer and professors about your stalker if you are concerned that they will show up at your home, campus or job unannounced.
o Connect with an Advocate – Stalking Victims Sanctuary is a nonprofit that offers resources for people being stalked. Other valuable resources include Womenslaw.org and the Stalking Resource Center.
o Stalking Safety Plan – Create a plan to keep you out of dangerous situations with your stalker. to learn more about safety planning.
o Contact Law Enforcement – Get the authorities involved as early as possible to make sure your stalker is on their radar.
If you believe you’re being stalked, do not panic. There are ways you can empower yourself to keep you and your loved ones safe. Keep a record of their harassment until you have enough evidence to take legal action. For immediate help, contact the Stalking Resource Center or call 800-FYI-CALL (800-394-2255) Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST. And for more tips and facts from the experts, check out our top 5 picks for resources on stalking.
Top 10 Signs You are Being Stalked
While it may seem no big deal to run into the same person now and then, you may be a victim of stalking depending on the frequency and the location of those run-ins. According to the Department of Justice, one in twelve women will experience being stalked by someone. Typically, 75 percent of women know their stalker. Technology made it easier than ever for someone to track your life without you even knowing it.
This terrifying experience could turn deadly. So, it’s a good idea to stay educated and aware of what stalking is, and what the signs are. Sometimes, it’s better to be a little cautious when you notice strange circumstances. Perhaps you keep seeing the same car that doesn’t belong in your neighborhood, or someone you talk to on the regular knows a little too much about your personal life – it’s a good idea to run through the checklist below and make sure that you are safe from these individuals.
10 Signs You Are Being Stalked
It’s easy to get lost in thought on a typical day out, but unfortunately, while you walk down the street with your headphones on, ignoring the world, other people might take notice. Staying vigilant is the best way to prevent a devastating situation with someone who tracks you.
If you’re trying to confirm your suspicions, here are ten signs to look out for:
1. Repetitive phone calls – if you’ve noticed repeated requests from the same number or a blocked number, it could be someone with damaging intentions. These types of people will try to “hear your voice” or call you repeatedly to act on their fantasies of speaking to you.
2. Constantly lurking around your home or workplace – if you notice someone is showing up around your workplace, when you know they don’t work there, as well as in your neighborhood, then you’re likely dealing with a deranged individual.
3. Inappropriate gifts – Repeatedly receiving gifts from someone you don’t know well is an uncomfortable experience. You know when it’s inappropriate to get a gift, so this should put you on alert.
4. “Rescuing” You – If you’re on the road and your tire blew out, be wary of anyone that immediately pops up to help you fix it. That person may be neurotically finding ways to be in your presence, including sabotaging your well-being.
5. Manipulating you into interacting – We have a tendency towards politeness in society, and sometimes those with delusional disorders use that to force you to talk to them. For example, cornering you at a party despite you making several hints that you’d like to get away from them. They’ll try to approach you somewhere where you can’t say no, or can’t make a scene.
6. Weird messages online – With the internet, stalking is easier than ever. Pay close attention to your friends and followers on social media. Too many ‘blank’ accounts following you could be a stalker. If you’ve blocked them, they’ll likely make several accounts to try to speak to you again.
7. Unwanted contact – They might rub up on you in the street, consistently touch your arm or shoulders during conversations, or make themselves comfortable with you despite your objections.
8. Trying to find out your plans – a more obvious sign of stalking to pay attention to is who is asking too many questions about your whereabouts. Someone tailing you will try to sound natural by asking you what your plans are for the evening, or where you’re going with your friends this weekend. A perfectly polite inquiry can have a hidden purpose.
9. Alienation – another common behavior for those with stalkers, they will try to alienate you from friends and family by telling lies or spreading rumors about you.
10. Showing up unannounced – If a person repeatedly comes to your home or work without you asking them to, they’re likely there to check up on you.
Don’t Fight Stalking Alone
If an investigation shows that you are the victim of a stalker or if you are wrongly accused of committing these types of acts, it’s best to get in touch with an experienced injunction attorney that can represent you during the case. Fighter Law understands that stalkers are often intelligent and manipulative, so it’s good to have a legal professional fighting for your rights. Contact us at (407) 574-5075 to get your free consultation with our seasoned Orlando injunction attorneys.
General advice for victims
When victims of stalking seek assistance, they usually ask the following questions:
- Am I in danger?
- Will it continue?
- If it has stopped, will it start again?
- Will I ever get over this?
- What do I need to do to stop it?
This website contains some basic information and advice to answer these questions. More information is available in the book ‘Surviving Stalking’ by Michele Pathé (Cambridge University Press, 2002).
Although there is no “one size fits all” list of recommendations that will be applicable to all stalking situations, there are four Golden Rules that should be followed if you find yourself the victim of stalking:
- Have NO contact with the stalker
- Tell others
- Increase personal protection
- Collect evidence
1. Have No Contact with the Stalker
After the stalker has been told by the victim in a calm, clear and firm manner that their attention is unwanted and that they are to stop all contact, the victim, their family and friends should have no further contact with the stalker. Stalkers want a reaction whether it’s positive or negative. It is crucial to ensure that:
- Everyone involved understands the importance of not appealing to the stalker to stop, threatening them or retaliating to provocation
- The police should be the only ones to confront the stalker
- If contact is necessary due to the shared custody of children, arrange for a professional organization or police station to be the handover point. The victim should never meet the stalker alone or at their home
- If there is accidental contact with the stalker, the victim should try not to show any emotion and leave the situation as soon as possible. Seek refuge in the closest shop or business and call the police emergency number if the stalker tries to approach.
2. Tell Others
Although many stalking victims are reluctant to inform others of what they are going through, it is important that those around the victim know what is happening. This includes family, friends, co-habitants, work colleagues and even neighbors. By explaining the situation the victim can:
- Reduce the possibility of others inadvertently providing information to the stalker or access to the victim
- Alerts them to the significance of any events they witness
- Helps to provide stronger evidence should the case go to court
- Obtain the necessary support to get through the ordeal
What to tell others
- Give clear instructions not to initiate any contact with the stalker and tell them what to do should the stalker make contact with them; e.g. avoid any aggressive or hostile interactions and not provide any information.
- Describe the stalker or give them a picture.
- Provide the make, model and license number of the stalker’s vehicle(s), if known.
- If they can, get them to photograph the stalker without the stalker knowing and tell them to contact the police.
- Children should be told not collect the mail or answer the phone
3. Increase Personal Protection
- Change daily routines e.g. the route or times going work, gym or other frequently attended locations
- Know the location of the closest police station and those along the routes frequently travelled
- Keep a list of critical telephone numbers including emergency services and other supports next to your home telephone and have them on speed dial on your mobile/cell phone.
- Have an unlisted telephone number and be discerning who that is given to. Have caller ID on your phone and screen all calls from unknown numbers by using an answering machine or service.
- Ensure that telephone calls and visitors are screened at work
- Avoid walking alone at night or in quiet remote areas
- Have an escort to your car when leaving work
- Get a personal duress alarm
- Consider whether self-defence training would be useful
- Let people know where you are going and how long you will be
- Join an auto club so that you can call for assistance if you find you have a flat tire/s or your car has been tampered with
- Check your car before getting in. Regularly check for tracking devices and turn off the GPS on all mobile/cell phones
- Inform schools or day care centres that your children attend of the situation
- Always carry a mobile telephone so you can call for assistance, including when you are at home
- Develop a safety plan that includes how to exit your home quickly and arranging a safe place to go
- As a last option, you may have to consider moving to a new location. If you choose to do this, ensure that you take measures to ensure that your are not traceable.
Improve Home Security
- Change locks – install deadlocks, window and manhole locks
- Install sensor lights that are beyond easy reach
- Keep torches in easy to access places around the home
- Install fire alarms and ensure that they are always in working order and have battery back-up and have all purpose fire extinguishers available
- Have peephole in the doors
- Remove hiding places (trim bushes)
- Don’t leave ladders or other means of climbing around the house
- Lock your power box
- Get a post office box or at least have a lock on the letterbox
- Get a dog
- Protect pets
- Get a home security check. Many police stations offer this service
Protect Personal Information
- Only give personal details to those you trust
- Get a post office box or at least have a lock on the letterbox
- Shred all paperwork before throwing it out
- Consider having property owned by a trust fund
- Don’t give out personal information online
- Close accounts such as Facebook, Bebo, Myspace, including children’s accounts
- Don’t show your name at the entrance to your residence
- Don’t have personalised number plates on your car
- Remove details from the electoral role if applicable
- Don’t use your home address for anything related to business
- Be careful what you say on cordless telephones as conversations can be monitored by scanner. Baby monitors can also transmit conversations in the home.
- Ensure your computer has a strict firewall and is well protected against viruses
4. Collect Evidence
Proof is crucial in preparing a case against the stalker and it cannot be overestimated how important it is to keep all evidence and document your encounters and experience. The following are some ways in which to collect evidence:
- Compile a journal that is a chronological summary of events from that first day through to the present. Keep it brief and include everything you can remember, even if it seems trivial, and record dates, times, and witnesses to the encounters. Include telephone calls, items left or sent and any encounters with the stalker. You may start to see a set pattern develop. Don’t ever lie about or minimise your involvement with the stalker. If the stalker is prosecuted and it is discovered that you did not tell the truth, it will damage your case as they will suspect that everything else you say is untrue.
- Organise paperwork in a filing system e.g. Police reports, hard copies of e-mails telephone records or by date.
- Keep originals in a safe place and a copy of everything in another location. Scan any paperwork, pictures etc and send an e-mail copy to an e-mail account specifically set up for this purpose and send a copy to a friend. Keep the copy up-to-date.
- Don’t scribble on original documents, add notes.
- Save everything. Keep e-mails on the computer and in hard copy.
- Keep a log of expenses and receipts as they may later be important in regards to any claims for compensation.
- Keep a small camera or use a mobile phone to take pictures of any items in the location in which they are found. This is also important for perishable items such as flowers or damage to property. If there is a time/date facility on the camera use that. If photographing the stalker, use extreme caution, try not to be obvious and under no circumstances compromise safety.
- If items are delivered, contact the delivery service to determine who placed the order, when, and how it was paid for (cash or credit card). Try to obtain a description of the person who placed the order.
- Handle all evidence carefully so as not to smudge fingerprints. Either hold items by the corner or use tweezers. Keep the item in separate plastic bag.
- Keep the tapes from answering machines or, if your machine is digital, keep a second recording of the message elsewhere.
- Have someone else listen to any messages
- Try to record the message so can be stored in another format.
- Keep text messages on the phone, download to computer and show others
- Have a generic message on all phones or have a same gender friend record your voicemail message to discourage the stalker from calling you to hear your voice
Reporting the stalking to police
- Go with someone else if possible
- Present evidence in a collated organized fashion
- Know the anti-stalking legislation applicable to your jurisdiction (see our list of international anti-stalking legislation)
- Include copies of previous court orders related to the stalking situation
- Keep a copy of all material presented to police
- Record where, when, and to whom the report was made
- Ask for a copy of the report or obtain the report number (quote with future contact)
- Ask if you can have one or two officers allocated to the case so you don’t have to keep repeating your story
- Ask to be kept informed of any contact the police have with the stalker so that you can be prepared for the possibility of retaliatory acts. This includes the issuing of warnings, the serving of protection orders or laying of charges
- Consider whether you want to apply for a protection order (see our page on protection orders)
- Ensure that all breaches of protection orders are recorded and reported to police immediately
- If you have relocated, ensure that your new details are not inadvertently provided to the stalker in legal paperwork
- If the complaint is not taken seriously or breaches of protection orders are not acted on, request to speak to a senior officer. If the outcome is still unsatisfactory, lodge a formal complaint. However, remember that unless there is sufficient evidence that a crime has been committed, there is often little that the police can do
Mistakes Victims Make
- Providing too much information about themselves to people they don’t know
- Not giving a clear calm message that they are not interested in a relationship
- Not listening to their intuition.
- Ignoring the early warning signs
- Not taking the situation seriously
- Responding to a stalker in any way, shape, or form
- Trying to reason or bargain with a stalker
- Blaming themselves
- Not taking adequate privacy and safety precautions
- Seeking a restraining or protective order without thinking of the potential consequences.
- Failing to obtain support from others either personally or professionally, including family, friends, work colleagues and police
- Expecting police to solve the problem and not taking responsibility their own safety
- Obtaining a weapon that can be used against them
- Ignoring their emotional needs during and after a stalking
But …why? What can a person seriously get out of an experience like this? McCarthy stresses that it’s very much open to interpretation, and suggests that being followed in this way could actually help heighten our day-to-day lives. “When we think about our interactions online, it seems we are always craving attention, likes, affirmation of our existence,” she explains. “Even with hundreds or thousands of followers, we still feel this lacking sometimes.” With “Follower”, she wants to apply this theory to real life – examining how one real faceless follower can compare to all of our countless online ones.
The similarities between the two worlds are definitely noticeable. In an echo of their behaviour on social media, one ex-followee found that they were randomly “filtering” their actions for McCarthy’s benefit. “I felt the need to do activities that were fun and reminiscent of the lives my friends appear to lead on Facebook,” they revealed. “I became self-conscious of being boring and wished I could let my follower know when my activities were exciting. It was a big relief to find at the end of the day that the meal I forgot to Instagram did not go unnoticed.”
For McCarthy – whose previous projects have been more focused on her own awkward social behaviour – this performance is an attempt to look outward, and turn her attention to others.“There is something strangely intimate about the whole thing for me,” she says. “By the end of the day, I feel as though I know them, and we have had a prolonged experience together. I’ve followed them through the rain, watched them play tennis, eat with friends, watch a movie, shop for groceries, walk to and from their homes. At times, it seems they’re doing things just for me, or maybe they even notice me, but I can’t ever be sure.”