Safety

What To Do — And What Not To Do — If You Think You’re Being Stalked

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.

Start Documenting 

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.”

[Photo: Getty Images]

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