It is very scary to be a victim of stalking. The person stalking you might be a random stranger, a casual acquaintance, or someone you used to be close with. They might send you unwanted notes, letters or gifts, try to contact you incessantly even when you said you don’t want to talk to them, and/or try to approach you online or in person. Many stalkers will also try to gather information about you from friends or family members (“What is so-and-so up to know? Do you know how she’s doing?”) or show up coincidentally at places where you often go. Needless to say, all of these stalking tactics are frightening.
How Do I Know if I’m Being Stalked?
How do you know if someone is stalking you? Recognizing stalking begins with understanding what stalking is. Traditionally, stalking refers to a person following you, trying to engage in unwanted communication, or keeping tabs on your whereabouts and activities.
The internet has broadened the definition of stalking to encompass far more than it did for past generations. When stalking happens online, it’s called “cyberstalking.” Cyberstalking can encompass areas like blackmail, slander, and identity theft, and it can be just as damaging and frightening as in-person stalking.
Some of the most common signs that someone may be stalking you include:
- They follow you or show up at the same places
- They know your schedule, activities, and where to find you
- They continue calling, messaging, or sending gifts despite being told not to
- They ask invasive questions about you to friends or family
- They monitor your online activity
- They take photos or videos of you without your consent
- They hack your accounts or impersonate you online
- They spread lies or rumors about you
- They attempt to threaten or blackmail you
If you find yourself on the internet searching for questions like, “Is someone stalking me?” it’s a good sign that the behaviors the other person is exhibiting are alarming and may be dangerous. Staying safe when you’re the victim of a stalker starts with knowing what to do if someone stalks you.
What Can I Do If I’m Being Stalked?
Please contact local law enforcement or call 911 to report any cases of stalking. We are unable to take reports of incidents of stalking.
First, we need to establish that any form of stalking is wrong, even if the person stalking you used to be a close friend or significant other in your life. You do NOT have to feel guilty for ending a relationship with this person, even if they make you feel this way. Many stalkers are manipulative, and will try anything (even tell you they’re going to kill themselves) to keep the relationship going with you.
Note: If you think someone intends to commit suicide, call 911 immediately.
That being said, here are a few things you should do if someone is stalking you online or in person.
Remember: only try these things if you don’t feel like you’re in immediate danger.
If you feel like you are being threatened or in danger, call 911 right away.
Tell your parents, school guidance counselor, or any trusted adult that this person is stalking you. Ask them for help. Even if you feel like the situation is embarrassing, and you’d rather keep it private, DON’T. This will enable the stalker to continue. Support from others is usually helpful to figure out how to stop the stalking and protect you from harm, even though many victims of stalking feel ashamed about the situation.
Most stalkers won’t listen when you ask them to stop contacting you. That’s why it’s essential, as a precautionary measure, to block their phone number and email address to prevent them from trying to reach you again. You’ll also need to block them on social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik—be very comprehensive and thorough. Don’t forget about Whatsapp, either.
Make your social media profiles private.
In addition to blocking the stalker online, many victims decide to make their social media profiles private so that stalkers do not have access to real-time updates of their life. Stalkers are resourceful; they could keep creating new email addresses and social media profiles just to gain access to you and/or what you’re posting. If your profile is public, your stalker can easily continue seeing your pictures, status, and other personal information. Keeping your social media account private is a good idea for all teens, not just victims of stalking, as it prevents dangerous strangers (like pedophiles or child sex traffickers) from accessing you directly. While making your posts private does limit your ability to share with a higher audience, and people who aren’t your “friends”, it immediately keeps you safer.
Stalking falls under the “harassment” category of most social media platforms. This means you can report this person on whichever platform they are using to contact you.
Keep them from seeing where you are in real time.
Don’t post photos or videos on social media that show your exact location at that point in time. Even if your profile is already on private, your stalker could easily figure out where you are by using one of your “friend’s” accounts. Additionally, turn off Location Services on your smartphone.
Change your passwords.
If the stalker used to be a close friend or partner, they might know the password (or two) to your phone, laptop, email, social media, etc. Change these passwords immediately, and make them very hard to guess.
Contact local law enforcement.
If the stalking doesn’t stop, you can go with your parents (or by yourself) to your local police station. Or, call them on the phone and ask to speak with an officer about your situation. The police will give you a number of options as to what to do. Bring whatever evidence you have of the stalking: screenshots of text messages, tangible notes/gifts that they sent you, screenshots of call logs, printed email messages, etc. Having documented evidence of the stalking will help you receive a protection order if you and your parents decide to go that route.
If the stalker is threatening to harm you – in person or online – then you need to get help as soon as possible. Tell your parents or another trusted adult and ask them to help you get immediate assistance. Or, call 911 yourself and report what’s going on. You can also call 911 if the stalker is threatening to kill themselves if you don’t “call them back”/”keep talking to them”/”return their advances”. Even you think the stalker is just “being manipulative,” don’t hesitate to report them to emergency services.
You Are Not Alone.
If you’re being stalked, know that you are not alone. Stalking is a terrifying experience to undergo, especially if you feel like you’re going through it alone. However, keep in mind that more than 7 million people are stalked per year in the United States, according to data from the CDC.
Here are some other statistics about stalking:
- Females are two times more likely to be stalked than males.
- Teens and young adults, ages 18-24, experience the highest rates of stalking.
- The majority of stalking victims are stalked by someone they know; usually a former partner or significant other.
Mental Health Treatment for Trauma
Being stalked is traumatic. Every time you receive an unwanted form of contact from the stalker, you might experience physical and/or emotional reactions.
Physical reactions can include:
- Shaking or trembling
- Heart racing or pounding; palpitations
- Head hurting; headaches
- Feeling like you want to cry
- Feeling scared and helpless
- Panic attacks
You may start staying away from places, people, or activities that are associated with the stalker. This is called avoidance, and is a symptom of trauma. You could also experience hyperarousal. This means you could become highly alert and easily startled. You could also become very suspicious of others and have trouble trusting them. Other signs that you might have PTSD include:
- Having trouble sleeping
- Angry outbursts
- Depression or suicidal thoughts
- Substance abuse
Studies show that victims of stalking often need treatment for mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. According to research, victims who are threatened by stalkers are more likely to develop symptoms of PTSD (Purcell, Pathé, & Mullen, 2005).
When it comes to trauma, the sooner you get treatment the better. CBT and DBT, in combination with Exposure Therapy (such as Prolonged Exposure Therapy or EMDR) can help manage the symptoms of anxiety and fear that stalking victims experience even after the incident has ended. Such treatment is usually available at intensive outpatient treatment programs (IOP) for teens. If you need more serious treatment for PTSD or other related conditions (such as depression, anxiety, or substance use), a mental health/substance abuse residential treatment center (RTC) or partial hospitalization program (PHP) for adolescents may be necessary.
Additional Tips for Teens Being Stalked
If someone is stalking you, it’s very important to know how to stay safe and what to do to limit a stalker’s ability to gain information about you. Some good advice when you’re being stalked includes:
- Stay with others while in public places and while walking
- Pay attention to people and vehicles in your surroundings
- Know the locations of safe spaces like police departments
- If you’re being followed, drive to a police station
- Block your stalker on social media
- Don’t accept requests from unknown or fake accounts
- Don’t engage with the stalker
- Keep your social media accounts set to private
- Don’t share your location on social media apps
- Avoid checking in to places online or posting about your location
- Let friends, family, and teachers know about the stalking
Dealing with a stalker requires a certain level of vigilance and an effort to maintain privacy. This may not seem fair, but it’s often necessary to stay safe.
Worrying about your safety can take a serious toll on your mental health. Asking for support from family and friends and seeing a mental health professional are two steps you can take to help reduce the stress and anxiety that can come from dealing with a stalker.
Is There a Way to Avoid Stalkers?
Stalking is often linked to intimate relationships. Setting healthy dating boundaries and knowing the signs of codependency in relationships is one way to avoid bad situations and notice red flags from the beginning. Knowing the signs of stalking can also help you take action before a situation escalates.
What to Do When Someone Is Stalking You Online?
Online stalking should be reported to the police. It can be a form of digital dating abuse, but you can also be stalked online by someone you don’t know.
If someone is stalking you online, do your best to block their access to your social media accounts. Make sure any accounts are set to private and don’t accept requests from unknown accounts.
What Are the Common Reasons for People to Stalk Others?
Stalking is usually linked to mental health concerns on the part of the person doing the stalking. Problems regulating emotions and distorted ideas about relationships can lead to stalking. Drug abuse and sexual abuse can also be contributing factors to why an individual engages in stalking.
Stalking is never the fault of the victim. Much of the time, a stalker seems normal until their victim pulls away or rejects their advances. Dating violence risk comes in many forms, and stalking is only one.
How Do I Report a Stalker?
Knowing how to stop a stalker requires knowledge of the legal process. You should always report stalking to the police. It’s often necessary to file a protective order so that a stalker faces legal consequences if they continue to contact or follow you.
You can file a protective order at your local courthouse. You’ll have to attend a court hearing, at which point you can provide the judge with the evidence you’ve saved to help make your case.
The Effects of Stalking
Stalking is dangerous. Knowing what to do when you have a stalker protects your safety and overall well-being. Know the signs of stalking, ask for help, and don’t hesitate to report a stalker to the police.
In addition to the risk of violence stalking brings, it takes a serious toll on mental and emotional health. Working with a mental health professional to understand the impact a stalker has had on you can help you heal.
If you’re concerned someone is stalking you, never ignore the situation. Asking for help can get you the support and healing needed to help you move through the frightening experience of being targeted by a stalker.