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Stalking 101

The Basics of Stalking and Where to Find Help

October 1, 2018, St. Louis, MO – Safe Connections blogger, Lisa Simani had the chance to sit down and chat with Jess Cowl, Assistant Director for Crisis and Prevention at Safe Connections to talk about what stalking looks like and some resources that can help survivors.

Q: What does stalking behavior look like?

A: The hallmark behavior of stalking that we see at Safe Connections is surveillance-type controlling behavior (i.e. use of tracking apps on cell phones, physically following a partner, harassing a partner with incessant text messages or phone calls throughout the day to check up on their location, and/or monitoring a partner’s social media sites, to name a few), used by one person over another in order to gain or exert control. 

While perpetrators can be acquaintances or strangers, at Safe Connections, we find that perpetrators are often the partners or former partners of our clients. Typically, the stalking-like or stalking behavior escalates throughout the course of the relationship, escalating when our client(s) makes the decision to end the relationship; although, many of our clients who choose to stay in their relationships also report stalking-like behaviors by abusive partners.

Q: What are some types of behaviors stalkers use to gain control?

A: With regard to the clients that we see, stalking-like and stalking behaviors tend to escalate over time. Most commonly, we see partners begin attempting to secure control by repeatedly checking in with a partner, often times to check up on where the partner is and who the partner may be with. This may occur via text message, phone calls, and/or through related communication apps and platforms (including social media).

In addition, with time, partners may ask for access to their partner’s mail/email or financial accounts, begin to isolate their partner from friends and family members, and/or physically show up at a location to double check that a partner is where they say they’re going to be, all under the guise of “looking out for [their partner].”

It is important that folks know that there are legal protections from this, and related forms of stalking-like behavior. Current legislation regards stalking as, “a course of conduct that is made with the intent to cause a person to reasonably fear for [their] family’s safety as well as the safety of the family’s pet or livestock.” As such, to be legally denoted “stalking”, the behavior must be both repeated and cause “reasonable fear” for safety. When this type of behavior does not meet the standard of being repeated, it may still fall under the category of harassment. Harassment is regarded as, “unwanted communication that may be threatening, intimidating, frightening or [that may] cause emotional distress to another person.”

Q: What should one do if they are being stalked?

A: Documentation is critical when someone feels like they may be or are being stalked. We encourage clients to keep a record of when and where each incident happened, including a brief narrative on what happened, to support being able to both report and to maintain a paper trail of the course of conduct.

Screenshot excessive and/or threatening text messages, save aggressive voicemails, take pictures of anything that is left in a car / at a workplace / on a front porch, etc. by the stalker, and send all of this information to a trusted individual or to a secure backup device or email account. Context makes every client’s situation different, so we would encourage you to reach out to a therapist or our crisis line for more detailed suggestions on how to safety plan if you feel like you, or someone you care about, is being stalked.

Reporting to law enforcement is also often encouraged in effort to secure the added support of an order of protection, stalking violations of which may result in felony charges; however, that doesn’t always feel like an option for the clients we serve. In those instances, we would make sure to safety plan with a client to ensure that trusted folks in their life are aware of the behavior. This awareness helps these trusted folks provide additional support if the behavior escalates, as needed (i.e. reporting to law enforcement on behalf of the survivor, maintaining a safe place for the survivor to stay, informing the survivor of their right to a safe workplace / providing security escorts, etc.).

Q: What are some helpful resources both nationally and locally? 

A:

By Lisa Simani. Lisa is a nurse practitioner, a published health writer with decades of experience and a survivor of relationship violence who wants others to know that you aren’t alone, and things will get better.