A Complete Overview of Stalking

Stalking can escalate into violence

Male stalker spying on woman at front door of her house
Cornstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Stalking refers to repeated harassing or threatening behavior by an individual, such as following a person, appearing at a person's home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages or objects, or vandalizing a person's property, according to the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime (OVC).

Any unwanted contact between two people that directly or indirectly communicates a threat or places the victim in fear can be considered stalking, but the actual legal definition of stalking varies from state to state according to each state's laws.

Stalking Statistics

According to the Stalking Resource Center:

  • 6.6 million people are stalked annually in the US.
  • One in six women and one in 19 men have been stalked.
  • 66 percent of the women and 41 percent of the men were stalked by a current or former partner.
  • 46 percent of the victims had at least one unwanted contact weekly from the stalker.
  • 11 percent of stalking victims have been stalked for five years or more
  • One in seven stalking victims moved as a result of their victimization.
  • About one in five of stalking victims are stalked by a stranger.

Anyone can be a stalker, just as anyone can be a stalking victim. Stalking is a crime that can touch anyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, geographic location, or personal associations. Most stalkers are young to middle-aged men with above-average intelligence.

Profiling Stalkers

Unfortunately, there is no single psychological or behavioral profile for stalkers. Every stalker is different. This makes it virtually impossible to devise a single effective strategy that can be applied to every situation. It is vital that stalking victims immediately seek the advice of local victim specialists who can work with them to devise a safety plan for their unique situation and circumstances.

Some stalkers develop an obsession for another person with whom they have no personal relationship. When the victim does not respond as the stalker hopes, the stalker may attempt to force the victim to comply with the use of threats and intimidation. When threats and intimidation fail, some stalkers turn to violence.

Examples of Things Stalkers Do

  • Follow their victim and show up at places where they go such as restaurants, parks, etc.
  • Send uninvited and unwanted flowers, cards, letters, and emails.
  • Leave unwanted cards, letters, and gifts on the victim's car, at their home or place of work.
  • Continuously drive by the home, school or place of employment of the victim.
  • Go through the victim's garbage.
  • Follow the victim when they go out socially with friends or on a date.
  • Damage the victim's automobile, home or other property.
  • Use technology to gain access to the victim's email account or track computer usage.
  • Use a GPS system to track the location of the victim.
  • Contact friends, family, and people the victim works with to get information.
  • Threaten to send, or actually send humiliating emails to the victims family, friends, and place of employment.
  • Threaten to hurt family members, friends or pets.
  • Spread rumors on the internet about the victim.
  • Ignore restraining orders.
  • Purposely frighten and intimidate their victim.
  • Physically attack the victim.

Stalking Can Become Violent

The most prevalent type of stalking case involves some previous personal or romantic relationship between the stalker and the victim. This includes domestic violence cases and relationships in which there is no history of violence. In these cases, stalkers try to control every aspect of their victims' lives.

The victim becomes the stalker's source of self-esteem, and the loss of the relationship becomes the stalker's greatest fear. This dynamic makes a stalker dangerous. Stalking cases that emerge from domestic violence situations, however, are the most lethal type of stalking.

The stalker may attempt to renew the relationship by sending flowers, gifts, and love letters. When the victim spurns these unwelcome advances, the stalker often turns to intimidation. Attempts at intimidation typically begin in the form of an unjustified and inappropriate intrusion into the victim's life.

The intrusions become more frequent over time. This harassing behavior often escalates to direct or indirect threats. Unfortunately, cases that reach this level of seriousness often end in violence.