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CISO Dojo


Apr 21, 2021

Stalking- What is it, exactly? And, more importantly, what do you do if it happens to you? What are the steps you can take and how can you understand ways to better protect yourself? What are the avenues for reporting stalking? How has technology impacted stalking and what can we do, as a society, to keep these behaviors from perpetuating? 

National Resources: 
Local Resources: 
Stalking definition: The Department of Justice defines stalking as "A perpetrator engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of others or suffer substantial emotional distress." 
 
The Office on Women's Health defines stalking as "Any repeated contact that makes you feel afraid or harassed."
 
This communication or behavior could involve repeated visual, physical, verbal, written, or implied threats, nonconsensual communication, or a combination of these measures. 
 
Stalking is against the law. Stalking is a crime. 

Stalking can be charged as a state or a federal crime, and depending on the case, it can be:

  1. Misdemeanor - punishable by imprisonment for up to 1 year or a fine that cannot exceed $1,000, or both.
  2. Felony - for aggravated stalking, punishable with up to 5 years in prison or a fine of maximum $10,000, or both.
Who can be stalked: Anyone. However, 1 in 6 women experience stalking their lifetime and women are twice as likely to be stalked as men are. (This is according to the National Center for Victims of Crime.)
 
Stalking falls into three broad categories:
  1. Intimate or former intimate partner stalking- The stalker and victim may be in a relationship, may have lived together, may be serious or casual partners, or former partners to some facet.
  2. Acquaintance stalking- The stalker and victim may know one another casually, such as a coworker, neighbor, or something similar. 
  3. Stranger stalking- The stalker and victim do not know one another. This usually includes cases where the victim may be a celebrity. 
Examples of stalking: 
  • Following you around or spying on you
  • Befriending or manipulating your family, friends, or coworkers to intrude on your inner circle 
  • Sending you unwanted emails, messages, or letters
  • Calling you often
  • Harassing you on social media
  • Creating fake profiles to keep tabs on you
  • Attempting to gain access to your computer, email, or social media accounts
  • Tracking your computer or internet use
  • Using technology such as GPS to track your location
  • Showing up uninvited to your house, school, work, or places you frequent
  • Leaving you unwanted gifts or tokens of affection
  • Damaging your home, car, or other property
  • Threatening you, your family, your friends, or your children and pets with violence
Misconceptions about stalking: 
  • "Stalking is only stalking if they keep doing it after you've asked them to stop or have confronted them in some way." -I hear this sentiment a lot. If someone has been following you, tracking you, or harassing you and you're just discovering it, it's been stalking the whole time. They don't get a magical free pass to do so until you've said no, it's stalking regardless. And, confronting the perpetrator can often be dangerous.
  • "Only celebrities are stalked." -As previously mentioned, anyone can be stalked. In fact, 1.4 million people are stalked every year in the United States. 
  • "If you ignore the stalker, they will go away." -If only this were true. Each case varies, but stalking is dangerous, it's against the law, and anyone that experiences stalking should seek help.
  • "You can't be stalked by someone you're dating." -Big huge nope. Biggest nope. You absolutely can. If an intimate partner is tracking your location, following you around, and making you feel smothered and afraid, that is stalking. It doesn't matter your relationship with the person. 
When is stalking categorized as cyberstalking?:
 
Nowadays, stalking usually includes cyberstalking. As security professionals, we have to be cognizant of how people use technology in a way that's malicious. 
  • Cyberstalking falls under the stalking umbrella. It's yet another form of stalking and is widely used among perpetrators because it gives them a relatively easy way of monitoring someone, particularly if their "digital footprint" is very wide. 
  • Cyberstalking is the use of the internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, group, or organization. 
  • As mentioned, cyberstalking is often accompanied by real-time or "offline" stalking, but may be exclusively used as the primary or only means of stalking. 
  • Physical or real-time stalking is not necessary for the act to be considered a crime. Cyberstalking, in of itself, is also a crime. 
Something to note: States vary in how they categorize offenses. By 2009, 14 states adopted legislation on high-tech stalking, punished by up to 18 months imprisonment and a $10,000 fine for a fourth-degree charge to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine for a second-degree charge.
 
What to do if you're being stalked:
 
The obvious answer may be to blanketly tell everyone to call 911 or contact the authorities. However, the unfortunate truth is that not all law enforcement officers are trauma-informed nor are all of them equipped to handle stalking. And, sadly, some of them may not take the case seriously. Even with that, I highly suggest reporting, if you feel safe to do so. 
 
Sometimes, your stalker may even be a police officer or someone that is powerful. It's not always easy to go to the authorities, particularly if you have been let down in the past or get grilled by law enforcement as if the stalking is your own fault. 
 
Here are a few other suggestions of who to contact to assist you:
  • National Domestic Violence or Victim Resources such as The Hotline Dot Org, Victims of Crime Dot Org, Stalking Awareness Dot Org, and so on. We will link all of these resources in the show notes. 
  • Local Domestic Violence Coalitions such as YWCA, Palomar, and other non-profits that may be exclusive to your area.
  • Legal Resources or Lawyers that are trauma-informed specialize in domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking cases. 
  • A trusted friend, family member, mentor, teacher, counselor or therapist. 
Some steps you can take to help protect yourself and mitigate a stalker's ability to gather more information about you:
 
In an ideal world, we would want to stop the stalkers from stalking. The onus is on them. It's not your fault you're being stalked, and these preventative measures do not suggest that this is in any way your fault, but please- Take these measures into consideration if you are being stalked.
  • Document everything. Record dates. Take screenshots and keep everything organized. Describe the actions as well as how they made you feel in the moment. Keep a running timeline, if possible. 
  • Inform someone you trust of the stalking. 
  • Carry your cell phone with you and inform your trusted friend or family member on your whereabouts, especially if the person is capable of physically finding you. 
  • On the topic of your cellphone, ensure that it does not have any unknown applications, tracking, or compromised accounts on it. Review your installed applications, accounts, and enable multi-factor authentication where possible. 
  • Use unique and secure passwords for all of your accounts. (Make sure your passwords are not easily "guessable."
  • Depending on the situation, stopping all communication with the stalker is ideal. Your circumstances may dictate that completely cutting them off is actually less safe, so trust your instincts and document your decision. 
  • That said, block the stalker on all platforms, if it is safe to do so.
  • Limit your social media posts to friends and family. Avoid posting anything publicly. Be cognizant of sharing, tagging, and what is shown in images. Minimize mutual contacts. 
  • Do not share your home address or place of work online. Additionally, do not share when you're at home, and when you are not. 
  • If physical stalking is present: Vary your travel schedule, try not to use the same route or routine every day if travel is required.