Your teenage daughter breaks up with her boyfriend. You peek out the window in the middle of the night one week later and see his car outside your house. Empty. Where is he? Inside your house? You never did get around to fixing your alarm system. You dash down the hall to check on your daughter.
Maybe you just ended a relationship, with a partner who was too controlling. Now you feel as though you are constantly being watched. You catch glimpses of her car everywhere—or maybe everyone has that perception after a breakup. Just as you begin to think it is all in your mind, you find a note on your windshield from your ex – commenting on something you wore in your bedroom last night. That sends a chill up your spine. Now what?
Remember that for ex-intimate partner stalkers, the breakup is not the end. Instead of out of sight out of mind, absence makes the heart grow fonder. And for stranger stalkers, familiarity breeds contentment. In both cases, because contact is the goal, the hunt is on.
Yet the crime of stalking in most states requires more than simply following a victim. It also requires a credible threat of harm that causes the victim to be in reasonable fear. But for many busy people, the first step is realizing you are being followed.
1. Switch Up Your Routine When Stalkers are Hiding in Plain Sight
Stalkers are often hiding in plain sight. Literally—because they are following you. Consider it a red flag if you appear to be running into someone you recognize from the workplace, for example, off the clock—more often than the odds would predict. This might be a sign that your co-worker is strategizing his or her schedule to have contact with you.
How do other people know your schedule? Easy. Think about it, someone who works with you, goes to the same gym, church, or any other venue, knows where you park—or can easily find out. If they follow you after you leave, they can learn which grocery stores you stop at, which gas stations you frequent, when and where you pick up your children after school . . . and where you live.
Switch up your routine and route of travel if you suspect someone is strategizing their time to run into you.
2. Avoid Online Oversharing
Some victims are easy targets for stalkers because they forecast every move they make on social media. We have all heard stories about people whose homes are burglarized while they are out of town, because they are posting a flurry of photographs about their vacation. We know about victims robbed in public of jewelry and other valuables they boasted online about wearing—sometimes tagging each designer label in their posts.
Stalkers would love to know where you will be and when, in addition to what you will be wearing so they can find you easily. Do not post information that makes you this vulnerable.
3. Consider Online Methods of Stalking Stalkers
If you are dealing with a tech-savvy stalker, you might consider taking additional steps to protect yourself.
Much has been written about the tools stalkers use to track their victims. Eterovic-Soric et al. in “Stalking the stalkers” (2017) examined the issue from the victim perspective, reviewing the literature discussing a victim´s ability to detect and track stalkers.[i] They discuss tools ranging from antivirus apps, to methods of detecting unauthorized users of mobile devices. Depending on the extent of a stalker´s monitoring activity, researching these tools might be time well spent.
4. Don´t be a Human Slot Machine
If you are trying to shake a stalker, do not become a human slot machine by providing intermittent reinforcement. If you ignore 29 phone calls or text messages but answer the 30th attempt in an attempt to stop the conduct, you have taught the stalker that it takes 30 tries to reach you. Better solution: don´t answer at all.
5. Don´t be Nice to Stalkers
And remember, you cannot make a stalker go away by “being nice.” All you will do is fuel their delusional beliefs, and set them up to be disappointed and angry.
Particularly with threatening stalkers who are already causing you to be in fear, attempting to sweet talk them out of their behavior is a waste of time. Instead, report the crime.
About the author:
Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, is a career prosecutor who has been handling stalking cases for many years. She is the author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House).
She lectures around the world on sexual assault prevention, safe cyber security, and threat assessment, and is an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are her own.
Find her at wendypatrickphd.com or @WendyPatrickPhD
Find a full listing of Dr. Patrick´s Psychology Today posts at http://ift.tt/2jd9smD
[i] Brett Eterovic-Soric, Kim-Kwang Raymond Choo, Helen Ashman, and Sameera Mubarak, ”Stalking the stalkers – detecting and deterring stalking behaviours using technology: a review,” Computers and Security 70 (2017): 278-289.