Have you ever googled yourself? If so, you’re certainly not alone. Over half of all Millennials have plugged their own name into a search engine to see what kind of information is floating around on the internet. Unless you have taken specific steps to keep a low cyber-profile, chances are you might be unpleasantly surprised at how very visible you are, and how easy it would be for someone to ferret out details like your birth date, your phone number, your home address, the college you attended, and where you work.
The mere fact that your personal information exists on the web might not be cause for concern — unless you are a public figure or you give others a reason to doxx you. There is one very important exception, however: if you are being stalked.
Google, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and plenty of other online destinations make it a snap for a would-be stalker not just to start compiling intelligence about you, but also to find and contact you in real life. If you suspect that someone out there is a little too interested in your daily habits, social life, and romantic partnerships, read on to learn how to handle a stalker.
First Things First: A Definition of Stalking
Although the legal definition of stalking varies depending on the jurisdiction defining it, the United States Department of Justice defines it as “engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for his or her safety or the safety of others or suffer substantial emotional distress.”
Included in this conduct are actions such as:
- Physically following you or showing up wherever you go
- Unwanted contact in the form of telephone calls, texts, social media messages or posts, and snail mail
- Vandalism or other damage to your home or property
- Threats to you, your family, and your pets
- Using hidden cameras and other recording devices to spy on you or track your movements
- Disseminating false or inflammatory information about you, either online or otherwise
A stalker can be someone you know — an ex-girlfriend or a friend whose advances you’ve rejected, for example. It can also be someone who is a stranger to you, a person you’ve met once or twice, or an individual with whom you have mutual acquaintances.
Characteristics of a Stalker
While there’s no one profile that describes every stalker, people who go to length to follow, contact, or intimidate others do tend to have some character traits in common. Stalkers tend to be jealous, controlling, manipulative, narcissistic, deceptive, and obsessive.
They often blame others for their own emotions and behavior and exhibit difficulty taking responsibility for their own actions. They may feel a sense of entitlement and/or victimhood, as well as a need to control other people.
If the stalker is a former romantic partner, you might recall that she seemed to fall in love very quickly, and had intense emotions. Stalkers’ moods can turn on a dime, leaving you to figure out what happened and why their mood shifted so quickly.
Again, this is by no means an exhaustive overview of stalkers’ characteristics. Use your own judgment, and never ignore any “gut feelings” or instincts that might be warning you away from a certain individual.
How To Handle Stalking Behavior
As soon as you feel you are being stalked, start making a record of all incidents. Let your friends, family, and work colleagues know that you are being stalked so that they can be on the lookout for suspicious activity and possibly thwart the stalker’s attempts to access you.
Once you have told the individual that you are no longer willing to continue contact with them, stand your ground. Do not respond to their threats, try to reason with them, or agree to see them, even if they promise this is the last time, and that they just want closure. It is imperative to set boundaries.
If the stalking behavior continues, contact local law enforcement. You should also consider filing a restraining order against the person. Even if it doesn’t necessarily keep the stalker from following or trying to contact you, it’s good to have a paper trail in place in the event that legal action is necessary.
“There are stalking laws on the books in many states,” explains David Hunter, a criminal defense attorney in Sugar Land. “In addition to charges of criminal stalking, possible charges include breaking and entering, criminal trespassing, harassment, assault, and more.”
In addition, put the following safety measures in place:
- Disable GPS and location on any apps you use, or stop using those apps
- Delete your social media profiles, or use a pseudonym and make sure your privacy settings are locked down tight. Untag yourself and ask friends to stop tagging you in posts
- Keep your car and home locked
- Vary the routes you take to work, the gym, the grocery store, etc.
- To the extent that it’s possible, don’t stick to a predictable schedule
- Make sure your cellphone is always charged and easily accessible
- Carry a personal security alarm and, if legal in your area, self-defense tools like pepper spray
- Stay alert and aware of your surroundings at all times
- Trust your intuition and seek safety whenever you feel something is amiss
A lot of people make jokes about stalkers, but in reality, stalking isn’t remotely funny. It’s unnerving and discomfiting at best; at worst, it’s terrifying and even life-threatening. No matter where you go in person or what activities you engage in online, you have the right to feel safe and to not be threatened.
Have you ever been the victim of stalking? Do you think that having one’s personal information online leads to real-life vulnerability? Leave a comment below to start a conversation.
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