Stalking: Know it. Name it. Stop It.
January 1, 2017
January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and we would like to take the opportunity to talk about this very serious, unpredictable, and dangerous crime. Stalking is commonly defined as a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. A stalker can be a current or former acquaintance, friend, intimate partner, spouse, or even a total stranger. 7.5 million people are stalked each year in the United States, including many right here in Midcoast Maine.
A client of New Hope for Women, who had been separated for two weeks from her abusive husband and was living in what she felt was a location unknown to him, came in to New Hope to fill out a Protection From Abuse Order. In the process of writing the complaint she said, “I think there must be a tracking device on my car or something. He keeps showing up where I am and last night there was a car parked near where I am staying.” A New Hope legal advocate discovered that the client and her spouse had iPhones. He knew her Apple ID and password, and had been using the “Find My iPhone” feature to track her location.
This client is not alone. Cell phones, GPS, computers, hidden cameras, and the Internet are among the technologies stalkers use most often to locate, harass, and surveil their victims. Below are some ways stalkers use technology:
• For iPhone users, there are a variety of ways in which victims can be stalked through their iPhone. See the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s iPhone Privacy & Security Guide for more information: http://techsafety.org/iphoneguide.
• If a victim is on the same plan with a phone provider as their stalker, their activity can be monitored through phone bills, even if the victim doesn’t have an iPhone.
• If a stalker has had access to a victim’s phone, there may be location tracking applications or spyware installed on the phone that can be hidden and undetectable. Some applications can provide the monitoring person with the ability to turn on the phone’s microphone and camera remotely.
• Small GPS devices can be purchased for under $50 that install on a vehicle with a magnet. If a car has a navigation device, it is also possible to tap into the device and stalk the person’s location in real time.
• If a stalker has access to a victim’s computer, the stalker may be able to track the victim though the history of websites visited on the computer. Spyware software on computers, which is sometimes sent through email, can send the stalker a copy of all activity on the computer, including every keystroke made.
While technology offers many particularly easy and effective ways for a stalker to keep tabs on a victim, there are other things to keep in mind. The National Center for Victims of Crime lists some additional tactics stalkers may use:
• Follow you and show up wherever you are.
• Send unwanted gifts, letters, cards, or e-mails.
• Damage your home, car, or other property.
• Drive by or hang out at your home, school, or work.
• Threaten to hurt you, your family, friends, or pets.
• Find out about you by using public records or online search services, hiring investigators, going through your garbage, or contacting friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers.
• Posting information or spreading rumors about you on the Internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth.
• Other actions that control, track, or frighten you.
Stalking is one of the few crimes where early intervention can prevent violence and death, and there are steps you can take to increase your safety. If you think you are being stalked:
• If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
• Trust your instincts. If you feel you are unsafe, you probably are.
• Contact your local domestic violence resource center for help. New Hope for Women’s 24-hour crisis hotline is 800-522-3304.
• Notify your local police department.
• Keep a diary of every time your stalker follows or contacts you—time, place, and what happened. Keep emails, text messages, phone messages, letters, notes, etc.
• Save any gifts, flowers, etc. for the police, without opening them if possible.
• Change your habits: drive to work a different way, stop at a different place for coffee, shop at a different store, and change your work shift, if possible.
• Notify your employer so that protective practices can be put in place at work.
For more information on stalking, visit the Stalking Resource Center’s website: http://www.victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/stalking-resource-center