January is a time for resolutions, new beginnings and moving forward. It’s also stalking awareness month.

Stalking is an often overlooked crime that happens across the country that effects more than 1 in 6 women. Why is it often overlooked? Because so many people believe these myths about stalking.

What is stalking?

The legal definition of stalking varies from state to state, but it is illegal in all fifty states, D.C. and all U.S. territories. The general definition of stalking is a course of conduct aimed at one person with the purpose of threatening or intimidating. Essentially, its a series of actions that make you feel afraid, nervous or uncomfortable.

Do you feel like you’re constantly looking over your shoulder for one specific person? Do you find yourself wondering how that person seems to always know where you are or what you’re doing? Are you afraid to check your messages or emails? Are you nervous about what that person might do or where they might show up next? These are common fears of victims of stalking.

Myth 1: Stalking is harmless

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hate this myth. So many people believe that stalking is harmless. I’ve heard people say, “it’s creepy, but it’s normal.” No! It’s not normal to have to live your life in fear of someone.

Stalking is not harmless. Stalking behaviors often escalate and can easily become violent. Many victims do not report stalking because they feel the behaviors are “creepy, but harmless” and don’t feel that anyone will take them seriously.

I’ve spoken with individuals who have been dealing with stalkers for months and even years, who despite countless instances of stalking, only feel it becomes “serious” when the behavior crosses the line into violence.

Stalking is a serious crime and should be treated as such. You do not deserve to live in fear. You shouldn’t feel like you have to wait for something “bad enough” to happen before you can report it.

Myth 2: Only famous people have stalkers

We’ve all heard stories of obsessive fans stalking their favorite celebrity. Maybe you’ve even read some of the horror tales of those obsessive fans breaking into celebrities homes just to be closer to the star. When most people hear the word stalker, this is the first image that pops into their mind.

But believing that only famous people can have stalkers is dangerous. One in six women experiences stalking throughout her lifetime. Believing that it can’t happen to you simply because you’re not a TV star or a top selling music artist makes you less likely to recognize the red flags of a stalker.

Myth 3: Stalkers are always creepy strangers

An amazing number of people think that stalkers are strangers that hide in the bushes and watch you from afar. But only about 15% of stalking offenders are complete strangers. The truth is, unless you are a movie star, you likely know you’re stalker. In fact, it’s possible you’re even dating them.

More than half of stalking victims are being stalked by a current or former intimate partner. Sadly, this behavior is often overlooked due to the victims relationship with the stalker. Stalking behavior is often ignored when we discuss domestic violence, but it shouldn’t be. The two quite often go hand in hand.

Early on in a relationship, many abusers display stalking tendencies. If we discussed this more openly, more women might see these tendencies as a red flag of further abuse. But unfortunately, society doesn’t talk about stalking anymore than we talk about domestic violence. We’re literally keeping potential victims in the dark about warning signs that could tip them off to toxic relationships. We need to end this silence!

Myth 4: There’s nothing you can do to stop stalking

Often victims of stalking feel powerless because they can’t control the behaviors of their stalker. While it’s true you can’t control your stalker, you can take steps to protect yourself.

First and foremost, trust your instincts. If you feel that you are being stalked or that you’re in danger, don’t minimize or downplay those feelings.

If you feel you’re in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 right away. Explain to the dispatcher the behaviors and why they’re placing you in fear. If you feel you’re in immediate danger DO NOT allow yourself to rationalize it away. This can be deadly. There is no harm in calling 9-1-1 if you believe you’re in danger.

If you don’t feel that you’re in immediate danger, you can always call the non-emergency line of your local police department and speak with an officer about your concerns. The officer may be able to point you in the direction of resources, educate you on the particular laws in your state and help you come up with a safety plan.

In most states, there is a procedure you can follow through the court to get a court order to stop the person from having contact with you. This is generally a civil process and can be done without the assistance of the local police department.

Documentation and Safety Plans

Keep a record of all the stalking behaviors. Save electronic communications like texts, emails and social media posts. Keep call logs of voice phone calls. Document in person contact. Don’t forget third party contact, like messages passed through friends or family members.

Work with your place of employment or school to help set up a safety plan. Make bosses, coworkers, internal security, or professors aware of the situation and allow them to assist in keeping you safe. If no one knows there’s an issue, no one will find it odd that your stalker is sitting outside your office when he has no business being in the building. I know this is a pride issue for many, but remember, you’re safety needs to come first.

Speak with your family members about the issues. Make sure they’re aware in case your stalker tries to contact them. Make sure children know they’re not to talk to this person (or reinforce not talking to strangers if your children don’t personally know your stalker). Ensure children know they don’t have permission to get rides or take gifts from this person.

Mention the issues to your neighbors so that there are extra eyes watching over your home when you’re not there. Let them know the type of car the person drives and that it should be concerning to them to see that vehicle parked in or near your driveway. The more people you have on the lookout, the better. Remember, the safety of you and your family is the most important thing.

There are resources available for victims of stalking. I beg you not to assume that stalking is harmless.

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