In dialogues about interpersonal violence, stalking is a topic that is often misunderstood and minimized. For example, folks often throw around the term “Facebook stalking” when discussing looking often at another person’s profile. We use terms like “Facebook stalking” lightly because we often associate stalking with a person being followed by a stranger down dark alleyways. However, stalking is often much more complex than that. Stalking is often a result of relationship violence and can involve physical, emotional, sexual and financial abuse. Examples of stalking can include contacting a person against their will, sending excessive emails or Facebook messages, texts or letters, watching their workplace, home or other places they routinely visit, vandalizing their property, abusing their pets or burglarizing their home.
Stalking is often used by an abusive person in a relationship to control and frighten their partner. When a victim chooses to end a relationship or physically distance themselves from the abuser, they take control away from the abuser. Abusers use stalking as a way to continue to harass their victims after the relationship is over, which is part of the reason why stalking has become a major risk factor for relationship violence cases ending in homicide. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, almost forty percent of stalking victims are stalked by an intimate partner, friend, roommate or neighbor and seventy-five percent of victims know their stalker.
It is important that we understand the seriousness of stalking. If you or a friend are being harassed in person or via any form of written, verbal or electronic communication, tell the stalker once that you do not want any contact with them. If it feels comfortable, survivors have the option to report the incident to the police, department of public safety, the Dean of Students Office, or Compass Center for Women and Families. After that instance, do not answer calls, text messages or emails from a stalker, because engaging with the harasser can encourage them to continue or escalate their harassment. Keeping a detailed log of all incidents will make it easier to show the police the unwanted communication should a survivor wishes to press criminal charges in the future. If you know someone who is being stalked or harassed, do not make light of their experience. It is important to recognize that what may seem harmless to an outsider is very frightening for survivors. Be an advocate, listen without judgment and help the survivor find resources and support. Check out safe.unc.edu for a complete list of campus and community resources available to survivors of stalking. To learn more about how to recognize stalking and support survivors, sign up for a HAVEN training at safe.unc.edu.