What We Can Learn About Stalking from Pretty Little Liars

Pretty Little Liars

How many of our readers are Pretty Little Liars fans? The season finale aired last Tuesday, and we finally (sort of) know who “A” is!

But really, we’ve always known something about “A”—Pretty Little Liars is a show about stalking and “A” has been stalking the girls from the beginning of the show. As an audience, we see a lot of behaviors that if we were friends with any of the four main characters, would be red flags for stalking behavior. Some of these include:

  • Being followed
  • Being excessively contacted, such as “A” texting the girls frequently when it is clear the girls do not want the texts
  • Threatening someone or that person’s family, friends, or pets
  • Receiving unwanted gifts and letters
  • Being stared at/feeling like you’re being watched
  • Damaging someone’s property (remember that time when “A” drove a car through Emily’s family room?)

Stalking is repeated and unwanted attention that can be through physical, verbal, and/or electronic contact. Stalking creates a hostile, intimidating, and abusive environment that can cause physical, emotional, and psychological fear, and it is against the UNC Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct Including Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment, Sexual Violence, Interpersonal Violence and Stalking.

As a viewer of Pretty Little Liars, I think often about how characters could be active bystanders and help the girls. There are a lot of things to observe that are red flags that something is off. Here are some signs to look for in someone who might be being stalked:

  • Anxiety
  • Missing classes and activities
  • Deactivating social media
  • Changing phone number and/or email address
  • Ignoring persistent texts or calls
  • Changing their routes
  • Avoiding places
  • Not wanting to go out (or wanting to, but not)

With stalking, the majority of cases involve someone the victim is dating or has previously had a relationship with (such as Ezra stalking the girls—but don’t get me started on Ezra dating his underage student, that is a whole other blog post!). A stalker could be anyone, though with most cases it’s someone known to the victim. Stalking is about the desire to control and/or manipulate a person. While stalking is scary, there are definitely things people can do! Especially as a friend noticing these behaviors, you can be an active bystander to help your friend. Here are some ideas:

  • Encourage your friend to save and document everything in case they choose to report. This can involve creating a journal and writing down each incident, the date and time it happened, and if any witnesses were present. You can encourage your friend to do this even if they aren’t sure they want to report. Just imagine what could have happened if Hanna had taken screenshots of all the texts from “A” so when “A” erased her phone when she went to report to the police, she would have had evidence!
  • Ask for help—check out the Safe@UNC website for more information about different resources on campus.
  • Let your friend know what you are seeing and that you care about their safety. This could be something like “I’ve noticed you’ve been screening a lot of your texts lately and seem a bit on edge when we go to Lenoir. I’m here if you want to talk about anything.”
  • Help them create a safety plan, such as offering to walk with them or plan what to do if they run into the person.
  • For reporting purposes, offer to help them figure out how to tell the stalker that they do not wish to receive any further communication. They only have to do this once, and it does not have to be in person—having documentation (such as a text or email) can be important if your friend does want to report.

As we see from Pretty Little Liars, stalking is incredibly scary and can cause extreme fear, anxiety, and stress. While stalking can make people feel out of control, there are things people can do to prevent stalking and help someone who is being stalked. Want to learn more about how you can be an active bystander and help make our campus safer and more supportive? Learn more about One Act and sign up for our last training of the year on April 10th! To learn more about stalking and reporting options, check out safe.unc.edu

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