5 Tips for Helping a Friend Who is Being Stalked

January is Stalking Awareness Month, and stalking is a crime and a violation of UNC’s Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment & Related Misconduct. Approximately 3.9% of UNC students have experienced stalking during their time as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, most often by another student, according to the AAU Campus Climate Survey in April 2015. This amounts to 1,134 students out of the 29,084 currently enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill! You may know someone who has experienced or is currently experiencing stalking, so here are some things for you to know.

green "help!" button on a white keyboard
Photo courtesy of Got Credit

Stalking is unwanted and repeated attention from another person. It may come in the form of physical, verbal, or electronic conduct that is serious enough to cause someone to feel fearful or to create a hostile, intimidating, or abusive environment.

Stalking behaviors can include:

  • Repeated, unwanted phone calls, texts, Snapchats, etc.
  • Leaving unwanted gifts, such as flowers or notes, on the person’s car or at their home
  • Repeatedly showing up at someone’s room, workplace, class, or social space when they have no reason to be there
  • Reaching out to the person’s friends online or in person to gain information about the person they’re stalking

Many times, stalking involves people who know each other and had a relationship of some kind, but it may also involve strangers.

You might notice changing behaviors from a friend who is being stalked. People who are being stalked may:

  • Feel increased paranoia or anxiety about their safety
  • Change their routines to avoid encountering the stalker
  • Deactivate their social media accounts
  • Ask you or others not to post photos of them or otherwise indicate where they are or who they’re with on social media

If you notice these behaviors, here are five tips for helping a friend who may be experiencing stalking:

  1. Encourage your friend to document what is happening. Encourage them to save voicemails, texts, or emails and take screenshots of messages they may receive on social media. They can also write down the details on any in-person contact, such as a location, time, and/or description of what happened. Making a list may help a friend see that what is happening is a pattern or that it may be escalating. It can also serve as evidence should your friend choose to report what is happening.
  2. Offer resources to your friend. Share with them that confidential emotional support is available through CAPS and the Gender Violence Services Coordinator. Let them know that they can also report the incident to the University and/or to law enforcement if they want. The Equal Opportunity & Compliance Office and the Office of the Dean of Students can help them make a report to the University. They can also help with protective measures like a no-contact order. Law enforcement can investigate the behavior(s) and determine whether criminal charges can be filed.
  3. Help them think about ways they can keep their contact information private. For example, they might want to block unwanted calls, texts, or emails, or change their privacy settings on social media.
  4. Listen to your friend. They are the expert on their experience, and if they know the person who is stalking them, they are the expert on that individual’s behavior. If they are worried that taking a particular action (such as blocking someone on social media) would anger the person stalking them or put them in more danger, respect their right to choose an alternative.
  5. Whatever your friend decides to do, respect their decision, let them know that they are not alone, and that help is available.

Finally, don’t hesitate to access resources yourself if you want to process your feelings or concerns about what is going on. Every situation is different, and no one expects you to have all the answers or be the only support for your friend. If you would like to learn more about supporting a survivor of stalking, check out HAVEN Training, a skills training for students, faculty, and staff.

 

Kelli is the Coordinator for Violence Prevention Programs at UNC Student Wellness. Kelli has a Master of Arts degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs from The Ohio State University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from The College of William and Mary in Women’s Studies. Kelli believes we can prevent sexual violence, interpersonal violence, stalking, harassment, and discrimination by changing systems of oppression, empowering bystanders, supporting survivors, and holding individuals accountable for their problematic behavior.

Stalking: Understanding it and Supporting Survivors

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.