Everyone deserves to live their lives free from fear and intimidation. You’re likely shaking your head in agreement and may be thinking, “Duh.” However, each year 7 million Americans experience stalking. Stalking can happen with current or past intimate partners or friends, acquaintances, roommates, or strangers. January is Stalking Awareness Month with the goal of  helping you better identify if stalking is occurring and what you can do about it. Stalking often impacts individuals ranging from ages 18–24, which also happens to be the age of most college students. The high social media usage rates of college students may make them more vulnerable with stalkers using technology to aid their activities.

What is stalking?

Often times, those experience stalking do not know that what they are experiencing is problematic. Stalking is a pattern of unwanted attention, harassment, or contact that causes fear. You do not have to have a relationship with someone to have them stalk you. Stalking can include, but is not limited to the following:

  • Being followed or having someone show up wherever you are
  • Nonconsensual forms of communication such as calls, voicemails, texts, email, letters, face-to-face, and gifts
  • Nonconsensual physical contact
  • Trespassing or damage to your home, car, or property
  • Monitoring your phone calls, computer use, or social media activity
  • Using technology like hidden cameras or apps on your phone to track where you are
  • Using a Global Positioning System (GPS) to track your location in a car
  • Posting information or spreading rumors about you online or by word of mouth
  • Threatening to hurt you or your family, friends, or pets
  • Asking information about you through friends, family, or acquaintances
  • Other actions that control, track, or frighten you

Why does stalking happen?

There is no single reason why people choose to stalk. However, The National Center for Victims of Crimes notes a few:

  • Unhealthy and violent dating relationships can be a way for the stalker to exert their control.
  • Stalking could occur before or after a sexual assault event.
  • Rejection of the stalker as a romantic partner.
  • The rejected romantic partner may continue to pursue.

Is this stalking or not?

There are times when someone who is interested in you may make inquiries to mutual friends, or buy flowers, send a note, etc. and not intentionally be meaning to stalk or scare you. Or, a new friend or roommate may be adjusting or lonely and seek you out to connect more often than you’d like. To some degree, it’s important to place the events into context. Pay attention to any discomfort you may experience. Our gut reactions are there for a reason. It is especially of concern if you have requested and set boundaries with this person and it is being disregarded.

What you can do

There are preventative and responsive measures when it comes to stalking. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Recognize a healthy from an unhealthy relationship. Know the signs of an unhealthy relationship in its initial stages so you can navigate away from it.
  • Be smart at parties by avoiding risky behaviors that cloud judgment of potentially risky people.
  • Use passwords on all technology devices.
  • Hold on to your cell phone.
  • Turn off your locator on your cell phone.
  • Do not give out detailed personal information on social media sites and utilize your privacy settings.
  • Protect your computers and phones against spyware.
  • Seek confidential support from Student Counseling Services.
  • Access nonconfidential campus resources, such as Student Affairs’ Title IX Office, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access, Health Promotion and Wellness, or speak with a trusted colleague, staff, or faculty member.

Research on stalking reveals that college students are less likely to report stalking behaviors or activities. Gaining knowledge, tools, and resources should stalking ever arise can be valuable for your well-being, as well as for others.

Campus reporting resources

Title IX Office

Office of Equal Opportunity and Access

Health Promotion and Wellness

Quick Student Reference Guide

Learning Resources

Love is Respect

Stalking Resource Center

Stalking Awareness Month

Campus Safety Magazine

Inside Higher Ed: Stalker Strategy

Huffington Post