In the eyes of the law, stalking is the act of following, repeatedly contacting and harassing someone in a way that is unwanted and causes major concern in the victim. Stalking is technically illegal in most jurisdictions, but it is difficult to enforce, especially when a perpetrator hasn’t committed a physical crime, such as breaking and entering or some other violent act. As a result, it’s frighteningly common. Around 370,000 men and over 1 million women are stalked each year. Victims of stalking often fear for their physical safety and suffer from the mental and physical symptoms of severe stress.
Stalking is even more common on college campuses. In one survey, nearly half of female students and over a quarter of male students experienced at least one instance of being stalked. College campuses can be a great place to learn and socialize, but that comes with some caveats. Most students who attend traditional colleges are at an age where they actively socialize away from their family support structure. Throw in a heavy dose of social media, which allows stalkers to contact and track their victims, and the college campus becomes an environment where students are especially vulnerable to stalking.
Why Do People Stalk?
There’s no psychological profile that can predict who will become a stalker or if stalking behavior will develop. With that said, there are several reasons why a perpetrator may stalk a victim. Thankfully, most perpetrators don’t intend to harm those they stalk and some don’t even know that they’re stalking at all. These individuals may be socially inexperienced or have difficulty picking up social cues. Others may be invested in a fantasy that following a victim will increase the likelihood of making a romantic or friendly connection. With that said, this doesn’t mean that this kind of stalking is harmless. Being stalked is frightening regardless of the intent behind it.
Rejection is another common motivation for stalkers. Typically, this behavior follows a breakup or some other kind of romantic rejection, and the perpetrator may begin to stalk the other party to either win them back or seek revenge. This kind of stalking is particularly dangerous. In this situation, the perpetrator already knows their victim and may be acquainted with their routines and have access to their contact information. This puts victims at further risk of harassment and sometimes physical harm.
How To Handle Being Stalked
Being stalked is stressful and it’s often difficult to decide what to do. Some victims may be tempted to ignore the situation, rationalizing that nothing bad has happened yet, and others will confront their perpetrator head-on. Every stalking situation is different and it’s important to assess the situation and act promptly.
One of the best things to do when being stalked is to contact a local victim service provider. Most college campuses have a victim advocacy office where students can call or visit to discuss their situation with a professional. This allows students to work together with the professional to assess the situation so they can make a plan that suits the specific circumstance. This can help a student determine if it’s safe to confront their stalker, if they should wait or if they should pursue legal action.
It’s also advisable for victims to record all the evidence of being stalked. This can include saving frequent or harassing messages and keeping a log of each encounter with a stalker. This information can be useful if a victim needs to pursue legal action.
Victims can pursue avenues to make their stalker legally obligated to leave them alone. For example, a victim can file a restraining order or a related document, which may involve filling out paperwork, documenting the stalking incidents and attending court hearings. Unfortunately, this is a lengthy process, but it means that a stalker legally must leave their victims alone or face legal repercussions. Laws about stalking vary by location, so it’s important to look up local laws before pursuing legal action.
How To Prevent Stalking
There’s no way to predict if someone will engage in stalking behavior. However, there may be ways to reduce incidents of stalking on a community level. For example, investing in mental health care resources for students can not only help students deal with the challenge of being stalked, but could also help potential stalkers learn to process rejection in healthier ways. This could prevent the more dangerous stalking scenarios from developing in the first place.
Although stalking is technically illegal, it’s often difficult for victims to make their case. Harassing messages sent through text or social media platforms are often ignored because it’s difficult to prove who sent the messages. Also, the law tends to favor waiting until a perpetrator commits a physical crime, such as breaking and entering or engaging in violence, instead of taking preventative measures. Technicalities like this allow many stalkers to continue to intimidate and harass their victims without repercussions. Streamlining the litigation process in favor of victims would greatly reduce the incidents of stalking on college campuses and communities at large.