Glamorised by the Netflix psychological thriller, You, and sometimes a throwaway term used to describe looking up an old school friend on social media, Stalking can be more subtle than many of us realise. Not simply a stranger in the shadows or someone following you home – stalking comes in many forms. With new technology making it easier to reach victims at any time of the day, it’s a crime many people encounter, sometimes without even realising they’re a victim.
This week (Monday 20 to Friday 24 April 2020) is National Stalking Awareness week here in the UK. As part of Gloucestershire OPCC’s commitment to the support of victims in the county, we’ve rounded up some facts about stalking designed to help spot the warning signs – some of which might surprise you.
If you think you’ve been, or are a victim of stalking and would like some support, you can contact the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300 or visit The Suzy Lamplugh Trust at suzylamplugh.org/.
There are also additional support services and links available on our victim services page.
Stalking during COVID-19
According to Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service, Victims of stalking are feeling more isolated at this time, with many concerned about their stalkers knowing they are likely to be at home.
Stalkers will persist despite COVID-19, risk remains high as a perpetrator’s obsession and fixation is unlikely to reduce because of lockdown restrictions.
Risks can be heightened, as some perpetrators find themselves with more time on their hands to plan and research ways to track their victims.
Help is still available during lockdown. Victims are encouraged to call 999 in an emergency.
1. You don’t need to be fearful to be stalked
Stalking comes in many forms, and you don’t have to fear violence to be a victim of stalking. If you’re getting persistent unwanted contact which is causing you distress, this is still classed as stalking. Just because the person has never threatened you, you shouldn’t ignore their unacceptable behaviour.
The very nature of stalking means that it can leave victims suffering with depression, anxiety and in some cases post-traumatic stress disorder. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust describes stalking as “a psychological as well as physical crime.”
2. Anyone can be a victim of stalking
Data from a report by the UK based Network for Surviving Stalking suggested that victims ages ranged from 10 to 73, included both male and female victims and were spread across the entire socio-economic spectrum. The research concluded that anyone could be a victim of stalking.
3. Buying unwanted gifts
Unsolicited letters, photos, cards and gifts can all be contributing factors of stalking. While it might not always be evident from the outset that contact through gifts is an unwanted behaviour, combined with other behaviours it can lead to more intense harassment. If you do receive gifts from a stalker, you should keep the items along with any other correspondence, as evidence.
4. Cyber Safety
As technology advances, stalkers have found new ways to monitor their victim’s activity. Malware and key logging software can remotely track your every move online, while account hacking can allow stalkers the opportunity to access your private conversations and personal information about you. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust offers the following advice to help prevent cyber stalking.
- Get your computer checked for malware and key logging software.
- Change your passwords frequently and don’t use the same password for everything.
- Limit the amount of information you share about yourself on social networking site and check your privacy settings to ensure you are not giving away more information about yourself than you intend to.
- Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date.
- Report any stalking activity on websites to the administrators. If they won’t act, contact the web hosting company.
5. Stalkers aren’t always strangers
Around 45 per cent of people who contact the National Stalking Helpline do so because an ex-partner is stalking them. Other callers had a prior acquaintance with their stalker – it could be they were friends, dated or worked together. It’s a common misconception that stalkers are strangers, although there are of course occasions where this is the case.
6. They’re not doing any harm – I’ll just ignore them.
Just because there is no violence in a stalking scenario, this doesn’t mean the victim should be allowed to continue their actions. Stalking can cause severe psychological distress, PTSD, anxiety and depressions. It’s important that it’s reported and that patterns of behaviour are logged. If you need advice or support contact the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300.
7. What stalking looks like
There are a number of ways stalking can take place, some of which might not instantly register as stalking. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the warning signs, so that you can start to recognise dangerous behaviours and patterns of stalking. Here are some examples of stalking:
- Waiting at your home or place of work unannounced or uninvited.
- Damaging your home, car or other property.
- Sending unwanted messages in the form of texts, letters, emails and voicemails.
- Leaving unwanted items, gifts or flowers.
- Using social networking sites and technology to track you.
- Spreading rumours about you both online and in person.
- Making unwanted phone calls to you. They may or may not hang up.
- Calling your employer or school/university.
- Waiting at places you hang out.
- Using other people as resources to investigate your life. For example, looking at your Facebook page through someone else’s page or befriending your friends in order to get more information about you.
8. How to manage stalking
Advice for victims is to avoid entering into dialogue with stalkers if they initiate contact which makes you feel at all uncomfortable. If the contact is digital, victims are advised to print or screenshot for evidence, and Contact the National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300, visit the Suzy Lamplugh Trust website, or call 999 if you are in immediate danger.
If you’re based in Gloucestershire you can also access support through Victim Support Gloucestershire. Those who are at high risk can also be supported by an ISAC (Independent Stalking Advocacy Caseworker) funded by the OPCC and employed by Splitz.
Download our PDF infographic for Stalking Advice 2020 Stalking_-Spotting-the-signs.pdf