Stalking and Cyberstalking

Stalking

What is stalking?

Stalking occurs when a person who has no legal reason to contact you, continues to bother you after you have said you want to be left alone. This repeated, unwanted contact can make you afraid for your personal safety.  This text will help you understand stalking and find ways to protect yourself.

Do not blame yourself if you are being stalked – YOU are not causing it.

Stalking can happen to anyone. We use the term “target” to refer to anyone who is being stalked.  Targets are most often women, but children, teenagers and men can also be targets.

Stalking may include:

  • following you from place to place or following your family or friends to get information about you
  • communicating directly or indirectly with you, your family, or your friends to get information about you
  • watching you in your home, school, or any other place
  • threatening and intimidating behavior or comments directed at you

How do I know if I am being stalked?

If you think you are being stalked, answer these questions:

  • Are you being bothered repeatedly by this person?
  • Do you believe that the stalker has no intention of stopping?
  • Have you told this person in any way that you do not want any further contact?
  • Does the unwanted activity include more than one kind of contact?
  • Are you worried that the behavior is affecting your school performance, or your relationship with others?
  • Have you tried to avoid this person by changing your daily routine and asking family, friends or peers not to give out information about you?
  • Do you fear for your personal safety?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you might be the target of a stalker. It is important that you create a protection plan for yourself and use it. Don’t ignore the signs of being stalked.  While most stalkers only want your attention, you can’t predict how intrusive a stalker may become.

A stalker may promise to leave you alone if you’ll just go somewhere with him/her to talk – but do NOT go anywhere with a stalker. To protect yourself from a stalker – call the police and ask for help.

Planning for Your Safety

Should I talk to or go anywhere with a stalker?

Don’t have conversations with a stalker, it only encourages him/her. A stalker’s offer to discuss his/her feelings or reasons for stalking can easily turn violent if he/she realizes you don’t want to have any contact. Stalkers are often unable to judge or control their own emotions.

How can I protect myself from a stalker?

There are many ways to increase your level of safety, whether you are dealing with a stalking/ harassment situation or ending an abusive relationship. Here are some things to consider:

  • Call 911 or Campus Police at (812) 888-5555 if you are in immediate danger.  Tell the operator that you believe you are in danger and are afraid for your safety.  Also tell the operator if you have any court orders of protection.
  • Set up a protection plan and use it.  You need to think of ways you can keep yourself safe at places where the stalker might try to bother you (ex: walking on the street, going to class or any activity where you are open to harm or harassment) .
  • Program emergency numbers into your cellphone.
  • If you are being followed, get someone’s attention.  Remain as calm as possible, but go where there are other people, go to the Campus Police station, use a campus emergency call button, or call 911 or Campus Police.
  • Change your daily routines and travel routes as much as possible.  Leave for classes at different times.  Vary the times you go to the LRC to study, or the times you go to Tecumseh Dining Center to eat.  Travel with friends when possible.
  • Develop a secret code with people you speak to regularly on the phone. You can use the code as a signal you’re in danger, without alerting the stalker.  For example, “I crave blueberry ice cream” could be the signal that you are in danger and the person you’re talking to should contact Campus Police at once.
  • Keep a pen and paper with you and by the phone.  Write down the times, dates and what was said during unwanted contact. Get the names and numbers of any witnesses.
  • Never throw out or destroy anything the stalker has sent you. Cards, e-mails, letters, flowers, gifts, etc. might be helpful as evidence if the police become involved.  Don’t delete text messages you may have received.
  • Take pictures of any property damage or vandalism. Save the evidence and collect names of witnesses, but do not take any personal risks to get evidence in your case.
  • When you’re outdoors, stay in well-lit areas where other people are around.  Avoid walking alone.
  • Keep your car doors locked at all times.  Look in and around your vehicle before you get in it.
  • Trust your instincts; pay attention to your feelings of fear and respond to them by getting help immediately.

Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking involves the use of information and communication technology, particularly the Internet, by an individual or group to harass, intimidate and cause you fear.  Common abusive behaviors that occur with the use of technology include monitoring communications with others, transmitting threats, making false accusations, identity theft, damage to personal data or equipment, and other forms of aggression.

The Internet can be used in many ways to find out information about you and to harass you. The most common methods to watch out for include:

  • E-mail:  When a stalker has access to your e-mail account, he/she may be able to read your incoming and outgoing mail.  Anyone who has your e-mail address can send you unwanted mail. 
  • Instant messaging (IM): This allows people to send messages back and forth online, like having a conversation over the computer.  IM programs allow people to share images, sounds, video links and files.  IM can be used to harass a person with frequent, unwanted messages.
  • Text messaging: This allows people to send written messages on cellphones.  Texting is often used to harass a person by sending frequent unwanted messages that often have a threatening or intimidating tone.
  • Blogs:  Personal blogs often include information that might let stalkers know about your emotional state, what you do with your time and who your friends and associates are. This information may give away more information than is safe to share. 
  • Social networking:  When you put your profile on a social network (ex: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), on an online dating service or on any site that shares information about the users, it is accessible to anyone using a computer.  Once your information is in the network, it may continue to be available to anyone, even strangers, even though you remove it from the site address.
  • Phone:  Answering machine or voicemail messages can be intercepted and erased, even remotely, when the stalker has or is able to guess the password.
  • Global Positioning Systems (GPS):  Newer model cellphones often have a GPS that can be traced to determine your location. 
  • GPS Data in Photographs: GPS data in photographs is known as Geotagging. A Geotagged photograph is a photo that includes geographical location data obtained from a GPS included with a camera or Smartphone.  When Geotagged photos are uploaded online, the photo can be placed onto a map to view the location where the photo was taken.

Safety tips if you are being cyberstalked

  • Choose a gender-neutral username and mail address when communicating online.
  • DO NOT USE PASSWORDS THAT ARE EASY TO GUESS.  Never use identifying information such as your name, address, birthdates in your password.  Do not use pet names.  Use a combination of letters, symbols and numbers to make it impossible to guess your password.  NEVER SHARE YOUR PASSWORD WITH ANYONE including people who claim to be from your Internet service provider, bank customer service, or other online service.
  • Use a free e-mail account such as Hotmail (www.hotmail.com), YAHOO! (www.yahoo. com), or Gmail (www.gmail.com), for newsgroups, social network sites, mailing lists, chat rooms, IMs, e-mails from strangers, message boards, filling out forms and other online activities .
  • Do not give your primary e-mail address to anyone you do not directly know or trust. Tell anyone who does have your address not to include it in group e-mails.
  • Limit or avoid the use of social networking sites such as Facebook. If you do use them, do not put identifying information in your profile. Use the security features to allow only known friends and associates access to your profile.
  • Tell your friends that you do not want them posting any pictures or information about you on their social networking sites.
  • Only use computers that you trust are secure and make sure that all operating system and application security updates have been applied.  Make sure you have anti-virus and anti-spyware software running and that it’s current.  For tips on protecting your computer, your family and yourself online see: www.microsoft.com/protect/default.aspx
  • Trust your instincts.  If you suspect an abusive person knows too much, it is possible that your phone, computer or e-mail have been tampered with and your activity may be monitored. 
  • Plan for safety.  Stalking can be very dangerous, even if it is over the Internet and the stalker is not trying to contact you directly.  Talk to someone who can help you create a plan to protect yourself.
  • Save and document everything. Even if you are unsure about calling the police, it is a good idea to keep a log (write down information) about all incidents.  Write down the time, date and place of each contact.  If you get harassing messages by e-mail, do not delete them.  Save them and print off a copy of each message for your records as well.  If you make a report to police, the printed messages can be used as evidence.
  • Save all threatening or harassing text messages or voice messages received on your cellphone.
  • If you think the person stalking you may have access to your e-mail, start another private account that includes no personally identifiable information in your user name. 
  • Make sure you use a secure password.
  • Do not use this address for any social network contacts such as Facebook or Twitter.
  • Find out how accessible you are on the Internet by searching for your name on a search engine such as Google or Yahoo.  It is helpful to know what information about you is available on the Internet.  Major search engines such as Google and Yahoo may have links to your contact information.