Many victims of stalking feel powerless, making this form of harassment extremely unpleasant and anxiety-inducing in a way that some other forms of harassment aren’t.
We talked to Michael and David who are private investigators in our nationwide network to get advice on how to protect yourself from stalkers - and how to take legal action to protect yourself.
If you’re interested in learning how to stop a stalker, read on.
What Is Stalking?
Stalking is different from many other crimes (and yes, it is a crime) because it is not defined by one single negative action and it may not directly cause physical harm to the victim. Stalking is defined as a general pattern of persistent and unwanted behavior by the stalker towards their victim. This may include following a victim, collecting information about them, threatening them, or trying to repeatedly contact them in a way that causes fear.
"Stalking tends to escalate, and in many cases the stalker will attempt to harm the victim physically" says David, a private investigator. "Even if a stalker never actually touches or even speaks directly to their victim, persistent stalking can cause severe emotional and mental trauma."
How Does the U. S. Legally Define Stalking?
According to the National Institute of Justice, stalking is 2 or more occasions of unwanted communication, verbal threats, written threats, or proximity to the victim that would make a reasonable person feel threatened. Though all states in the U. S. have laws against stalking, the exact laws can vary by state. In the majority of states, stalking is a felony only on the second offense, but in some areas, it is always a felony or always a misdemeanor.
Proving That You Are Being Stalked
Stalking can be a little difficult to prove because most states require evidence that the stalker is implicitly or explicitly threatening the victim, or that the victim has a reasonable cause to be scared. In some states, stalkers can only be charged if you can prove they specifically intended to frighten the victim, while other states allow a person to be charged with stalking for unintended actions that caused the victim to feel fear.
How to Spot a Stalker
"Sometimes stalking is obvious - but not always" says Michael, a private investigator in our network based in the midwest. Stalking is by nature often covert, making it surprisingly hard to notice. According to Michael, a signs of a stalker include:
- Manufacturing reasons to be near you, such as applying for jobs at your work.
- Unexpectedly and repeatedly showing up wherever you might be
- Having knowledge about your personal life that they should not have.
- Constantly sending unwanted gifts, messages, emails, or letters.
- Damaging your home or other property.
- Threatening or spreading nasty rumors about your other friends and family members.
Sometimes, people can believe they have a stalker if they are experiencing mental health issues. Paranoia is a symptom of a variety of diseases. This can make victims of stalking feel particularly isolated, particularly if police and even friends do not believe them.
Private investigators can help collect evidence to confirm or prove false the presence of a stalker - although they will not always take cases and will refer people to mental health professionals if they believe that there is no evidence of stalking.
How Can You Protect Yourself from a Stalker?
Our private investigators offer a number of tips to protect yourself if you're being stalked. "As soon as you suspect that you are being stalked, you should take immediate steps to reduce the chance of harm," stresses David. David advises victims who fear for their safety to always carry a cell phone and, if possible, try to avoid traveling by themselves. "If you must travel alone, try and stay in public spaces with plenty of people around."
Being stalked is never the victim's fault, but you can take a few actions to make it harder for a stalker to bother you. Michal offers the following advice: "Stalkers often crave a response, so you should avoid any sort of contract or communication with the stalker." Switch up your daily routines to make it harder for someone to stalk you, and avoid posting much about yourself on social media. If you suspect the stalker has access to your electronics, consider changing all passwords and checking for keyloggers or spyware on your electronic devices. Some stalkers may install a GPS device on your car, so check it thoroughly for any GPS tracking equipment.
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Taking Legal Action to Protect Yourself
Stalking is a crime. If you think you are being stalked, you should report it to the police. Depending on the state you live in, you may be able to specifically request a restraining or civil protection order.
Even if the police dismiss your concerns, you can still take legal steps when trying to figure out how to catch a stalker. Many states also allow you to get a civil order of protection even if no criminal charges have been filed against the stalker.
To get (or enforce) a restraining order or a civil order of protection, you will need to prove that the stalker is actually stalking you and has met the specific conditions laid out in the law. For instance, in Florida you must prove that the stalker has:
- Committed stalking.
- Previously threatened, harassed, stalked, cyberstalked, or physically abused the petitioner*.
- Threatened to harm the petitioner or family members or individuals closely associated with the petitioner.
- Intentionally injured or killed a family pet.
- Used, or threatened to use, against the petitioner any weapons such as guns or knives.
- A criminal history involving violence or the threat of violence, if known.
- Another order of protection issued against him or her previously or from another jurisdiction, if known.
- Destroyed personal property, including, but not limited to, telephones or other communication equipment, clothing, or other items belonging to the petitioner.
To get this evidence, it is helpful to get a private investigator. Depending on your situation, you may be able to successfully get an order of protection on your own. However, it may be helpful to have an attorney with you who can argue for your side and put forth the evidence.
Private investigators can gather a variety of evidence for these cases. Most commonly, private investigators will use surveillance, digital research, and interviews to get proof that:
- The stalker is purposely making threats
- Is communicating with you repeatedly and unwantedly
- Is following you
- Is collecting information about you
- Is otherwise acting in a way that would reasonably cause you to feel fear