Stalking: The hidden Epidemic

When we think of stalking we think of media portrayals. Being followed home, to and from work, people ringing your house. We think of a physical threat, the shadow you see when you glance to either side, the footsteps you hear when walking at night, letters being sent, someone refusing to leave you alone and making unreasonable demands.

This still happens, with the alarming frequency of 1 in 6 females and 1 in 17 males being stalked at some point in their lifetime and about half indicating it occuring before the age of 25. But with the rise of social media the world has become more dangerous and cyber stalking can create a feeling of insecurity that the limitations of physical stalking do not have. You can escape physical stalking, but bar being off the grid it is difficult to erase the natural extension of cyber stalking. It is also a convenient and efficient measure for stalkers, who can hide behind the anonymity of a screen, be physically distanced and have access 24/7.

Cyber stalking can occur in multiple forms; from barricades of messages sent to someones’ phone, spam emails, commenting on posts, location stalking via geotags and post locations (something celebrities face far too often), to your stalker being able to access information on your from their house. A stalker can also get into your home, through spyware, hijacking webcams and computer monitoring. They don’t have to physically follow you anymore, they can watch what you do from the comfort and safety of their home, from potentially thousands of miles away. Even if you are unaware of this behaviour it is an invasion of privacy, and if you are aware then the pattern of this unwanted behavior can cause severe distress and fear.

Moreover, hackers can get behind private accounts and into emails. They can bypass security to better infiltrate your life. The phone or laptop that you use for joy, work and to keep up with friends can be utilized at any second. Posts that are years old can be accessed and used as material for your stalker. They can also use these materials to ruin your reputation and career by posting them publicly, or threaten to do so.

If there was ever motivation to remove those photos from years ago that you no longer like, this could be it.

The insecurity created has significant mental health repercussions; examples being depression, anxiety, frustration, traumatic responses and isolation. These can also induce personality changes, including reduced performance levels at work, and fatigue from stress or difficulty sleeping. Furthermore there can be financial repercussions as 1 in 7 victims of stalking move as a result.

This is not intended to scare, despite the troubling content matter, and this article will end with 5 things you can do to protect yourself. But it is important to be aware that cyberstalking is on the rise, up from 7% (2014) to 11% (2020) in American adults. Plus, these are just the situations that we are aware of. Unfortunately it can take a long time to realize that you are being stalked, if the stalker ever reveals themselves. With public accounts a stalker can just observe, they don’t necessarily have to engage. Moreover the average length of time for stalking is 2 years, although this doubles if they were an intimate partner and 11% of victims are stalked for more than 5 years.

Furthermore what happens when your stalker wants to take it offline? Over 70% of cases escalate. All of the traditional fears remain, except now they are likely to be able to access your location easily instead of having to hunt you down, simply through location tags. This is also important as nearly 3 in 4 of all stalking victims know the perpetrator in some capacity. 76% of women who were murdered by an intimate partner were stalked first, and 81% of women stalked by a former or current partner were assaulted.

It is therefore important to take stalking cases seriously, it is a serious issue. The first moment you feel threatened mention it, to a friend, family member or the police. If you are receiving emails or messages, save them (e.g. through screenshots). Don’t fear your overreaction or others not understanding. It is always better to be safe. Here are 5 ways to stay safe online and reduce the risk of online stalking.

5 Ways to Protect Yourself Online

  1. Use privacy settings and don’t create public profiles
  2. Limit the amount of personal information you post online
  3. Don’t post locations, and if you must then do so after you have left that location
  4. Use unique, strong passwords for every account and change them regularly
  5. Only accept friend requests from people you know and block people who seem suspicious

Written by Emily Stamp

We Encourage is on a mission to empower women and girls under oppression. We act as a fundraising agent and build open source AI tool for victims of violence.