How to deal with a stalker
Unfortunately, stalking is often difficult to prove. For one thing, stalking often starts subtly.25 Individual incidents may not seem like warning signs; they may seem harmless or even innocent. It’s not unheard of to run into the same person twice in one day, or to get several Facebook messages from your ex in one week, or to be saved from a flat tire by someone you’d normally avoid.
Even as stalking incidents escalate, there may not be any hard evidence. Still, if you’re being stalked, threatened, or harassed in any way, you shouldn’t suffer in silence.
Says Kelly Mesiter-Yetter, who was stalked by an ex-boyfriend, “When I finally figured out what was going on, I thought that I could control the situation because I knew him. I was wrong. I learned the hard way that desperate people do desperate things, and no matter how well you think you know someone, desperate people are unpredictable.”
You can’t reason with a stalker, and you may not be able to predict what they’ll do next, but that doesn’t make you helpless. Here’s what you can do.
Send a clear message
It’s not always a good idea to confront or even acknowledge a stalker. A stalker may be trying to get your attention.
On the other hand, says Jessica Pomerantz, a psychology researcher at the University of South Carolina, “Oftentimes, there is a fantasy or unrealistic [expectation] involved in the stalking...Therefore, if [the victim] approaches them, it can ruin that fantasy for them.”
Still, Pomerantz adds, “Their reaction could be unpredictable, explosive, and dangerous.” This is especially true if your stalker is a stranger whose behavior you have no context for.
If you do know your stalker and feel safe approaching them, tell them in no uncertain terms to leave you alone, now. You don’t have to scream or threaten them, but you don’t need to be overly polite either. You’re not asking, you’re telling. Be clear, be firm, and be brief. Don’t engage in a drawn-out conversation—that’s probably what they want.
Never confront a stalker alone
If you can, have a witness present when you tell your stalker to leave you alone. Be smart and safe; you may not be dealing with a rational person.
There’s not much the police can do without some proof. The more evidence you have, the easier it is to have the stalker arrested or charged or to obtain a restraining order against them.
No matter how small or isolated a potential stalking behavior may seem, document what happened, including the date and place. Take photos and video, and save evidence like notes, voicemails, or emails. If you have witnesses, even better.
Don’t wait for the situation to escalate. Contact the police any time you feel uncomfortable or afraid based on someone else’s actions toward you or your family. It’s more documentation, and although you may not be able to pursue legal action against your stalker right away, the law’s on your side. You don’t need to live in fear.
Install a home security system
An excellent way to protect yourself from potential stalkers in and around your home is to install an alarm system. Home security installation can be very quick, so this is something you can do right away.
Choose a dedicated cellular system so that even if someone messes with your phone or broadband lines, the system is still active. And once you have it, use it consistently. Keep it activated even when you’re home.
Many home security companies offer key fobs with panic buttons. We suggest getting some if your chosen security brand sells them. Everyone who lives in your home should keep one on them at all times so they can alert your home security provider if there are any problems.
One more thing: if you want to keep a specific person out of your home, we strongly recommend adding cameras to your system. Security cameras are the perfect way to know exactly who approaches your home, car, and yard. You can choose between motion-activated cameras, cameras with motion-activated spotlights, cameras with facial recognition software, and more.
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Protect your mobile devices
Jemma West, a product specialist at Certo, a company that makes anti-spyware software, says that there are at least 25,000 available apps that stalkers can use to track their victims and spy on phones. “[These apps] give stalkers access to a huge amount of personal data, including messages, photos, [and] GPS location.”
The Google Play Store has anti-spyware apps, but “these apps simply don’t exist for iPhones, due to restrictions imposed by Apple’s App Store,” explains West. “Fortunately, there are some non-App Store alternatives for iPhone.” McAfee provides an iPhone alternative, and so does Certo.
West also recommends keeping your mobile devices updated, using strong passwords or passcodes, and using two-factor authentication. And be sure to change your passwords regularly.
Look out for your children
If you’re being stalked, step up security around your children, even if your stalker hasn’t contacted or threatened them.
- Alert your child’s school of the situation. Don’t be embarrassed; this could be a safety concern for everyone near your child.
- Make sure your child’s school and any caretakers have a list of who is and who is not allowed to contact or pick up your child from school. If possible, provide the school with photos and a vehicle description of anyone you don’t want near your kids.
- Depending on your child’s age, you may want to explain the situation and help them recognize the stalker. Let them know they shouldn’t have contact with this person for any reason and to tell you if they see the stalker hanging around anywhere.
- Don’t let children walk to and from school or the bus stop alone. Find alternate arrangements or a trusted adult to accompany them if you can’t.
- Establish a short, simple code word to say on the phone or through text as a warning, a call for help, or a way to tell your children not to come home.
- Teach your children how to dial 911 in an emergency.
If your children are older, even middle-aged adults, your stalker may still try to use them to get to you. Warn them so that they’re prepared. Likewise, warn your parents and other close family members. While stalking may not lead to physical violence, stalkers are likely to be manipulative. If nothing else, they might find a way to get information about you from your loved ones.
Don’t be embarrassed to tell on your stalker! The more people who know, the more people you’ll have looking out for you and your family. Plus, your stalker wants you to feel isolated.26 In their mind, that increases your chances of accepting them.
- Tell family, friends, and neighbors.
- Tell your employer; they may have extra security measures to help you stay safe. For example, if you leave work at night or have to walk through a parking garage, your employer might be able to provide an escort to your car.
- Tell the police. Don’t be discouraged if the department can’t do anything at first. Contact them every time you have something to report.
- Provide photos and vehicle descriptions to everyone you know.
Limit social media use
Watch what you post on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. At the very least, change your Facebook settings to “private” and refrain from posting information about where you are and where you’re going. To be extra safe, close your social media accounts and tell others not to post anything about you or your children.
The less information your stalker has, the safer you are.
Change numbers, locks, and patterns of behavior
- Change your phone numbers, including your cell. Give out your new number only to those who absolutely need it, and block any numbers associated with your stalker, just in case.
- Change your locks, especially if there’s a chance your stalker could have a key.
- Change your daily patterns. Most people are creatures of habit, driving the same route to work, running the same loop around the neighborhood, stopping for coffee at the same time each morning. Stalkers rely on these predictable patterns. Don’t stop living your life, but find ways to shake up your daily routines. Try a new restaurant; spend the night at a friend’s house.