Unfortunately, stalking is not uncommon during the end of a relationship. With today’s technology and our quest for connection, it’s easier than ever. There are many more ways to stalk and it’s easier than ever to do it without the victim’s knowledge. It’s also harder for the person being stalked to stop it.
According to the federal Office on Women’s Health, one in six women has experienced stalking in her lifetime and women are twice as likely to be stalked as men.
So, what is stalking? When does stalking become a crime? What are common methods of stalking and how do you protect yourself?
Joining me for this Conversation About Divorce is BreAnne Meyer, Outreach Director for the Safe Shelter of St. Vrain. They offer services to all victims of abuse, working with them to develop their safety plan for remaining in the relationship or leaving.
Listen in below or keep reading …
What Is Stalking?
Simply put, stalking is repeated unwanted contact which sometimes creates fear.
Stalking takes many forms like showing up places where you are or phone calls. Meyer says it can also look like care such as sending or giving flowers and greeting cards. These days, there can be a big technology component.
Don’t Discount Weird Events
Stalking often starts as small behaviors that might have you thinking that something was weird or odd and then you let it go. For example, you come home to find the garage door is open and you typically always close it when you leave. Or your ex asks you if enjoyed an event you went to last week. You don’t remember telling them you were going because you’ve stopped sharing that sort of information.
“Deep down, we always know that there’s something a little bit off,” said Meyer. “Not only are we discounting their behavior or trying to explain it away, but women tend to discount our feelings about how that didn’t feel good. Maybe we tell ourselves a story about why it might have been OK or that he didn’t mean it that way.”
The bottom line here is to trust your gut. If your sense is that something weird is going on, then something weird most likely is going on.
Cell Phones Make Stalking Easy
There are tracking apps that can be installed on your cell phone. That applies if your stalker purchased the phone and also if they have ever had access to the phone.
“It’s good to go get the phone checked out,” said Meyer. “The phone could have an app in the background that’s running. It could be hidden to track locations, to track emails, texts, anything that’s happening on the phone.
If your phone is still on a family plan to which your stalker has access, you need to get off the plan.
If you have your phone cleaned and it’s still on the family plan, then it’s all too easy for your stalker to just install everything again. In my experience, the phone companies don’t make it easy to get off the family plan especially if you have an equipment charge or want to port your number. Be relentless and persistent. It might mean getting a new phone and number. That’s worth it to stop this from escalating.
Another reason to get off the family plan, is that it gives your stalker access to data about who you’re calling and messaging. That then gives them what they need to start calling those people and saying whatever he wants about you. That’s going to get ugly real fast.
If you do go to your cell phone provider and ask them to clean the phone and they want to give you a new phone, you could be losing evidence that could be used either in divorce proceedings or in a criminal matter.
More About Cell Phones And Stalking
The number of ways in which cell phones can be used to stalk keeps expanding and it’s hard to keep up.
For example, if you find an unfamiliar cell phone in your car, it could have been put there by your stalker, It can be set to auto-answer so when your stalker calls the phone, it answers. Then it stays on picking up whatever conversations you’re having. Eventually the battery will die but, in the meantime, your stalker has been eavesdropping. And if not placed in your car, it could be somewhere in your home if they have access or placed in a bag that your child uses to travel between homes.
With call spoofing, your stalker can make it look like it’s someone else you know who’s calling. You might think it’s your boss or best friend and then find it’s your stalker. It’s pretty easy to do and can also be done with emails.
Even more baffling, a stalker can set up a free phone number. They can then keeping changing that number to another number while calling and calling. It’s difficult to track where those calls are coming from and to prove they’re all from the same person.
“It makes enforcement really difficult,” said Meyer. “Not only can it make you question yourself, but it can also make the police question you. If you report that ‘I’ve gotten these 45 phone calls from these 45 different numbers and I don’t know why and I don’t know how to stop it,’ the police are probably not going to be able to do much about that.”
Smart Home Devices Can Be Used To Stalk
Who doesn’t have at least one smart home device? Maybe Alexa or Siri? A home thermostat that connects to your phone? A Ring camera that monitors who’s at your house? A garage door control with a camera? An irrigation system controlled from your phone?
If your stalker had any of these installed on their phone, then they could still have access and control to them all. That opens a whole other realm for stalking and harassment. Think about being able to see your coming and goings from the house, who else is visiting, changing the heat in your house, blasting music at 2 in the morning, running your sprinklers all day … even locking you out so you lose control.
“There are so many ways that technology can be used,” said Meyer. “I don’t think most of us want to think about all the different ways that technology can be used for this purpose.”
If you’re stalker is using these devices, then it’s quite possible that you won’t make the connection.
“You might not necessarily think right away this has got to be that person doing this,” said Meyer. “You might just say, ‘that was weird.’ That head game piece of stalking is also very common.”
As a precaution, regardless of your relationship with your STBX, once they have moved out of the house, your first action should be to change the password on your WiFi network. Then you’ll need to go through each of your smart devices and figure out how to take control of them and remove the access your STBX has.
Children Become Pawns
Sadly, if you and your stalker share children, then the stalker may use them as pawns to get to you. For the kids it may seem like a normal conversation. Where’s mommy working these days? Are you still living on XYZ St? Where’s mommy working these days?
It’s also easy for a stalker to place a GPS tracking device in a child’s backpack and use that to track your movements.
Create An Incident Log
It becomes really important to document everything including what may appear as random, weird events.
“Stalking rarely takes just one form,” said Meyer. “It’s often many forms: showing up, calling work, calling friends, going to places the person frequents. When we start to paint a bigger picture, it becomes a little bit more prosecutable.”
The Stalking Resource Center has a sample incident log for victims.
Why Stalkers Stalk
Meyer says there are several reasons why stalkers stalk. It’s often at the end of a relationship and so they’re feeling rejected, angry, or jealous.
“It could be many things, but I think underlying it all is a pattern of power and control,” said Meyer. “They want the person to either be in a relationship with them or they want something from that person.”
Typically, a stalker wants their victim to know they’re being watched. One of my early interviewees, Lisa Wynn shared how mean and vindictive her ex became and gave many examples of how he was stalking and harassing her. The horrifying incidents were easily traced back to him.
How To Respond To Your Stalker
Responding to a stalker is about vigorously enforcing your boundaries and disengaging.
“I recommend for people to make a very clear statement, ‘I do not want this contact. Any further contact from you, I will consider harassment and I will be reporting to the police,’” said Meyer.
Once you’ve communicated that, then don’t respond to any further communications from the stalker.
If you have children together and have shared parenting, then not communicating is not a viable option. That’s when it’s time to use one of the third-party communication platforms.
Be sure to document your request for no further communication so that it can use in Court if it comes to that. Emails and text-messages are great because you can print them. Phone calls may also work if you can record them, but you need to be sure you’re not violating state recording authorization laws.
Often, that request to stop is enough.
Enforcing your boundaries may feel uncomfortable and especially for women.
“I believe we are socialized to believe that our needs and wants are not important or that we need to stuff those needs and wants down,” said Meyer. “That’s often why it’s so difficult to ask for what we want and to draw those boundaries.”
If the stalking doesn’t stop, then it’s probably best to reach out to an advocate at your local domestic abuse organization. They’ll be able to brainstorm with you what’s best in your specific situation.
Stalking is a criminal matter so you can also directly to the police.
Working with an advocate to create a plan for dealing with the stalking and to create a safety plan is a priority. Therapy and self-care are also important.
“The people who have been affected by stalking have a long road to healing,” said Meyer. “When you’ve been violated in this way, it can be really difficult to gain back a sense of confidence and believing in yourself when your reality has been changed in a way that it won’t go back.”
Joining me for this Conversation About Divorce was BreAnne Meyer, Outreach Director for the Safe Shelter of St. Vrain. They which offer services to all victims of abuse working with them to develop their safety plan for remaining in the relationship or leaving.