Crime Prevention: Stalking
As a crime of control and intimidation, stalking is among the most psychologically harmful crimes. Behaviors associated with the act fall into multiple categories, but most stalking involves threatening, physical proximity, and persistent, unwanted contact from an offender. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, more than 6.6 million adults in the U.S. have reported incidents or feelings of being stalked; of that amount, the largest group consists of young women aged 18 to 24 who have reported estranged lovers or romantic interests.
While methods usually involve repetitive physical contact, stalking can also be initiated through electronic devices and social networking outlets. With the advent of Facebook, MySpace, Instagram and similar sites, information is often openly available for scouring predators. In many cases, “cyberstalkers” falsify personal details to obtain details about their victims. But for those feeling threatened, a bad outcome can easily be prevented with the following:
Alter Facebook settings to ensure your profile is as private as possible. Set notifications for status updates, photo posts, etc. to “Friends Only.” Instructions on how to change these settings are found in the Facebook FAQs.
Social networking may be an outlet for life-sharing, but it’s best to avoid providing personal information – namely addresses and phone numbers – in a public arena. Reserve those details only for close friends, co-workers and family.
If you feel someone has already infiltrated one of your social networking accounts, virtually all websites have a “Block” feature. Many sites also contain a “Report” link for repeated harassment or threatening content.
For victims who feel stalked in a “traditional” sense, solutions are sometimes muddled and dependent on the extent of the crime. But like cyberstalking, there are also precautions one can take if stalking or equally threatening behavior is evident.
Regardless of gender, avoid walking alone at night. This is especially true for residents of metropolitan, urbanized areas with high populations. If you suspect you’re being followed, call the police immediately.
If the offender knows where you live or has access to your car, opt for changing locks and make sure no one has attempted to hide themselves behind or inside the vehicle.
Stalking involves harassment and invasion of privacy, which can lead to several psychological issues, including chronic anxiety, severe depression, insomnia and social disorders. Seek counseling right away if you feel uneasy or have already become a victim of stalking.
Additional resources for awareness and crime prevention can be found at VictimsOfCrime.org and StalkingAwarenessMonth.org.