Monday, April 16, 2012

Stalking in real life and on-line: National Stalking Awareness Day

Wednesday, April 18th is National Stalking Awareness Day in Scotland, Wales, and England ( 

I want to talk a little bit about what stalking is, and a little in particular about cyber-stalking/virtual stalking, and why it carries real-world dangers. 

What is stalking?  

According to Action Scotland Against Stalking (ASAS), stalking includes "unwanted intrusions and communications," "following, loitering nearby, maintaining surveillance, and sending unwanted gifts or messages" (

It's very, very easy to pretend that this sort of behavior is irritating and upsetting, but not really dangerous.

However, over and over, law enforcement, advocates, and victims have seen that this behavior escalates over time, and too often culminates in assault (physical and/or sexual) or murder (ibid).

Stalking is dangerous.  

The key point is attention that is unwanted, unwelcome, intrusive, repeated, persistent, causing anxiety, causing fear or anger.

It does not matter if the stalker is male or female.  It does not matter if they're a complete stranger, someone you know vaguely, someone you know well, a co-worker or former co-worker, a former family member, or someone you were once very close to but ended a relationship or friendship with. 

If someone is stalking you, or you think someone might be stalking you but you're not sure, both ASAS and the National Stalking Helpine have on-line resources to help you assess the situation as well as to take steps to increase your safety.
Again, they repeat that even if the situation has not become violent, it still causes harm and decreases the victim's quality of life. 

If someone is stalking you, it's all too easy too feel isolated and ashamed.

It's important to remember that it is not your fault. 


Cyber-stalking may take place anywhere in the on-line world: email, websites, social networking, mobile phones, texts, etc.  Hand-in-hand with this is digitally-assisted stalking, with yet other tech aspects such as GPS.

According to the National Stalking Helpline ( and Action Scotland Against Stalking (, cyber-stalking, although it takes place on-line, is much like "traditional" stalking and is essentially an extension of it.

Why is cyber-stalking dangerous if it takes place virtually?

Cyber-stalking, just like "traditional" stalking, escalates -- and just like with "traditional" stalking, it can escalate into physical violence, including death.

Unwanted attention on-line can be even harder to take seriously than unwanted attention in the "real," physical world -- but it can be just as dangerous.

Also, it's not hard for a cyber-stalker to figure out where the person they're stalking is in real life if that person adds specific locations to their blog posts; if they check in on social networking apps and have their privacy set so anyone can see where they are; or if the cyber-stalker is making a point of friending on social networks as many of the victim's friends as possible, etc. 

Both NSH and ASAS offer cyber-safety tips at their websites.

Cyber-stalking and women on-line

Part of why I'm bringing this up is because many women in particular are targets of cyber-stalking -- especially women bloggers -- because we are women.

As Kate Harding points out:

Being viciously, persistently attacked for the crime of Writing While Female is something practically everyone with an opinion on the matter regards as par for the course–regardless of whether they believe that fact is outrageous and deplorable or merely, you know, the way the cookie crumbles.


It's bad enough being attacked on-line for no other reason than being female.  But there is ample evidence these attacks then spill over into real life.  For some high-profile examples, witness what has happened to Kathy Sierra and Rebecca Watson both on-line and in real life.  (Rather than going into details here, I suggest you search for "Kathy Sierra Geek Feminism" and/or "Rebecca Watson Privilege Delusion" for more information.) 

Less high-profile incidents happen to the rest of us when we're stalked in cyber-space and in real life.  Every day.   

How do I know how seriously to take this?  or, Okay, I'm taking this seriously, but how do I talk to other people about it?  

If you're having a hard time figuring out how seriously to take someone's persistent unwanted attention, or if you're taking it seriously but having a hard time talking to other people about it or getting other people to take it seriously, here are two helpful risk-identification tools by Laura Richards (

I have found both very useful in assessing my own situation.

No, you're not alone

If you're being stalked, if someone is stalking you, you're not alone.  And it's very important to reach out to other people and get both support and help.  This can be very hard -- I know.  But as with any other kind of violence against women, it's that much more important for women who are being stalked to reach through the isolation.  The first person you reach out to might not be able to help you or be inclined to take you seriously.  The second person might not.  But you're still not alone, and it's still important to keep asking for help until you do get it.

Resources in the US

Since all the resources I've cited so far have been in the UK, here are some that are specific to the US:

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