The development of the internet in the 21st century has added another, deep layer of complexity to personal protection. Reports of online stalking and harassment are becoming more common. But how serious is the threat a stalker poses? How likely is it that they will turn physical?
This article will give guidance on how to assess and deal with threats. These are complex issues involving both psychological and mental problems. Therefore, I do not intend to cover this topic in-depth but only to outline the framework.
Breaking Down Stalker Terminology
Before discussing how to assess the threat, what control measures can be implemented, and the impact, let’s clarify the term stalker. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a stalker is a person who illegally follows and watches someone, especially a woman, over some time. The American definition is: Someone who follows a person, usually intending to hurt that person.
Back in the day, stalking had different names and definitions. For example, during the early 20th century, psychiatrists used erotomania to describe the delusion of being loved by someone, often a prominent or famous person.
In the early 21st century, discussions of erotomania and star-stalking depicted offenders as both male and female but generally of lower status than their victims.
The status of stalking as a criminal offense is relatively new, having emerged in the early 1990s and adopted by most countries worldwide. As a result, some countries provide a measure of protection under existing harassment laws, whereas others have enacted new laws to protect victims of stalking.
Stalking in Practice
After clarifying the meaning and brief history of stalking, it is time to examine how to assess the risk of threats from stalking. Dealing with stalking threats is no different than dealing with any other type of threat. Any professional EP operator knows that the key to dealing with any threat is to understand the danger and be proactive.
Professional EP operatives must first understand what type of stalking threat they have to deal with, the profile of the stalker, and potential impacts. Once the method of stalking and the profile are established, the risk and threat assessments can be conducted. There are two types of stalking methods ― physical and cyber.
Physical stalking involves:
- Following someone.
- Appearing at a person’s home or place of business.
- Making harassing phone calls.
- Leaving written messages or objects.
- Vandalizing one’s property.
Cyberstalking is when the stalker uses the Internet and social media platforms to harass his victim.
In order to implement the proper control measures and maximize their efficiency, the stalker needs to undergo profiling. There are three types of stalkers, as follows: intimate, vengeful, and delusional stalker.
- An intimate stalker is usually a partner or ex-partner who cannot and/or will not accept that the relationship has come to an end.
- A vengeful stalker is the most dangerous stalker as their mission is to get revenge.
- A delusional stalker is usually an individual with a history of mental illness. He believes that he is in love and will create an entire relationship in his head even though he may not have met the person.
Once the stalker’s profile and their methods are identified, it’s time for a risk assessment and identifying control measures. Ideally, the initial risk assessment should be conducted by a mental health professional. The assessment and management of the risk should reflect the following concerns:
- Is the stalking ongoing, or if it has stopped, will it reoccur?
- Does the victim suffer from significant psychological or social damage?
- Will the stalking escalate to a physical and/or a sexual assault?
Most risk assessments on stalking have focused almost exclusively on the probability of an assault. However, most victims are not assaulted.
Stalking causes psychological and social damage due to chronic fear and intimidation, irrespective of the presence or absence of an actual assault.
Because most victims suffer from psychological and social damage, the initial risk and threat assessments should be conducted in collaboration with a mental health professional. This will give a better understanding of the profile of the offender and the impacts on the victim.
The control measures depend on the profiles of both the protectee and the stalker, as well as the methods of stalking. For example, a multi-layered security approach needs to be put in place if the victim is a high-profiled or a high-net-worth individual.
How to Strengthen Your Security
In the 21st century, regardless of the stalking method, the initial approach is to start online. Many stalkers select their victims online and use social media platforms for intelligence. Therefore, the first control measure should be strengthening online security on any threat from stalking.
Primary control measures in physical stalking involve strengthening online security, controlling one’s Internet presence, and disabling the GPS tracking on all social media platforms when out and about.
If you perceive that someone is following you, I recommend the following steps:
- finding a safe public place and asking for help,
- a daily change of one’s routes and routines,
- ensuring a company,
- securing one’s residence by changing the standard locks with a higher-grade security system,
- installing a security alarm,
- ensuring CCTV coverage on all entries and exits,
- parking one’s vehicle in a well-lit area, ideally covered by CCTV (in case a garage is not available), and
- reporting to the authorities.
Primary control measures in cyberstalking involve:
- strengthening one’s online security,
- checking the privacy settings on all social media accounts,
- using VPN services,
- disabling the GPS tracking on all social media platforms,
- keeping records of any suspicious or malicious activity once the stalking activity is confirmed, and
- filing a report to the authorities.
Stalking is a complex behavior that risks causing psychological, social, and/or physical damage to the victim. Therefore, when a protection specialist conducts the risk and threat assessments, it is essential to consult with mental health professionals regarding the potential impacts on the protectee as we determine appropriate control measures.
As EP professionals, before we undertake any assignment, we need to ensure a deep understanding of the subject. If we have any doubts, don’t hesitate to reach out to professionals from the relevant sectors. In this case, one vital resource would be a discussion with a mental health professional. This collaboration will ensure that our risk assessment and control measures are adequate, efficient to the best of the client’s needs.
Crisis Shelter of Lawrence County
National Center for Victims of Crime
Stalking Resource Center page
National Stalking Awareness Stalking Month
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Working to Halt Online Abuse
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Association of Threat Assessment Professionals
Online Safety and Help