National Stalking Awareness Month – Stalking in a Digital Age

January is National Stalking Awareness Month. Stalking impacts 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men in the United States and often co-occurs with physical and sexual violence. In an age of rapidly developing and transforming technology, stalking has become more personal, more invasive, and more difficult for survivors to escape, making it critical to be informed and understand how to keep oneself safe.

Sarah glances at her phone as it vibrates. Again. And again. There are tens of messages on the screen. “You’re not at the store” “I knew you were lying to me.” “You’re dead.” He knows. ‘How does he know?’ And now he’s calling. ‘Do I have to answer? Can I ignore him? Will I be safe if I do?’ She won’t be safe. She knows he will hurt her. She answers the phone.

Who is the typical stalker? Is it a neighbor who becomes obsessed with the woman next door? Is it a flirtatious coworker who cannot take no for an answer? Is it the stranger we warn our children about? The reality may surprise you - over half of stalking offenders are current or former intimate partners.

Sam climbs up the front steps, shutting the door quietly behind him. She is home, waiting. Before he has a chance to speak, she begins, calmly, but with a harshness hidden behind her words. “I heard what you said to your therapist. You think I’m crazy? That I make you feel small?” He freezes, unable to speak as she continues on. “ It’s always my fault, isn’t it? I am not the reason that you are a worthless slob. Take some responsibility for once.” Sam tells himself to leave his phone in the car next week, to not forget that somehow, she hears everything, no matter where he is.

Discourse around cyber safety is often concerned with privacy. Survivors are often told to change or block phone numbers, to reset passwords and account information, or to turn off location services. However, cyberstalking and digital abuse, especially in the context of intimate partner violence, is primarily motivated by power. Cyberstalking, including repeatedly calling or texting, tracking location via GPS, or monitoring use of social media, has become a more accessible and effective means