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How Can You Protect Yourself from a Stalker?

By Steven Ellison, Esq. | Last updated on

We hope you never have to deal with a stalker. The experience can be terrifying, and you never know when the stalking might escalate. Your life could be in danger.

We have some safety tips for you if you find yourself facing a stalker. But if you get anything out of reading this post, it's this: If you believe you may be in danger, call the police. Your safety comes first.

What Is 'Stalking'?

The term “stalking” is defined by state law, so it means different things depending on where you live. In its broadest sense, it can mean any repeated behavior that places you in fear of harm.

Some states specifically list crimes that can also constitute stalking, such as violating court restraining orders (more on that below), trespassing on private property, obscene or harassing phone calls, and vandalism.

Stalkers come in all shapes and sizes. They can be complete strangers or former intimate partners.

Protect Yourself

If you are the victim of stalking, the first thing to do is make sure you remain safe. Take affirmative steps to protect yourself. You shouldn't have to change your life because a potential stalker has fixated on you, but a few steps can prove useful if someone interested in you engages in a course of conduct that crosses a line.

Call the Police

First and foremost, get to a safe place, call local law enforcement, and report the stalking. The police will contact your stalker and tell them to leave you alone. In some cases, that's all you need. A knock on the door from a police officer may do the trick. Problem solved.

In addition, the police will make a report of the call. A police report can make useful evidence if your stalker continues to bother you and you decide to pursue civil remedies (more on that below).

Adjust Your Phone Settings

Another thing to do is adjust your cellphone settings, particularly if your stalker has been calling you, leaving you unwanted voicemails, or sending you text messages. You can simply block their number or, if your stalker calls from different numbers, you could get a new phone number. That may be an inconvenience, but it may give you some peace.

'Secure Your Perimeter'

A third thing to do is secure your environment. Consider installing security cameras and lights on motion detectors outside your home. The video from your security cameras can make effective evidence should you need to prove that your stalker trespassed on your property.

Think about getting a post office box and using that as your address. No need to make it easy for a stalker to find you.

Also, be careful with your social media accounts. Make sure you don't have information posted that might make it easier for cyberstalking to occur. If your stalker does find you, keep copies of any messages they send you. You will need that evidence should you wish to pursue criminal or civil charges.

Tell People

You may be embarrassed at being the victim of stalking. Don't be. In fact, tell people. Make sure that your loved ones, family members, and your co-workers know about your circumstances. They may be in a position to help you prepare a safety plan in case your stalker shows up at your home or work.

Criminal Proceedings

In most states, stalking is a crime. Although the standard varies from state to state, most states prohibit repeated conduct that the stalker knows or should know would cause the victim to feel terrorized or to fear bodily harm. If the victim feels this way, the stalker can be criminally liable for stalking. States differ on whether stalking is a misdemeanor or a felony.

Civil Proceedings

You also could take legal action and file a civil lawsuit against your stalker. Your options depend on your goals.

Restraining Order

If you simply want to make them leave you alone, you could file a petition for a restraining order. Restraining orders go by many names — e.g., protective order, order for protection, harassment restraining order, etc. — but the process for getting one is essentially the same.

You file a petition (Don't worry — your court will have a form you can fill out.) and have it served on your stalker. At a hearing, you will need to present evidence establishing that your stalker:

  • Engaged in behavior that would cause a reasonable person to be terrified or be in fear of physical harm
  • Actually caused you to be terrified or to be in fear of physical harm

If you meet your burden, the court will grant you a protective order. The terms of the order will depend on your circumstances, but courts generally have a fair amount of discretion.

Violating a protective order is a crime, so if your stalker still won't leave you alone, the police can arrest them. You could also have them held in contempt of court.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

To successfully sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED), you need to show that you suffered severe emotional distress (in some states, you must show physical harm) as a result of your stalker's conduct. You will need evidence to support your claim, such as:

  • A stalking log
  • Social media posts
  • Security camera video
  • Screenshots
  • Text messages
  • Any unwanted gifts

If you win your IIED case, you may be able to recover compensatory financial damages, such as money for medical bills, lost wages, and emotional distress. If the stalker's behavior was extreme or outrageous, you may be able to recover punitive damages as well. If you decide to go this route, consider consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney in your area.

Keep Safe!

You don't have to tolerate stalking. You have legal options. But first, do what you need to do to stay safe. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call law enforcement. You can also get additional information from the National Center for Victims of Crime. If your stalker is a former intimate partner, consider calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

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