Stalking has always been a frightening crime. For a victim, it means constant fear, anxiety and self-doubt. One in six women and one in 19 men are stalked in their lifetime, most often by a current or former intimate partner. Unfortunately, stalking has changed with the times. Today a stalker may be empowered by a variety of easily accessible gadgets and online tools.
Elements of the crime
Stalking involves a man or woman knowingly and repeatedly following, approaching, contacting or surveilling you or someone close to you, causing you to fear for your safety. When this threatening behavior causes serious emotional distress for the victim, it may be considered stalking — a felony with a sentence of up to eight years.
For a victim, no place feels safe. You feel like you’re being hunted or spied upon. A stalker may show up unexpectedly in places he/she shouldn’t know you are, or know things about you he/she shouldn’t know. If you notice some of this behavior but can’t understand how another person could be learning so much about you, consider that a stalker may be using some of these technologies. Get familiar with the technology so you can identify when it’s being used by a stalker.
Spyware and key logging
Computer spyware allows someone to track all your actions on your computer, including websites visited, e-mails sent and received, images of your screen, and even passwords entered. Spyware may be installed remotely using an e-mail attachment, or on site if the stalker has access to your computer. Key-logging software can be installed the same way — it records all of the user’s keystrokes, revealing much of the same information as spyware.
If you think your computer has been compromised, try to use a safer computer at a public library or community center.
For years, stalkers have had the opportunity to send relentless text messages, or call nonstop. Now, dangers related to cell phones are more sinister. “Spoofing” allows a stalker to call you while displaying an altered phone number on your caller ID. That new number could be a random number, or the number of someone you know. Spoofing may also allow a stalker to digitally change the sound of his/her voice — even making a man’s voice sound like a woman’s, and vice versa.
Phone spyware may be installed on your cell phone without your knowledge by anyone with temporary access to it. Using the spyware, a stalker can listen in on your conversations and monitor your text messages. Installing or activating GPS on your phone can allow him/her to track the movements of the phone. (Some of these features are offered outright with certain phone plans, usually targeted at parents tracking their children. If both your phone and the stalker’s phone are on the same phone plan, change your provider now.)
If you buy a new cell phone, make sure you properly dispose of your old one. Your old phone contains a mountain of data about you and should not fall into the wrong hands. Your cell-phone company can destroy the data for you.
Social media are a double-edged sword and can pose major problems for victims of stalking. While they connect you with your support system of family and friends and give you some sense of normalcy, social media sites can also be a gold mine for your stalker. In the social media companies’ quest to make us all as “connected” as possible, basic privacy settings are becoming less and less effective. A stalker may view your Facebook posts, for example, by “friending” your friends, using another person’s account, or hacking into your account. The more you share, the more there is “out there” to be found by a stalker.
GPS and video surveillance
You may be baffled when your stalker shows up where you are, when you hadn’t seen anyone following you. In this instance the stalker could be tracking you via GPS on your phone, or may have attached a small GPS tracking device to your car. Another surveillance method is the use of tiny video cameras placed in your home, car or workplace. Some are even made to resemble a pen. The footage from these cameras can often be streamed and viewed via an Internet site.
What you can do
Stalking is a serious crime. If you believe you are being stalked, call the Sheriff’s Office at 303-277-0211 (or 911 in an emergency). As best you can, relay all examples of stalking to investigators. Keep a log of these events. Your documentation of obvious (or suspected) incidents involving the stalker is critical to building a case against him/her.
In addition to reporting the crime, you can contact our Victim Services Unit at 303-271-5339 for resources that may be available to you as a stalking victim. More information is available from the National Network to End Domestic Violence at nnedv.org.
Tedd Mink is the Jefferson County sheriff.