Table of Contents:

What is stalking?

Stalking is repeated harassment or threatening behavior toward another person. Stalking behaviors also may include persistent patterns of leaving or sending the victim unwanted items or presents, from the seemingly romantic to the bizarre, following or waiting for the victim, damaging or threatening to damage the victim’s property, defaming the victim’s character, or harassing the victim via the Internet by posting personal information or spreading rumors. Like domestic violence, stalking is a crime of power and control.

Stalking is a crime under the laws of all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government. Laws vary by state, but stalking is generally defined as repeated (two or more occasions) visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written, and/or implied threats, that would cause a reasonable person fear. (Tjaden and Thoennes,1998).

What do stalkers do?

Stalking behavior can take many forms and can vary greatly from situation to situation. Some common stalking behaviors include:

  • Following you and showing up wherever you are.
  • Repeatedly sending letters, emails and unwanted gifts.
  • Repeatedly asking you out.
  • Repeatedly calling you and/or texting, including hang-ups.
  • Causing damage to your home, car, or other property.
  • Monitoring your phone calls or computer use.
  • Using technology, like hidden cameras and computers to track you down.
  • Driving by or hanging out at your home, school, or work.
  • Threatening to hurt you, your family, friends, or pets.
  • Finding out about you by using public records or on-line search services, hiring investigators, going through your garbage, or contacting your friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers.
  • Other actions that control, track, or frighten you.

To an outsider, the stalker’s behavior might appear friendly and unthreatening, for example, showering the victim with gifts or flattering messages. But, these acts are intrusive and frightening if they are unwelcome to the victim.

Stalking behavior patterns closely mirror those common in abusive relationships. The pattern is usually triggered when the stalkers’ advances toward their victim have been frustrated—whether the stalker is seeking to establish a personal relationship or continue a previously established relationship against the wishes of the victim. The stalker may first attempt to woo the victim into a relationship, perhaps sending gifts like flowers or candy. When the victim rejects their unwelcome advances, the stalker often turns to intimidation. Intimidation may begin as inappropriate intrusion into the victim’s life and these contacts may become more numerous and intrusive over time, until the behaviors form a persistent pattern of harassment. Many times, harassing behavior escalates into threatening behavior. These threats may be direct or indirect, explicit or implied by the stalker’s conduct. Cases that reach this level of seriousness are particularly dangerous and can become violent.

While this progression in behavior is common, no stalking case is completely predictable. Some stalkers may never escalate past the first stage. Others jump from the first to the last with little warning. Others regress to previous stages before advancing to the next. It is not uncommon for stalkers to intersperse threatening or violent episodes with flowers and love letters.

Who are the perpetrators and victims of stalking?

A stalker can be a stranger or someone the victim knows including a partner, an ex-partner, or a family member. Stalking is a crime that can touch anyone, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, geographic location, or personal associations. However, the US Department of Justice reports that the overwhelming majority of victims are women (78%) and the majority of offenders (87%) are men. Nearly 60% of women and 30% of men who are stalked are stalked by a current partner. However, some stalkers develop an obsession for someone with whom they have no personal relationship.

Because there is a wide range of stalking behaviors, it is virtually impossible to devise a single effective strategy that can be applied to every situation. For this reason, it is vital that stalking victims immediately seek advice to devise a safety plan for their unique situation and circumstances. At UCSC, you can contact Counseling & Psychological Services at 831.459.2628 for confidential support.

While there is no single psychological or behavioral profile for stalkers, forensic psychologists have identified two broad categories of stalkers and stalking behavior—dividing them into simple obsession and love obsession cases. 70-80% of all stalking cases fall under the simple obsession category, in which a personal or romantic relationship existed between the stalker and the victim before the stalking behavior began. These stalkers are commonly socially maladjusted, emotionally immature and extremely insecure. Their self-esteem is often closely tied to their relationship with the victim and, as a result, their greatest fear becomes the loss of this relationship, creating a dangerous dynamic. These stalkers can be most dangerous when their victims decide to end the relationship.

Love obsession stalkers develop a love obsession or fixation on a person with whom they have no personal relationship. The target may be only a casual acquaintance or even a complete stranger. This category represents about 20-25% of all stalking cases. The vast majority of these stalkers suffer from a psychological disorder—often schizophrenia or paranoia. Nearly all display some delusional thought patterns or behaviors. In place of normal personal relationships, they invent fictional stories which cast their unwilling victims in the role of their own love interest. Love obsession stalkers expect their victims to play out the roles they have cast them in and believe they can make the object of their affection love them. They may attempt to force the victim to comply with threats, intimidation, or even violence.
What should I do if I’m being stalked?

If you are being stalked, trust your instincts and don’t downplay the danger. Consider taking some or all of these steps:

  • If you have not already done so, assertively communicate that you want the behavior to stop and set and maintain personal boundaries.
  • Try not to allow yourself to be isolated with the person.
  • Tell family, friends, roommates, and co-workers about the stalking and seek their support.
  • Stalking behavior can be confusing and it can be challenging to sort out what’s happening. For confidential support, you can contact Counseling & Psychological Services at 831.459.2628.
  • Memorize UCSC Police numbers and put them in your cell phone: 911 (emergency) and 831.459.2231 (non-emergency). You can also call Police from any of the blue-light phones on campus.
  • Don’t walk alone, particularly at night. Utilize the campus night shuttle to navigate the campus or make plans for friends to accompany you.
  • It is also a good idea to make a record of the stalking behavior. Keep a log including the date, time, what happened and the names of anyone who witnessed the incident. Save any packages, letters, messages or gifts from the stalker. Save all voicemail or text messages from the stalker.
  • If you feel you are unsafe, you probably are and should seek help. Take threats seriously. Danger generally is higher when the stalker talks about suicide or murder, or when a victim tries to leave or end the relationship. Don’t confront a stalker. Go to a safe space and call the police.

Campus Resources

UCSC Police Department
831.459.2231 (general calls)
911 (emergencies)

Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS)
Student Health Center

Same day drop-in appointment for EMERGENCY only. Individual, couple counseling. Behavioral health clinic. Call to schedule appointments.

Title IX/Sexual Harassment Office
Kerr Hall, Room 119

The Title IX/Sexual Harassment Officer provides information, consultations, and complaint resolution in all areas of sex discrimination, including sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Stalking Resource Center 
The Stalking Resource Center from the National Center for Victims of Crimes offers extensive information for victims of stalking.

National Institute of Justice
A collection of resources on stalking from the National Institute of Justice, a division of the United States Department of Justice.