Stalking is when a person repeatedly contacts, harasses or spies on you, and it causes you fear or distress. Stalkers may also threaten and harass your family members, pets, friends or workmates. If they are unable to harass you, stalkers may enlist their friends or family to do so on their behalf.
Stalking is a crime in all Australian states and territories. In Victoria, the law now states that a stalker is someone who acts with the intention and/or awareness of:
- causing you distress, physical or mental harm
- making you apprehensive or fearful for your safety and the safety of friends and family
You can be stalked physically as well as through technology (cyber stalking), such as
- your mobile phone, computer or other electronic communication devices
- the internet on Facebook and other social networking sites,
- closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras and Global Positioning System (GPS) devices
What to do if you’re being stalked
It is important that you seek help and support to manage the stalking and its impact on your life. Family and friends can also be adversely affected, particularly children, and should be encouraged to seek help if needed.
At the earliest stage give your stalker a single clear message that you don’t want any of their attention or contact.
You can take action:
1. Avoid contact with the stalker
- Don’t try to negotiate or reason with the stalker. Any contact only serves to prolong the stalking. For many stalkers any contact, however negative, is better than no contact at all.
- Don’t respond to insults, verbal taunts or emails
- Don’t return gifts or other materials (save these as potential evidence)
- Block unwanted numbers from your mobile phone
- Use an answering machine or voicemail to screen all calls
- Report and block all unwanted messages and posts on Facebook (see Facebook Help Centre) and other social networking sites
- Delete/block the stalker from your ‘friends’ or ‘contacts’ list, and update the privacy settings on your social networking accounts so that your account is not public.
2. Increase your personal safety
Increasing your safety will help you to feel stronger and give you some control of the situation. If possible, try to improve your home and work security.Free and confidential home security checks can be arranged through most police stations. The Safer Community Program can also assist you.
- Take all threats seriously and contact the police immediately
- Screen all your calls on your current phone using an answering machine or voicemail. Get a second unlisted phone number for only trusted family and friends – you can get a new mobile phone number by getting a newSIM card.
- Always have a phone with you – memorise emergency numbers and have close family and friends on speed dial.
- Make a safety plan including safe places you can go to in an emergency e.g. police station, homes of friends /family that the stalker doesn’t know the addresses of, places of worship and public areas.
- Keep your location private – switch off the location feature on your mobile phone and remove any phone finder apps; don’t share your location when you ‘check in’ on Facebook. Only give your home address to trusted people and businesses. Consider getting a lockable mailbox, or post office box.
- Get a new social media account/free web-based email address and only divulge to trusted individuals. Reset all your passwords and pins. Make sure your password is not automatically saved on your computer, and untick the box ‘remember my password for this site’. Always sign out of your email or social network sites.
- Think your computer use is being monitored? Use computers at safe public spaces such as public libraries, internet cafes or community centres.
Keep you and your children safe at home, work and school.
Vary your routine to school, work, shops and other places; use different shops, bank branches or ATM machines and always try to stay in public areas.
- Identify escape routes out of the house. Teach them to your children
- Install solid main doors with dead bolts and fix any broken windows or doors; change locks where needed
- Use a code word with your children that tells them they need to leave
- Pack a bag with important items in case you need to leave quickly, and keep it in a safe place or with a trusted friend
- Seek advice from your employer/University about ways to ensure your safety in the workplace/on campus.The Safer Community Program can assist you with this.
3. Inform close family and friends
Make good use of your support networks. Tell trusted friends, family members, workmates, security guards, your children’s school and, if appropriate, neighbours that you are being stalked. If they are unaware of what’s going on they may accidentally give your information to the stalker.
Trusted family and friends can support you and help you to collect evidence of the stalking. It may also help to provide these people with a photograph or description of the stalker and their vehicle.
4. Collect evidence
Stalkers often leave physical or electronic evidence, for example, voice or text messages, emails, letters, cards or unwanted gifts, internet posts or comments. Do not delete, discard or return these items; they are needed for the purposes of investigation and prosecution.
- Keep and date all items or letters received from the stalker, and lock them in a secure place
- Keep all phone and text messages
- Save emails, online posts, comments and messages (take screen shots where necessary of online incidents of harassment) and save them on a separate USB
- Keep a log-book detailing any instances of unwanted approaches, contact, following or surveillance, with dates and times
- If a stalker is loitering near where there are CCTV cameras, you may be able to ask for footage from the owner of the camera.
5. Contact the police
Call your local police station and make an appointment to see a police officer as soon as possible, especially if the stalking has persisted for more than two weeks. You may request to meet with an officer experienced in stalking or harassment cases. Bring along any evidence as it will help establish your case. You can also bring a close friend or family member to the meeting for support.
Police may not be able to act immediately if there is a lack of evidence. An officer should be assigned to your case so that you can contact them directly and report each new incident. Obtain copies of any ‘incident reports’ you make and keep them in a secure place.
6. Consider applying for an intervention order
You can take legal action by applying for an intervention order. The magistrate makes a court order that forbids the stalker from contacting you or coming within a set distance of you, your home, your work and other places you go to regularly, or getting other people to harass you. If the stalker breaches the order they have committed a criminal offence and the police can arrest and charge them. These orders may serve to deter the stalker and thus protect you, but this is not always the case.
In Victoria, when you apply for an intervention order, you may be asked to first participate in mediation, especially if your stalker is a neighbour or an acquaintance. However if there is a history of violence or threats, the mediation may not have to take place.
It is important to have a safety plan in place when you apply for an intervention order. The Safer Community Program can assist you with this.