Good Advice vs. Bad Advice for Stalking Victims


In searching the internet for the best stalking advice that one can possibly find, I have to admit that we can actually find a lot of bad advice.

I found a document at
The National Center for Victims of Crime titled Rethinking our Advice to Stalking Victims.

In a nutshell, the NCVC, which I imagine receives thousands of inquiries on how to stop a stalker, states that even they do not know all the answers.

This is how they explain it:

The Stalking Resource Center is always looking for the best, most up-to-date advice to give stalking victims. We subscribe to many journals and newsletters, and we read books on stalking. As we talk to practitioners in the field, we learn more about this crime and what can be done to help keep victims safe. One result of this search is that we are constantly rethinking and reevaluating the criminal justice system’s responses to stalking.

Because stalking has been recognized as a crime for only about a decade, our approach to the problem is still in its “infancy.” Creative practitioners around the country have come up with some great ways to respond to the crime and to keep victims safe. Those ideas, shared and spread around the country, have gained wide acceptance. For the most part, that’s great. But what do we do when we find out that our well-intentioned advice might actually be putting victims in danger? Experts are now struggling to find the best advice for victims about whether, when, and how they should respond to contact from their stalkers.

One common piece of advice is telling victims that if they “just ignore the stalker, the stalking will stop.” Experience has taught us that this advice seldom works. The stalker is pursuing the victim for a reason, and the behavior is likely to escalate if he or she is not getting the desired reaction from the victim. For example, if a victim who is being stalked via the Internet completely stops using the computer (even if that were possible), the stalker usually recognizes that he or she is being ignored and does something else to get the victim’s attention. Rather than ignoring the behavior, victims of stalking should seek help from trained advocates and law enforcement officers.

We are also reconsidering what to tell victims who report that stalkers are harassing or threatening them by phone. The standard advice has been that victims should disconnect their phones and get a new, unlisted phone number. Getting a new number is a good idea, but it turns out that disconnecting the old one may be a mistake. The Seattle Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit has found that when stalking victims disconnect the phone, virtually 100 percent of the stalkers escalate their contact to in-person stalking. The Seattle Police now advise victims to get a new phone number but keep their old phone line active and connected to an answering machine to capture any possible evidence.

So, if ignoring stalkers doesn’t work, what about the advice many well-meaning professionals often give victims, to tell their stalkers—once and forcefully—to leave them alone? This advice may serve a purpose if the stalker doesn’t understand that his or her attentions are unwelcome and fear-inducing. Such stalkers may stop if they are appropriately warned.

However, much stalking involves unmistakably deliberate behavior that could never be confused with innocent, possibly welcome, non-criminal behavior. In such cases, encouraging a victim to have contact with the stalker, in any form, only increases the stalker’s sense of power and control. Even when a warning seems appropriate, a great deal of thought and safety planning must precede contact with the stalker. Trained law enforcement officers or other legal agents, rather than the victim, should deliver the warning (which should not be a substitute for criminal charges). Because stalkers are dangerously unpredictable, warnings can put them “over the edge,” further endangering the victim.

So, as you work with victims, please keep helping them with safety planning and threat assessment. Keep looking for better ways to address the problem of stalking. But, as you do, think through the ramifications of all your advice and regularly reevaluate your strategies to make sure they are working as intended. Never underestimate the potential threat that a stalker may pose. And, as you figure out what is effective and what isn’t, please share your insights with us, so we can pass them along to other practitioners in the field!

So how does this help us determine how to actually deal with or rid of our stalker, once and for all?

Firstly, I agree that the best advice we can give victims affected by stalking and harassment is to offer them a multitude of ways to increase their personal safety and privacy. Before one takes any action to explain to a perpetrator that their behaviour is unwelcome (and will not be tolerated), they must have a safety plan in place.

Their home (as well as the places they frequent) must be safe and secure. Friends, family, employers, those who come into contact on a regular basis with victims, must be aware that they potentially have a dangerous stalker in the midst. Victims need to expose their harassers to those that also can be affected by this crime. They need to speak up and not be embarrased or ashamed of the consequences of doing so.

Read my article Best Tips for Victims of Stalking, Harassment and Abuse to see how you can implement various strategies to protect your privacy and increase your overall personal safety.

Secondly, it is necessary that stalking and harassment victims have the aid of their local police departments and prosecutors. It is too common these days that law enforcement minimize or ignore the plight of a victim and use the excuse that they have no power to take action and warn the perpetrator. Often they give bad advice, or no advice at all.

This type of approach is not only unhelpful, but foolish, in the general interest of the public. Stalkers, if not forewarned that there will be consequences to their behaviour (and that the police have the ability to carry out their implied actions), will just give stalkers the impression that they can continue to harass and molest their victims. Sometimes this will lead to rape, physical violence, or worse yet, murder.

Perhaps it is a fact that the majority of police and prosecutors feel (in their own minds) that stalking is not really a significant enough crime for them to take any action. Perhaps they have no idea what the effect of stalking is on people, never have been stalked or harassed themselves. Oftentimes, they can just be outright complacent and indifferent, in essence numb, to criminal behaviour.

Their opinion may be that they have more important – violent – criminals to prosecute. Or that it is not in their career advancement goals to take any action. While it may be that it is extremely difficult to prosecute and bring justice to stalkers and abusers, many so-called professionals often give up before even trying.

What needs to occur, for anything to really change for the benefit of the public, is for us to take serious action to increase awareness and action across all police agencies.

Stalking victims need to step up and hold their local (and federal) police organizations accountable to the duty of protecting the best interests (and safety) of the public. If an officer of the law is sworn to protect the public, and does not, one can simply report those officers to the various bodies enacted to oversee complaints and inquiries into police and criminal justice prosecutors and their inaction. Advising your local or state government representatives may also bring more accountability to the public. Police officers do need to be enticed to follow the law and uphold it. If this means a threat to their own career advancement, then victims must take action and write to the organizations that hold the police and prosecutors accountable.

Thirdly, victims need to overwhelm the justice system with their reports and allegations of being stalked. For instance, if there is a rash of burglaries in a particular area or jurisdiction, what oftentimes occurs is the police take notice that a crime wave is taking place. They may then be forced by their leaders to take actions which will better serve the public. They will be asked to invest more of their time and resources into finding and apprehending the criminals, ensure that residences and homes are better protected by educating the public and providing better services to those who may further be victimized, and sometimes even get tougher on the perpetrators and petition the courts for maximum penalties, instead of minimum sentences or merely probation.

In addition, most governments have an agency set up which provides them with so-called statistical data and analysis to make critical choices on various projects and infrastructure. Decisions are made as to where to allocate their budgets and attention when statistics demonstrate needs – and a priority to take action. Roads and bridges, schools and institutions, social and justice programs – these are all important causes for governments to attend to – but those with the most overwhelming need, according to statistics, are the ones which will get more attention and a focus on resolution.

If we look at the crime of stalking in comparision to a crime wave – which clearly has not yet been considered so – there are some ways in which we can get the attention of government and thus, police agencies and justice departments worldwide.

For victims to make an impact, they must report the crime immediately. They need to do this in overwhelming numbers – enough to generate attention. If only one stalking victim makes a report, then it is not an epidemic of true proporations, or even really a crime in the eyes of law enforcement.

But if 50 victims make reports to one police agency in a short period of time, then it becomes a crime wave, and therefore draws not only the attention of the police department, but also that of the community. Better yet, if victims can collaborate their stories with other victims, demonstrating that the police are not taking action, the issue of accountability and protecting the best interest of the public becomes front-and-center. A media outlet may even do a story on the police department.

Researchers also need to take the time to interview and gather more information from stalking victims – in greater numbers and detail. Polls or surveys, often conducted by telephone or in-person, only represent a small number of the population, because we all know that it is extremely difficult to survey every single person in a particular jurisdiction.

Statistical professionals would be wise, if they do want to make any headway into dealing with the epidemic of stalking and abuse, to make their research projects work to the true benefit of victims. By increasing the number of actual participants, the sheer number of victims that often remain unaccounted in jurisdictions throughout the world, will be overwhelming enough for policy-makers to take action.

In short, we as stalking victims need to take more responsibility for our personal safety and privacy. We need to hold law enforcement agencies and criminal prosecutors accountable in upholding the law and protecting the public. We need to generate statistics, by becoming a part of the data ourselves, and do so (together) in overwhelming numbers. Then, we need to petition policy-makers to actually make more beneficial laws to really deal with stalking perpetrators and protect the public.

Take your report of stalking and harassment seriously and find others in your community who will join you in ensuring that stalkers are brought to justice. Then we may not have to continue wondering what is good advice or bad advice and just deal with a stalker in the way they should be dealt with.

For more information on what the state of Alabama is in the process of doing to change the laws, and the man who is behind it all, read Tracy’s Law: Alabama State Bill Passed Regarding Stalking.

Until then… keep safe and sane…


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