The natural reactions of most stalking victims aggravate the problem and increase the likelihood of violence. Case after case reveals the same patterns:
- Victims deny the problem, which instantly puts them at a disadvantage.
- Then they try to bargain with their stalkers, thereby establishing a dangerous precedent of allowing him to control their actions. Anxiety sets in. Never knowing when or where he’s going to turn up or what he’s going to do next, they can think of little else. They start to short-circuit mentally and emotionally.
- Exhaustion follows, along with profound depression. Then self-esteem starts to disintegrate.
- Victims start to blame themselves.
- Eventually, they get angry, so angry that they’re ready to do almost anything to get the stalker out of their life.
- Finally, they accept what life has become. Only then can they start to deal with the situation objectively.
When Stalked, Self-Protection Is Priority #1
The stalking victim—rather than the stalker—is the person whose behavior has to change (since the stalker certainly won’t). It’s not fair, and most people don’t like hearing this. But if you want to protect yourself and your loved ones, it is reality.
So what do you if you or a loved one is being stalked? Your first reaction would probably be to call your local law enforcement. Unfortunately, you can’t assume that the police will be able to fix everything. While they may be able to help, they can’t make your stalking situation disappear. They can’t protect you around the clock. And their advice and involvement may even aggravate your problem.
That’s why it’s critical for you to know what to do should you—or someone close to you—become the target of an obsessive individual. Knowledge is your best defense. While the safety tips below are a critical component to helping you stay safe, understanding the stalking dynamic through books like Surviving a Stalker: What You Know to Stay Safe may be the best way to protect yourself.
As soon as you see that someone is being overly persistent, protecting yourself and your family must be your top priority. Think carefully about any and all decisions before acting, and never hesitate to consult stalking experts, support groups, and other authorities about your particular case. Inform yourself before you act. And do what you need to do to stay safe.
To limit your accessibility:
- Utilize private post office box services for all mail. If necessary, list your mail box as Ste. #123 or Apt. #123 instead of Box #123. File a change-of-address card with your local post office giving the box address as your new one. In addition, send that address to friends, businesses and associations. Request that they remove the old one from their address boxes or Rolodexes.
- Advise all utility, phone companies, and creditors of the change. Request a copy of your credit report. Then write a letter to the credit-reporting agencies to notify them of your “new address” so that they remove your home address (both past and present) from your credit history.
- Notify any companies and catalogs of your new address and advise them that they cannot include your name on lists they rent or sell.
- Don’t list your name on a list of tenants at the front of your apartment building.
- Register your driver’s license and cars to an address other than your home. You’ll need to file a change of address with the Department of Motor Vehicles and get a new driver’s license with the new mailbox address on it.
- List property in a trust, not in your own name.
- Remove your home address from personal checks, letterhead, and business cards.
- Use a non-home mailing address for voter registration and credit card applications.
- Ask the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and Trans Union) to flag your account in order to lessen opportunities for fraudulent access.
- Make sure your name doesn’t appear on any service or delivery orders to your house.
- Rent an outside office if you’re self-employed and your business requires in-person visits. Next, take personal and family precautions:
- Get an unlisted phone number, and limit the number of people to whom you give it. Should you need to be more widely available, opt for an off-premises answering service or voice-mail.
- Don’t change your number should a stalker gain access to it. Instead, get a second one. Keep the old number hooked up to an answering machine.
- Never talk on a cordless phone (those conversations can be monitored). Scanners can also pick up conversations via baby monitors and hearing aids.
- Make sure your address isn’t listed in the phone book or in the reverse directory.
- Avoid calling 800, 888, 877 and 900 numbers, so that your phone number isn’t captured by a service called Automatic Number Identification.
- Never verify your home address or any other personal details over the phone.
- Make sure the area where the phone lines enter your home is inaccessible.
- Let appropriate people around you know what’s going on and enlist their help. Describe the threatening person (and any vehicles he or she drives) to family members, neighbors, household staff, co-workers, school officials, receptionists, and police. Photographs work even better.
- Carry an air horn with you. Use it if approached.
- Know the whereabouts of family members at all times. Accompany kids to school or bus stops.
- Vary the routes you take, whether in a car or on foot, as well as your routines and social habits. This may mean finding new health clubs, bars, or places of worship to frequent.
- Plan ahead. Know the locations of police stations, fire departments and busy shopping centers. Head there if you’re followed, and honk.
- Always park in well-lit areas. Opt for a secured garage if available. Avoid parking lots where car doors must be left unlocked and keys surrendered.
- Visually check the front and rear passenger compartments before entering the vehicle. Keep the doors locked when not in use.
- Equip your car’s gas tank with a locking gas cap. The hook-locking device should be controlled from the inside of the vehicle.
- Invest in a cell phone so that you can call for assistance should you need it, without leaving your car. (Remember, however, that a scanner will be able to pick up conversations.)
- Don’t stop to assist stranded motorists. Phone in a report instead or offering personal assistance.
Protect Your Kids
If you do have children, they need to know the score, what’s at stake and what to do. So do those who care for them. You’ll want to:
- Ask a friend or family member to accompany you whenever possible. Never walk or jog alone at night.
- Teach children not to give out information to strangers.
- Accompany your children to school or bus stops. Always know their schedules and whereabouts.
- Let the school and childcare center know about any restraining or protective orders.
- Have a third party drop off and pick up your children if your stalker has visitation rights.
- Keep an eye out for any adults in your child’s life (such as teachers, coaches or neighbors) who show signs of being overly invested in your kids. Clues include hyper-control, obsession, speaking to a child as an object of affection or romance, personal notes, letters and presents.
Make sure you can be safe in your own home. Most police will supply a free home security check-up. And follow the following suggestions developed by the LAPD’s Threat Management Unit:
- Positively identify callers before opening doors. Install a wide-angle viewer in all primary doors.
Install adequate outdoor lighting, including a porch light at a height that discourages removal.
Keep doors and windows locked.
- Install dead bolt locks in your residence, as well as an alarm system hooked into a police station or security organization. Don’t hide emergency keys outside. If you have a deadbolt and can’t account for all the keys, change your locks.
- Keep garage doors locked at all times. Use an electric garage-door opener.
- Trim the shrubbery around your property. Install good outside lighting, and locks on gate fences.
- Keep your home’s fuse box locked.
- Install a loud exterior alarm bell that can be manually activated in more than one location.
- Maintain all-purpose fire extinguishers–and smoke detectors–in your home and garage.
- When away for the evening, place lights and the radio or TV on a timer.
- Invest in a family dog — one of the least expensive but most effective alarm systems.
- Post emergency numbers by each telephone.
- Prepare an evacuation plan and brief household members on the procedures. Provide ladders or a rope if you live in a two-story residence
- At the office, make sure all visitors and packages pass through central reception. If your name appears on any reserved parking areas, take it off. Have a secretary or co-worker screen all calls if necessary. Brief any on-site security personnel. And be aware of anyone who might be following you on your way home from work.
When It Comes to Safety, Just Do It
Finally, while the above list of safety precautions may be long and sound like a lot of work, this is not the place for scrimping and shortcuts. Make sure you take all the precautions necessary to protect your privacy and keep you safe.And don’t ignore them just because you think that you shouldn’t be forced to change your life. You’re right. It isn’t fair–but it is reality. So do whatever it takes to keep you and your loved ones safe.