What is Stalking?

Stalking is a crime. The US Justice Department defines stalking as engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for safety or the safety of others, or suffer substantial emotional distress1.  For the purposes of this definition:

  • Course of conductmeans two or more acts, including, but not limited to, acts in which the stalker directly, indirectly, or through third parties, by any action, method, device, or means, follows, monitors, observes, surveils, threatens, or communicates to or about a person, or interferes with a person’s property
  • Reasonable personmeans a reasonable person under similar circumstances and with similar identities to the victim
  • Substantial emotional distressmeans significant mental suffering or anguish that may, but does not necessarily, require medical or other professional treatment or counseling

Stalkers often try to intimidate, harass, and control their victims. They may do this in several ways. The behavior may start slowly and escalate. For instance, a stalker may begin by calling once or twice a day and progress to calling several times a day, following you, and waiting for you outside of classes or work.

Anyone can stalk or be stalked, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, ability, or income level. Stalking may involve family members, friends, intimate partners, classmates, coworkers, casual acquaintances, or even total strangers.

Most often, stalkers know their victims. Most female victims and many male victims are stalked by intimate partners. Stalking is most dangerous when it occurs as part of an abusive relationship. An attempt to end an abusive relationship often causes the abuser to become more possessive and can sometimes lead to stalking.

Online Stalking

Cyber stalking is the use of the Internet, email, or other telecommunication technologies to harass, threaten, or intimidate another person. It is an extension of stalking from physical space to cyberspace.

A cyber stalker is someone who methodically, deliberately, and persistently sends unwanted communications that do not stop even after the victim has requested that he or she end all contact with the victim. Cyber stalking may take many different forms. A cyber stalker may:

  • Use the Internet to identify and track the victim
  • Send unsolicited email, including hate mail or obscene or threatening messages
  • Post messages about the victim or spread rumors about the victim through newsgroups
  • Create websites that provide real or false personal information about the victim
  • Assume the victim’s identity online (i.e., in chat rooms, instant messages, or email) to embarrass the victim, to pry into the victim’s personal life, or for other negative purposes

Statistics on Stalking2  

  • During a 12-month period an estimated 14 in every 1,000 persons age 18 or older were victims of stalking
  • About half (46%) of stalking victims experienced at least one unwanted contact per week, and 11% of victims said they had been stalked for 5 years or more
  • The risk of stalking victimization was highest for individuals who were divorced or separated—34 per 1,000 individuals
  • Women were at greater risk than men for stalking victimization
  • Approximately 1 in 4 stalking victims reported some form of cyberstalking such as e-mail (83%) or instant messaging (35%)
  • 46% of stalking victims felt fear of not knowing what would happen next
  • Nearly 3 in 4 stalking victims knew their offender in some capacity
  • More than half of stalking victims lost 5 or more days from work due to issues related to the stalking

If you have been threatened or are in immediate danger, call 911.


More information can be found at

Campus information regarding cyberstalking can be found at Information Security Office 


1Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women

2 Bureau of Justice Statistics