Ask Ava

Ask Ava, Episode 148: "What does stalking look like in real life?"

January 26, 2023 Safe+Sound Somerset Season 1 Episode 148
Ask Ava
Ask Ava, Episode 148: "What does stalking look like in real life?"
Show Notes Transcript

Episode 148: "What does stalking look like in real life?"

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On today’s episode, we’re answering a question from local teens about how stalking can look in a real-life relationship, compared to media.

This is Jessica Skultety, Outreach and Prevention Manager at Safe+Sound Somerset. We are Somerset County, New Jersey's lead domestic and sexual violence response organization, providing services at no charge to survivors for over 40 years.

Today's question from local teens is: “Dear Ava, What does stalking look like in real life?”

Stalking is common tactic that a partner or ex-partner uses to intimidate their partner and gain power and control over them. A stranger, acquaintance, or friend could also stalk someone. Unfortunately, stalking is very common in the United States, but it doesn’t always look how we see it in movie, TV shows, and songs.

Let’s start with a definition. The Stalking Prevention and Awareness Resource Center, also known as SPARC, says that stalking is: “a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for the person’s safety or the safety of others; or suffer substantial emotional distress.” This means that behaviors happen more than once.

Here are some examples of stalking: 

-Unwanted and unasked for contact like social media messages, texts, phone calls

-Unwanted gifts often used to scare or frighten someone

-Showing up or following someone or their family or friends. Sometimes a partner might show up in someone’s home without being asked.

-Surveillance or monitoring someone’s phone or online activity 

-Property damage and


Even if something isn’t illegal (like sending gifts), we recommend that a person documents or keeps track of what’s going on so that they can use it to validate their own experiences, to report the behavior if they choose, or possibly in court to show the pattern of behavior. Also, something that scares a victim might not be scary to someone else, and that’s because the person causing harm is trying to scare the person specifically.

So, who experiences stalking? According to SPARC, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experience stalking in their lifetimes. 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men are impacted by intimate partner stalking, sexual violence, and/or physical violence in their lifetimes. That’s a lot of people. 

These statistics don’t include those who are gender diverse, including nonbinary and transgender folks, but we know that over 1 in 2 transgender folks experience domestic violence, according to the 2015 US Transgender Survey. Since stalking can be part of domestic violence, we can assume that gender diverse folks also experience high rates.

So, this teen asked, “What does stalking look like in real life?” FACT: In real life, stalking can predict more serious violence, unfortunately. For example, SPARC reports that 85% of attempted and 76% of completed femicides, or murder of women and girls, were preceded by stalking the year before.

Now, think about what you’ve seen in media about stalking from a partner, potential partner, or ex-partner. 

MYTH: Stalking is romantic or exciting because the person is paying such close attention to the other. People talk about how they must be “so in love” or it’s so attractive and so exciting. We see this a lot in movies and TV. FACT: In reality, many people feel anxious, scared, and unsafe when someone stalks them. The goal is fear, and many stalkers do not stop when asked.

MYTH: Media like tv shows, movies, and songs also make it seem like a secret admirer is mysterious, sexy, and exciting. A lot of times this is a stranger who admires the victim. FACT: However, in real life, 40% of offenders are current or former intimate partners, so they’re not usually strangers. And again, people in real life are often scared, not flattered.

MYTH: Stalking is normal and not really a big deal. FACT: The reality is that it’s not normal, though unfortunately so many people experience it. When we think stalking is normal, it actually leads survivors to feel like their experiences aren’t serious enough to report, or to get help. And other people often don’t take it seriously, either. We also can see in media how stalkers themselves are often the ones people feel bad for, because they are trying to pursue someone romantically and the audience wants them to “get the boy or girl or person”. In real life, we need to support survivors, not stalkers.

Share these facts with your friends and know that if someone is experiencing stalking, they can reach out to our helpline for support. You are not alone.

To speak with an expert about relationship or sexual violence, call or text the Safe+Sound Somerset 24/7 confidential helpline at 866-685-1122 for supportive listening, information, and safety planning. 

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