Every Step You Take: Stalking in Dating Relationships

stalkingSorry, Entertainment Tonight—stalking doesn’t just happen to celebrities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men will be victimized by stalking in their lifetimes.[1] Stalkers are often someone the victim has been romantically involved with. Stalking usually begins as the relationship is ending, and often the stalker has previously abused the victim in other ways.

What is Stalking?

Stalking is a pattern of watching or contacting that causes the person being stalked to feel afraid. Criminal definitions vary from state to state, and you can check your state’s stalking law here.

Stalking behaviors can include:[2][3]

  • Following someone or showing up wherever that person happens to be
  • Repeatedly contacting someone, often by phone, e-mail, or text message
  • Making threats of violence against someone
  • Posting or sharing information about someone via the Internet or by word of mouth
  • Tracking someone’s activities using hidden cameras or GPS

A combination of these behaviors can make victims afraid for their privacy, safety, and even their life.


In an ever more electronically connected world, stalkers frequently take advantage of digital technology to go after their victims. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, one in four victims of stalking was targeted electronically—through e-mail or instant message.[2] In addition to excessive texting, e-mailing, and messaging, stalkers often use the GPS capability in their victim’s cell phone or car to track their location. Small cameras and microphones, often marketed as “nanny-cams,” are easily available and affordable, some stalkers use these devices to watch or listen to a person without their knowledge.

How does stalking fit with other types of physical or sexual violence?

To make matters worse, sometimes stalking is also a warning of more violent behavior to come. In a 2002 study, 68% of cases showed that stalking preceded murder or attempted murder.[4] Many women who have been stalked by a romantic partner also report being sexually abused by that person as well.[5]

What to Do if You Are Being Stalked?

Document everything. It may be tempting to throw away unwanted letters or gifts, but if you later decide to pursue a criminal complaint, you will need that evidence of the stalking behavior. Keep any voicemails, e-mails, and text messages you receive from the stalker. It’s one thing to say that someone has been calling you ten times per day for the last two weeks; it’s another to have those 140 voicemail messages for a law enforcement officer to listen to.

Software is available that is designed to remotely delete e-mails and text messages after they have been received. Using one of these programs, a stalker could send you threatening messages and then make them vanish.[6] If you notice messages randomly disappearing from your inbox, take a screen capture before you close the program or the app.[7]

If you feel as though your safety is at risk, contact the police and an advocate at your local domestic violence program.[8] If you think someone is monitoring your phone calls, use a friend’s phone to call. The advocate can help you create an individual safety plan and get a protective order. A protective order is a court issued document that tells the person stalking you they are not allowed to contact you. These can be very useful, but are not failsafe. A protective order is a piece of paper, and if the person stalking you tries to kill you, a piece of paper won’t save your life.

Remember—stalking is never the victim’s fault, and every single person has the right to feel safe.

National Domestic Violence Hotline

1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

1-800-787-3224 (TTY)


Stalking Resource Center


All articles on our website have been approved by Dr. Diana Zuckerman and other senior staff.

  1. Black, MC, Basile, KC, Breiding, MJ. “National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report.” National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/NISVS_Report2010-a.pdf
  2. Baum, K, Catalano, S, Rand, M, Rose, K. “Stalking Victimization in the United States.” Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. 2009; NJC 224527: 5.]
  3. Stalking Information. The National Center for Victims of Crime. Available at: http://www.victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/stalking-resource-center/stalking-information
  4.  McFarlane, J, Campbell, JC, Watson, K. “Intimate Partner Stalking and Femicide: Urgent Implications for Women’s Safety.” Behavioral Sciences and the Law. 2002; 20: 51-68.
  5. Logan, TK, Cole, J. “Exploring the Intersection of Partner Stalking and Sexual Abuse.” Violence Against Women. 2011; 17(7): 904-924.
  6. Fraser, C, Olsen, E, Lee, K, Southworth, C, Tucker, S. “The New Age of Stalking: Technological Implications for Stalking.” Juvenile and Family Court Journal. 2010; 61(4): 39-55.
  7. On a PC, press the PRNT SCRN button, open Paint or a word processor like Word, and click Edit and paste. Then save the file to your computer. On a Mac, press Command + Shift + 3. The screenshot will automatically be saved to your desktop. On an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, press the home button and the sleep/wake button together. The screenshot will automatically be saved to your photos. On an Android, press the power and volume down buttons together for 3-5 seconds. The screenshot will be saved to your gallery. If you are using another kind of cell phone, your wireless provider may be able to help you save your text messages.
  8. The police may have contact information for your local domestic violence program. You can also usually find the program that serves your county or city by checking with your state coalition of domestic violence programs. Most should have an easy-to-navigate list on their website. A list of the state coalitions can be found here.