I have a stalker.
I considered putting the above in quote marks, because I don’t want this to really be about my situation, though of course it is personal. What I want to do is discuss this sentence and that word. Stalking. Stalker.
When I first started receiving some attention that made me uncomfortable, I shrugged it off. I told myself I was overreacting. The word stalker occurred to me because it is one I hear a lot, and it explained how I was feeling. I was feeling stalked.
But I continued to shrug it off, because it seemed overdramatic. It seemed too big too fit. I felt like if I said I had a stalker, people wouldn’t believe me. They’d think I was claiming that for attention. They’d think I was arrogant. They’d probably make the assumption that the person doing the stalking was male, and that the stalking was either sexual or violent or both, because that’s how it is in the mainstream lexicon – and if I was experiencing those things, why wasn’t I getting immediate help?
Then I went and looked it up. Like, the actual definition. And I discovered that the behaviour I was being subjected to was exactly it. That’s when I went to the police.
I still found it difficult to say to myself. To the police. To other people. While checking that my doors were locked 5 to 6 times a night, I was still telling myself I was overreacting. That I’d misread things. That the behaviour was acceptable and I had probably invited it.
That’s the real kicker, isn’t it? That a woman would experience something that made her so fearful she’d awake several times a night to relock her doors – but she’d still wonder if it was her own fault. This, of course, is classic stalker behaviour – encouraging feelings of self-blame in the victim.
I mentioned how the word “stalker” is used in everyday language. The use is contradictory. On the one hand, stalking is considered to be exclusive to violent individuals, possibly with mental health challenges, and usually with sexual undertones at the very least. On the other, it’s considered an almost playful accusation. Let me explain.
Yesterday, I was using the GrabOne website. I was on a page that asked for more information about me so that they could provide targeted products. As I navigated away from the page, I was hit with a popup that read: “Is GrabOne a stalker?”
The popup was intended to assuage any feelings of discomfort people might have about giving private details to a company, by making fun of this fear. Are we going to use this information to stalk you? Haha, of course not, don’t be silly!
(Note: I asked GrabOne to change the copy in this popup, and I got an immediate response saying they would. So kudos for that).
Hey, people? Your instinct to feel uncomfortable about providing private information on the internet, because that information might be used in stalking behaviours? Not Silly!
After the minor triumph with GO, I was feeling a bit better about the world. Then today I went into one of my favourite cafes in Nelson. Their chalkboard offered this wonderful message: “Next time you’re stalking your ex on Facebook – please “like” us!”
No, I don’t like you. I don’t like you at all. In fact, I almost walked out and considered never giving you my business again.
I know you think it’s funny, and ‘down with the kids’ and relatable. After all, isn’t that what everyone does? Stalks their expartners via social media? No. No, it’s not.
While an average person might go and have a look at an ex’s Facebook page – they might even click through a few photos if the page isn’t locked down, which most are – this alone is not ‘stalking’ behaviour. I hesitate to attempt to list all the reasons one might do this, but often it’s simple nostalgia, and nostalgia isn’t a crime.
STALKING (wiki definition)
Stalking is unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual or group toward another person. Stalking behaviors are related to harassment and intimidation and may include following the victim in person or monitoring them. The word stalking is used, with some differing meanings, in psychology and psychiatry and also in some legal jurisdictions as a term for a criminal offense.
According to a 2002 report by the National Center for Victims of Crime, “Virtually any unwanted contact between two people [that intends] to directly or indirectly communicates a threat or places the victim in fear can be considered stalking” although in practice the legal standard is usually somewhat stricter.
And even if the behaviour you’re experiencing isn’t illegal, it’s unacceptable. You didn’t invite it, and it’s unsafe.
Using words like these as a joke lessens their impact and appropriates them from the people that need them. The people to whom it means something real and painful. Every time I hear someone jokingly say things like “I’ll stalk you on Facebook,” or “My friend txted me, what a stalker ” I just feel horrified and sickened. I’m not saying those things are not real stalking behaviours. They very much can be. I’m saying that joking about them means that if they do actually happen, it’s all the more difficult to name it. It’s all the more difficult to ask for help.
Please, consider your words before you use them.