While stalking/cyberstalking can be committed by someone you don’t know, it is most often a crime perpetrated by someone with whom you are familiar. More often than not, stalking/cyberstalking is committed by a current or former intimate partner and the stalking/cyberstalking may begin or get worse when you end the relationship.
Stalking involves a pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that causes fear. It can be carried out in a number of ways, many of which involve technology and online spaces. If you believe that you are being stalked or cyberstalked, learn how to increase your safety on our Safety Tips for Stalking Victims page.
The crime of stalking is defined differently by individual states across the country and there is also a federal stalking law, which makes it illegal to travel between states with the intent to commit stalking.1 Sometimes, stalking involves repeated acts that might cause you to be afraid for yourself or for your family or household members. It’s possible that some of the stalker’s actions (such as showing up at your work, leaving a package for you on your doorstep, or calling you multiple times) may not be illegal on their own. However, if these acts are done over and over and make you afraid, it may be considered stalking. You can find state law definitions for stalking on our Crimes page - just enter your state in the drop-down menu and click “Enter.”
1 See 18 USC § 2261A
Cyberstalking is a term that refers to the misuse of the Internet or other technology to stalk and harass someone. A stalker may contact you by email, social media sites, a messaging app, or through other online spaces/websites. The person may also post messages about you, share your personal information or pictures of you online to harass or scare you. Some stalkers may use technology to find/track your location and to monitor what you do online (or offline).
Even if your state does not have a criminal law specifically against “cyberstalking,” in most states, the act of repeatedly contacting or harassing a person through the Internet or other technology is still considered a crime under the state’s stalking or harassment laws. It’s important to know that even if you were originally okay with the person contacting you, if his/her behavior begins to scare you, it may be considered stalking/cyberstalking. To read your state’s specific laws, you can go to our Crimes page - just enter your state in the drop-down menu and click “Enter.”
In many states, you can file for a restraining order against anyone who has stalked or harassed you, even if you do not have a specific relationship with that person. In addition, most states include stalking as a reason to get a domestic violence restraining order. Please check the Restraining Orders page for your state to find out what types of restraining orders there are in your state and which one may apply to your situation.
Even if your state does not have a specific restraining order for stalking and you do not qualify for a domestic violence restraining order, you may be able to get one from the criminal court if the stalker is arrested. Since stalking is a crime, the police may arrest someone who has been stalking or harassing you. Generally, it is a good idea to keep track of any contact a stalker has with you. You may want to keep track of any phone calls, drive-bys, text messages, voicemails, emails (print out what you can, with headers including date and time if possible), or anything the stalker does that harasses you or makes you afraid.
The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center has a stalking incident log that you may wish you use to record this information. Safety Net, a project of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, has a sample cyberstalking incident log with as well as a free app called DocuSafe that you can download on your phone to collect, store, and share evidence of abuse. Through DocuSafe, you can document abuse by logging individual incidents, including any photos, screenshots, or video documentation of threatening messages, harassing social media posts, unwanted repeat calls, or online impersonation, among other abusive behaviors.
With or without a restraining order, there are things you can do to try to stay safe. Go to our Safety Tips for Stalking Victims page for more information.