February 12, 2020
This page contains some suggestions on how to keep yourself safe if you are being stalked or harassed. A stalker can be someone with whom you are/were in a relationship or it can be a co-worker, acquaintance or anyone else. These are general suggestions that may not be appropriate in every situation – please pick and choose the ones that seem relevant to your situation. Following these suggestions can’t guarantee your safety, but it could help make you safer.
General safety strategies:Sometimes stopping all communication with an abuser can be dangerous. However, if it’s safe to do so, stop all contact and communication with the person stalking or harassing you but keep any evidence of the stalking (such as voicemails, texts, emails, etc.,) for future court cases or criminal actions. If it’s not safe to stop all communication, you may want to limit them as much as possible.Carry a cell phone with you. Keep handy or memorize emergency phone numbers that you can use in case of an emergency. If you ever feel you are in immediate danger, call 911. You may also be eligible for a free phone with free minutes from a phone company such as the Assurance Wireless Program, sponsored by Virgin Mobile (WomensLaw is not affiliated with this program).Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, you may want to reach out for help, even if nothing immediately dangerous is happening.Have a safe place in mind to go to in an emergency. You might go to a police station, place of worship, public area, the home of a family member or friend (unknown to the stalker), or a domestic violence shelter. If someone is following you, it is generally not a good idea to go home.Try not to travel alone. If you run or walk for exercise, you might want to get an exercise buddy to go with you. Always try to vary your routes to and from work or school, the grocery store, and any other places regularly visited. By changing your daily routes, it could make it more difficult for someone to learn your routine – however, also be aware that a stalker may put a GPS monitoring device on your car or cell phone. One hint that a GPS device may be installed is if you are varying your routes or going to unexpected places but the stalker still seems to find you.Be aware of how much identifying information you are posting on the Internet through social networking sites and online purchases. You may want to select the highest security settings on any social networking accounts and think carefully before giving out your personal information through online purchases. To read more, go to our Safety with Social Media page.Alert the three credit bureaus and ask to have a fraud alert put on your credit reports: Experian (888) 397-3742, Equifax (888) 766-0008, and TransUnion (877) 322-8228. A stalker may try to obtain your Social Security Number and/or mother’s maiden name to use this information to obtain your credit information. Putting an alert on your credit could help to prevent this and possible fraudulent activity and/or identity theft. For more information on fraud alerts, you can go to What is a fraud alert and should I get one? on WomensLaw.org’s Financial Abusepage.Information adapted, in part, from SafeHorizon.org and, in part, from PrivacyRights.org.
Safety at home:Alert your friends, neighbors, and building personnel (if you live in an apartment or work in an office building) about your situation. Give them as much information as you can about the stalker, including a photograph of him/her, and a description of any vehicles s/he may drive. Ask them to notify you or call the police if they see the stalker at your house.Keep your address confidential whenever possible. If the stalker does not know your current address, you may want to register for your state’s address confidentiality program, which will allow you to use an alternate address for public records (such as the DMV, Board of Elections, etc.). When giving a mailing address for bills, magazines, and shipments, consider using a post office box or an address unknown to the stalker (such as a relative of yours). Not using your actual address whenever possible could make it harder for a potential stalker to find you on the Internet. You may even want to get the post office box at least two zip codes away from your home and use it on all correspondence and even your checks. You can learn more about how to set up a P.O. box.Tell friends and neighbors not to give your address or phone number to anyone. Explain that they should not even give information to someone posing as a delivery person or mail carrier even if this person says s/he has a package for you – this could be the stalker.If you live in an apartment, don’t put your name on the list of tenants on the front of your apartment building. Use a variation of your name that only your friends and family would recognize.Identify escape routes out of your house. Plan different routes in case the stalker is in front of your home, in the backyard, or if s/he enters the home.Pack a bag with important items you’d need if you had to leave quickly, such as a reserve set of credit cards, identification, money, medication, important papers, keys, and other valuables. Put the bag in a safe place, or give it to a friend or relative you trust. Consider, too, putting together a separate bag that includes the stalking log, a camera, information about the offender, etc., that you can easily grab if you have to leave the house in a hurry.Install solid core doors with dead bolts at your house or apartment (solid core doors are sturdier than hollow doors). If all of your sets of keys cannot be accounted for, you may want to change the locks (and secure the spare keys) in case the stalker managed to get a set of your keys. If you are being stalked by a person who lives with you, check with a lawyer before changing your locks. Fix any broken windows or doors and consider getting an alarm system put in that will signal the police if the alarm is triggered. Note: If you rent your apartment/house, you may have to get the landlord’s approval before making changing the locks, putting in an alarm, etc.Get a new, unlisted phone number and/or block your phone number. If you are getting unwanted phone calls, you may want to change your phone number and keep it unlisted. For additional safety, you may also want to ask the phone company to block your number so it won’t show up on calls you make. Please be aware that blocking is not 100% effective and programming glitches can sometimes mistakenly reveal blocked numbers.Information adapted, in part, from PrivacyRights.org.
Safety at work and school:Tell co-workers, schoolmates and on-site security staff enough about your situation so that they can help keep your information private and help keep you safe. Give them as much information that you are comfortable sharing about the stalker, including a photograph of him/her, and a description of any vehicles s/he may drive. Ask them to notify you or call the police if they see him/her. If you are worried that by alerting people at your workplace about the stalking may put you in danger of being fired or may affect how your supervisor treats you, you may want to first check with a lawyer to see if your state has any laws that protect victims of domestic violence/stalking from discrimination in the workplace. Go to our Finding a Lawyer page for legal referrals.Tell co-workers and schoolmates not to give out any information about you to anyone. Ask the school administrator or the office staff at your job to make a notation in your file so that this is clear to any new staff members who have access to your personnel files.If you have a car, always park in a well-lit area. Ask a security guard at work or school to walk you to your car or, if you are taking public transportation at a nearby location, perhaps the security guard may even walk you to the nearest bus/subway/train station.
Legal options / documenting the stalker’s activities:For many people, reporting all incidents and threats to the police immediately is an important part of staying safe. (However, for some people, such as undocumented immigrants living in a county where the police may report them to Immigration, this may not be a safe alternative.) When making reports to the police, keep a note of the name of the officer in charge of the case and the crime reference number, if applicable. You can also ask for a copy of the police report that is filed.Create a stalking log, which records the date and time of each incident as the incidents occur, what the stalker did or said, what actions, if any, you took and who was present. Ask witnesses to write down what they saw and get the witnesses’ contact information (name and phone number) in case you need the police or prosecutor to later talk to the witness. The Stalking Resource Center has a sample stalking incident log that you can print out as a guide.Save evidence of stalking and online harassment. Keep all voicemails, text and email messages sent by the stalker. You can get hard copies of text messages by forwarding them to an email address and printing them out or you may be able to take a screenshot of the text or email. If you cannot take screenshots on your phone (if you don’t have a “smart phone”), another option may be to take actual photos or videos of the cell phone screen with the text message on it. If you don’t have a camera, you could take the phone to the police and ask them to photograph the text messages or document them in another way. Some people may be inclined to try to show the messages to the judge on the actual phone but this may mean that the phone itself may be taken into evidence and kept during the court proceedings, thereby taking the phone away from you.Consider getting a protective order against the person stalking you. Most states allow you to apply for a protective order based on stalking if the stalker is an intimate partner. Some states allow you to apply for a protective order based on stalking even if the stalker is not an intimate partner.