What is stalking?

Stalking Definition:

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.

Pattern of Behavior

Two or more incidents make a pattern.  However, definition vary from state-to-state. It’s important to be familiar with your state’s laws about stalking.

Stalkers use a variety of tactics, including (but not limited to): unwanted contact including phone calls, texts, and contact via social media, unwanted gifts, showing up/approaching an individual or their family/friends, monitoring, surveillance, property damage, and threats.

Stalking is a crime in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, the military and tribal lands. Some of the behaviors that make up the crime of stalking are criminal on their own (like property damage). Even if the behavior is not a crime on its own (like texting excessively), it may be part of the pattern of stalking behavior and victims should consider documenting and reporting it.

Specific Person

Stalking is typically directed at a specific person – the victim. However, stalkers often contact the victim’s family, friends and/or coworkers as part of their pattern of behavior.

Anyone can be a victim of stalking. A majority of stalking victims are stalked by someone they know: a current or former intimate partner, acquaintance, or family member.

The majority of stalking victims are female. However, people of all genders can be stalked. It is estimated that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will experience stalking in their lifetime.


The definition of stalking includes that a reasonable person would feel fear. It is important to note that fear is often masked by other emotions: anger, frustration, hopelessness or despair.

Many stalkers’ behaviors seem innocuous or even desirable to outsiders – for example, sending expensive gifts. The stalker’s actions don’t seem scary and are hard to explain.

Fear is contextual. What’s scary to one person may not be scary to another. In stalking cases, many of the behaviors are only scary to a victim because of their relationship with the stalker.

For example: A bouquet of roses is not scary on its own. But when a victim receives a bouquet from an abusive ex-boyfriend who she recently relocated to get away from – and she did not think he knew where her new home was – this flower delivery becomes terrifying and threatening.

It is essential for responders to ask about and understand why certain behaviors are scary to the victim.

People react to stalkers in a variety of ways. Some may seem irritated or angry rather than scared, while others may minimize and dismiss their stalking as “no big deal.” Irritation, anger, and/or minimization may be masking fear.

It is helpful to consider how victims may change their behaviors to cope with the stalking. Are they changing travel routes? Avoiding certain locations? Screening calls? These may be indicators that victims are afraid.

Stalking Definition:FAQs

Stalking and harassment are similar and can overlap. Harassment may be part of a stalking pattern of behavior/course of conduct.

Generally, the element of fear is what separates stalking from harassment. Harassment is typically irritating and bothersome, sometimes to the point where a victim feels deeply uncomfortable. However, victims of harassment are not typically afraid of their perpetrators.

For example, a colleague who consistently mocks a new coworker for her appearance may be harassing her by saying cruel things and sending disparaging e-mails. While the victim is distressed and may feel sad, anxious, angry and/or uncomfortable, she is not afraid of the perpetrator – she does not believe that the behaviors will escalate or that further harm will come to her. However, if that same perpetrator began calling the victim’s cell phone, following the victim and/or posting disparaging things about the victim online, it could become stalking.