Breaking up is hard to do. If you've ever been through the breakup of a relationship, you know this. On a practical level, depending on the relationship's length and level of involvement, there may be belongings to return, finances to settle and property to divide. Then there are the emotional difficulties that come with a break up. No matter if the relationship ends on good or bad terms it can be difficult to go your own way and move on without that person in your life, but in time, you do.
You do. But what if they don't? What if your ex becomes your stalker?
What if weeks, months, even years later your ex is still calling you, messaging you, sending cards, social media requests and showing up at the places you go? It's not that they are trying to re-connect, because they never went away. They have made it a point to be in your life, one way or another, whether you want it or not. The problem is you don't want it, and you've made that clear time and time again, yet the contact and the "chance" encounters continue as your ex pursues you and at times acts as though the relationship never ended.
It can be easy, at least at first, to look at this type of behavior and feel some level of sympathy for the stalker. It may seem sad that the person just can't let go. It may seem that the persistence is out of undying love and devotion. To some it may seem harmless or annoying at worst, but it's not. Stalking has the potential to escalate to a very dangerous, even lethal level. That's because stalking is about control. It's about the stalker exerting their desires and intentions on their target without regard or respect for what that person wants. Boundaries no longer exist. The words "no" and "stop" become meaningless to the stalker because all that matters is getting their way, getting what they want and getting what they feel belongs to them. To an extent, even negative attention becomes rewarding. Over time, if the stalker can't gain control of their target, the stalker may decide to take control.
In the years that I've worked at HAVEN, I've seen this type of stalking and the way that it can escalate. I see it most in woman who come to HAVEN"s Personal Protection Order Advocacy Office seeking a PPO against their ex in hopes that the court can establish some boundaries and consequences that will finally be respected. Often times, the exs continued presence and contact didn't become troublesome or dangerous until she started dating or started a new relationship. That's when the threats of violence, toward her and the new partner, begins. However, when we look back on the relationship, we usually see that the tendency to want to control was always present.
The red flags of a potential intimate partner stalker are much the same as an abuser. After all, the desire for power and control is a common denominator in both the abuser and the stalker. Oftentimes these people are one in the same. Jealousy, possessiveness, wanting to constantly know their partner's whereabouts and activities, limiting their partner's contact with friends and family, attempts to control what their partner wears or looks like and rapid progression of the relationship with a push for commitment are all traits and behaviors to be aware of. These can be indications that the person is looking to control their partner and feels a sense of ownership over them. If and when the relationship ends this same mentality is what can lead to stalking because the abuser/stalker does not want to lose or give up their control.
So what do you do when your ex becomes your stalker? Reach out for help at the first sign. Many organizations, like HAVEN, exist nationwide where you can get connected with an advocate or counselor who can discuss safety planning, options and next steps.
January is National Stalking Awareness Month. Please take this opportunity to spread awareness and educate others. Let them know that stalking post break up is about more than a broken heart and an inability to let go. Stalking is about control. It's not something to be joked about or dismissed. Stalking is not flattering or funny. Stalking makes the victim feel harassed, threatened, intimidated and scared. Stalking is serious, it's dangerous and it's a crime.
Beth Morrison is President and CEO of HAVEN.
Richelle Duane is the Civil Advocacy Supervisor at HAVEN.