Take it seriously.
The first thing you have to understand is that stalking is a pattern of behavior, not a one-time incident. Your friend may tell you she’s afraid because her stalker left dead flowers on her porch. That may sound minor to you, but what you don’t know is that her stalker has also been calling just to wake her up every night at 3 AM, driving past her place of work on a daily basis, and leaving notes that say “Whore” in her car. The flowers might just be the thing she mentions because is scares her the worst, not because it’s the only thing that’s happened. For you, dead flowers might just be dead flowers, but the stalker intends it as a symbolic threat that he wants to hurt your friend. They do this on purpose. He knows what dead flowers mean. Your friend knows what dead flowers mean. But most other people wouldn’t see them as a big deal.
Understand that the issue here isn’t so much what the stalker has done, but the fear of what the stalker could do. Every day, most people wake up and they have a good idea about what will happen that day. Your friend doesn’t have that luxury anymore. Will he ignore her today? Will he break into her house today? Will he email her a threat today? Will he kill her today? She doesn’t know. She’s living with an incredible amount of uncertainty and fear.
Ask before offering advice.
Is your advice welcome? Is it even needed? Honestly, it probably isn’t.
If your friend has already researched her state’s anti-stalking laws, has already spoken to the police, or has done even the most basic level of research, she probably knows more than you do about stalking. She definitely knows more than you do about her particular case. Your friend is the expert here.
Well-meaning people, who don’t fully understand the situation, can offer dangerous advice. There are different types of stalkers, each with their own levels of risk. You can’t handle every stalker in the same way. And what you see on TV isn’t how these situations play out in real life.
The stalker is trying to take control of your friend’s life away from her. She gets to control how she handles dealing with him.
Understand that this is a dangerous situation.
Don’t downplay what’s going on. Being stalked isn’t a minor inconvenience. It’s a life-altering and potentially life-threatening situation. You won’t help your friend by acting like it’s not a big deal. In fact, you’ll hurt your friend if you shrug it off. One of the most important things you can do is offer validation and emotional support. Because stalking is so often misunderstood and dismissed, your friend is likely dealing with plenty of people who either don’t believe her or refuse to believe the situation is as bad as it is.
One of the most damaging things you could do would be to ignore the situation or pretend it isn’t happening. It might make you uncomfortable (it would make any normal person uncomfortable), but your friend needs to know they are heard and you are taking this seriously.
Offer to go with your friend when she speaks to the police.
It can be frustrating when reporting stalking. Anti-stalking laws vary from state to state, and some of them don’t allow police officers to arrest a stalker until an explicit death threat is made. This means, even if a police officer believes your friend is in danger and wants to act, they might not be able to do anything to help her.
Having a friend along for emotional support, and as an advocate in case a police officer isn’t taking her seriously, can be a huge help.
Help your friend with a safety plan.
What will your friend do if she comes home at night and sees her stalking circling the block, waiting for her to get out of her car?
It’s important for her to have a safety plan in place. She needs a safe place to go, temporarily, if she can’t safely go into her own home. You can offer to let her come to your home, at any time, if she needs to.
Offer to tag along if your friend needs to go somewhere and she doesn’t feel safe going alone.
Even something as simple as offering to walk her to her car at night is helpful.
Do not have contact with your friend’s stalker.
Most people are stalked by someone they already know. So, chances are pretty good that you know your friend’s stalker. If this person runs in your circle of friends, cut contact with him. Not only should you do this out of loyalty to your friend, but this will help create a larger buffer between your friend and her stalker.
Do not give out any information about your friend.
This seems obvious, but it’s easy to slip up. Your friend’s stalker might not come directly to you and ask, “Where is she?” Instead, he might scroll through your Facebook feed to find pictures of your group of friends out for the night. Now he knows she isn’t home and can break in.
Do not post information about your friend or any pictures of her online without her permission.
What’s less obvious are all the little conversations we have about people. Maybe a mutual acquaintance asks you what your friend’s been up to lately. Don’t give this person information that could lead her stalker to her. The acquaintance (who doesn’t know anything about the stalker) may let that information slip later on and it could get back to her stalker.
If you witness anything, write it down.
You can’t get a stalker arrested without good documentation. Your friend is likely already keeping a log of incidents. If you are with her when the stalker approaches, write it down and give a copy to your friend. If you are with her when she finds a note in her car, write it down. If the stalker approaches you, without your friend around, and makes comments about her, write it down. The more documentation and the more witnesses, the better her chances of having him arrested.
Don’t blame your friend.
Nobody asks to be stalked. Nobody does anything to deserve it.
It doesn’t matter if she stayed with an abusive boyfriend for way too long. It doesn’t matter if she flirted with him once. It doesn’t matter if she walks around in short skirts.
While victims are advised to cut contact with their stalkers, sometimes they slip up and respond to them. This isn’t wise, but it’s understandable. If someone has been threatening you for months, you might just snap one day and pick up the phone when he calls so you can curse him out. This doesn’t mean your friend is to blame for the stalker continuing to harass and threaten her.
The only person to blame for what the stalker is doing is the stalker. Your friend isn’t controlling his actions. He is making these choices on his own, and unfortunately, a victim can do everything “correct” in these situations and be in the exact same situation as someone who does everything you’re not supposed to do.
Never, ever blame your friend for what her stalker is choosing to do.
Visit the Stalking Resource Center for more information, including anti-stalking laws by state.
Image Credit: Brett Sayer