Stalking is defined as repeated and unwanted behaviour that causes the victim alarm and distress. It is often thought of as a crime only against women, but 1 in 6 women and 1 in 12 men will be subject to stalking at some point in their lives.
Perhaps surprisingly though, 77% of stalking victims experience 100 incidents before they make a report to the police. It may take a while before a victim realises that the behaviour they are experiencing is stalking. It may seem just annoying at first and then gradually become creepier and more frightening. Some stalking may escalate fast.
Most stalking now includes a digital or technology-based aspect. In ‘cyberstalking’, the perpetrator will use technology, but not stalk the person in the offline world. In ‘digitally assisted stalking’, the perpetrator will use technology (such as mobile phones, geolocation tracking, social media and spyware) to find information and to assist them with ‘in person’ activities. All forms of stalking may cause psychological damage, as well as other harm.
We have no reason to believe that stalking of any kind is more common in the Armed Forces community than in the rest of the population. The purpose of this article is not to cause alarm or worry, but to raise awareness of ways we can protect ourselves and look out for friends and neighbours.
Here are some simple steps you can take to improve your digital safety:
• Use secure passwords and update them. Yes – we’ve heard that many times before. With all the websites that you probably have accounts for, there’s no way to easily remember lots of different passwords. This is where a password manager can help – as long as you create a strong master password that you can remember. These are available free online and as mobile apps – for example Dashlane and Keepass;
• Regularly Google yourself. Know what your ‘digital footprint’ looks like and what information about you is in the public domain;
• Review your social media privacy settings;
• Think before you ‘check in’ somewhere on social media;
• Check your mobile phone settings. Reduce the time before your screen locks and needs a PIN. Use a PIN that is not a birthday or other known number. Review and considering turning off location services, GPS or geotagging. Ensure that apps such as Google Maps are not sharing your location with anyone you don’t trust;
• Be careful about sharing personal information online. Think before updating: your relationship status; your place of work; where you are going, etc. Visit the Royal Navy website for advice on staying safe in social media here;
• Use caution when using dating apps like Tinder. Check out the dating safety section of the website before you meet. Don’t give out your e-mail address or mobile number – set up an e-mail for first contact or get an extra mobile number and keep your main number private. Meet in a public place and make sure you let a friend know where you are and timings so that they can check in with you.
If you have reason to think that you are being stalked:
• Report it and reach out to others – report to the police and make sure that other people know what you are experiencing (workplace, children’s school, trusted friends and family). Naval Service Family & People Support (NS FPS) (023 9272 8777) can provide support.
Remember you are not alone:
• Get good practical advice – contact the National Stalking Helpline and/or Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service (details below). These organisations can give you specific information about what to do next and steps you can take to stay safe.
• Keep evidence – keep all e-mails, messages, gifts and contacts. If you are followed by car, go to an area with CCTV and call 999 if you are in immediate danger.
• Keep a diary – log everything – dates, times and details.
• Trust your instincts and never make contact with the stalker. Anyone who is a victim of stalking, or is worried about someone’s behaviour towards them, can get free, confidential, expert advice and support from.
• The National Stalking Helpline on 0808 802 0300
• The Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service on 0207 840ite: www.paladinservice.co.uk.