Stalking is a tactic used by abusers to keep their victims terrified. It is a course of conduct that involves:
- Following the victim or monitoring the victim’s every movement
- Making repeated or annoying phone calls at all hours of the day or night
- Tapping or monitoring the victim’s phone
- Getting and using information about the victim, and the victim’s children, family and friends
- Constantly phoning, or showing up at the victim’s workplace
- Vandalizing or entering the victim’s car or home
- Shadowing or harassing the victim’s children or other family members; harming the victim’s pet
- Reporting victim to authorities
- Making threats
- Sending the victim things: either cards, letters or gifts - or leaving things: garbage, dead animals
All of these actions and others are meant to say, “I can get to you any time - you can’t get away from me." Stalking is a crime, even if it is done by your husband or partner. Read the sections on phone, computer and automobile safety especially carefully.
In a crisis, a telephone can save your life if it cannot be disabled or taken away from you.
- Cordless phones may allow you more freedom to go to different rooms to make an emergency call than a conventional phone. Keep the phone's base in a hard to reach spot so it can’t be unplugged.
- Cell phones are more flexible than cordless ones.
- If you cannot afford cell phone service, the District Attorney's Office and the domestic violence shelter programs can give you a free cell phone that calls 911.
- Remember that if you call 911 from a cell phone you have to tell the 911 dispatcher the town and street address. Most current cell phones can't relay locations.
- Newer cell phones have Global Positioning System (GPS) chips in them. Check your cell phone instruction book. Remember that if police can locate you through a GPS signal, an abuser may be able to do so as well. So if you leave your abuser, for example, to go to a shelter or the home of family or friends, it is safest to throw the cell phone away and get a new one.
- Clean out stored numbers first.
- Otherwise, keep quarters or a phone calling card with time on it for making calls from outside the house.
But phones can increase the danger to you and to others if your abuser knows that you are talking about getting help or leaving. Conventional corded phones can be tapped. If your abuser seems to know things you have not revealed, or even if he doesn’t:
- Do not talk about your abuser or any plans you may be making to get help or to leave over a phone your abuser has access to.
- Make important calls to counselors, lawyers, family, etc. from a secure cell phone, a friend's house, or a pay phone.
If the phone is in your name the phone, company can check to see if it is tapped. If it is in your abuser's name, they won't. Some electronics stores sell devices that can detect taps. Cordless phones basically are radio transmitters, and can be monitored by other cordless phones or even baby monitors. Don’t depend on them for privacy. Cell phones are relatively safer but they can be listened to by a scanner.
Whatever kind of phone you have, your abuser may be able to trace who you called:
- Pressing automatic call-back if someone has called you
- Checking the numbers on the phone bill, checking with the phone company
- Pressing the "recall" button on your phone
- Checking your answering machine or voice mailbox -- don't use these unless you are sure your abuser has no access. If your voice mail has a password, change it often and don’t use obvious passwords.
Even if the telephone is not tapped, your abuser may record face-to-face conversations between the two of you by using a pocket tape recorder. Be careful what you say. Do not be provoked into saying anything you would not want to have played back.
E-mail and computer privacy
E-mails can be a good way to keep in touch with others. But: If you are currently being stalked or abused, we recommend that you use a computer that your abuser does not have access to - at a public library, a trusted friend's home, or an Internet café. It is possible for an abuser to trace in the computer what sites you have gone to for information, and what your e-mails say. It is never possible to be sure that you have covered your tracks. With the right equipment, an abuser can track what you do on your computer, even remotely.
Items you will need if you leave
You may need to leave your abuser quickly, or you may have a plan in advance. Either way, leaving will be much easier and safer if you keep duplicates of the following items in a place other than where you live, such as with a friend, family member, or in a bank safety deposit box. It's easier to be prepared than struggle to replace these documents from scratch.
Keep safe and ready for an emergency departure:
- Extra set of keys - to the car, house, office, bank box
- Money and duplicate check book, bank book, ATM cards, credit cards
- Order of Protection
- Recent, clear, photo of your abuser for identification
- Photocopies of driver's license, car registration and insurance
- Daily medications needed for yourself and your children
- Important telephone numbers
- Photocopies of identification/passport for you and children
Make copies of the following if you are unable to get and keep originals.
- Order of Protection
- Birth certificates for you and your children
- Social Security cards
- Immigration documents / green cards / work permits
- Car or mortgage payment records
- Deed, lease or rental agreement
- Marriage license
- Divorce or separation papers
- Medicaid and Medicare cards
- Tax returns
- School, vaccination and medical records
- Copies of your abuser's employment documents for child support purposes: W2 forms, tax returns, financial documents of any unclaimed assets.
Other items you may want
- Change of clothing, diapers, blankets
- Things to soothe your children - snacks, familiar toys
- Jewelry and sentimental items
Protect your car
- Keep spare keys hidden from your partner.
- Always keep gas in the car.
- Get a locking gas cap and hood lock to help prevent tampering.
- Keep registration and insurance safe, available, and paid up.
- Park the car for a fast exit: front-facing street, last car in the driveway.
- Park in different locations every day and not in isolated areas.
- Drive different routes every day.
- A steering wheel lock may help prevent an abuser from taking the car.
- If it's safe, keep a change of clothes in the car.
- If your abuser knows your car, consider having it painted or trading it for one of equal value, and get a different license plate.