Stalkers have never had more ways to shadow you. Here’s what the experts caution you to do

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – January may be on the way out, but the haunting crime of stalking certainly isn’t.

January was National Stalking Awareness Month, and according to the Stalking, Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center, approximately 13.5 million people are stalked in a one-year period. 

In fact, as Kristen Snell, director of engagement and partnerships at domestic violence resource center Harmony House in Springfield, tells The Heartlander, cyberstalking numbers are way up.

Snell is aware of several incidents in which stalkers hacked into a victim’s devices to install tracking apps or tamper with settings. Snell says there are fresh techniques for an abusive partner to determine someone’s whereabouts without any visual contact.

“One of the things that’s most challenging with technology is keeping up with it,” Snell said. “We get a grasp on something that is happening right now, and then maybe a month or a few months down the road things start to change again. It’s really difficult to stay on top of those things. Unfortunately, it feels like abusers are always one step ahead of us.”

Apple Air Tags, originally designed to solve a positive problem, are now being used by some stalkers today. It’s a tracker shaped like a puck that assists users in locating lost or stolen items using the Find My app. An abuser can secretly place the tracker in the victim’s car or personal items.

“What we’re seeing is cyberstalking, as more folks are engaging in using social media. We’re also seeing it happen with our younger generation, too. When I was growing up, I didn’t have internet at home. But my son has grown up with the internet. 

“They were born into the digital age. We’ve got younger kids on social media, or they’re playing online games. It’s continuing to open up different avenues in which someone can stalk someone outside of what we traditionally think about, which is following someone or physically showing up in their location.”

Snell suggests that if device settings have changed, battery life is depleting quickly, or data usage has spiked, it may be a sign of a cyberstalker’s activity. It might indicate the presence of a covertly downloaded app on your device.

Harmony House advises folks to trust their instincts and seek support from an advocate if they suspect they’re being stalked.

Filing for a restraining order, also called an order of protection, allows victims to hold abusers accountable. Once the order is established, victims can report violations to law enforcement, which can then pass the information to prosecutors, potentially leading to charges against the abuser.

Harmony House promotes awareness about online communication. To ensure safety, refrain from disclosing personal information such as your address, school, work location or daily routine when conversing with unfamiliar individuals. It is important for internet users to exercise caution and discretion when sharing information online.

For more information about stalking and how to protect yourself from becoming a target, visit the Victim Connect Resource Center website.

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