January is National Stalking Awareness Month. 3.4 million people over age 18 are stalked each year – a huge number! Most people are stalked by someone they know and about 10 percent are stalked by a stranger. One form of street harassment is being followed by a stranger, but being followed once by a person does not seem to characterize stalking, otherwise I think the stranger stalking statistic would be much higher.
In fall 2008, when I informally surveyed over 900 people in 45 states and 23 countries about their experiences in public spaces, 75 percent of the 811 women said they had been followed by an unknown person at least once. Anecdotally, I’ve received numerous story submissions for this blog from women who had a strange man follow them.
Being stalked or being followed once by someone can be characterized as romantic or flattering to the target, mainly if they are of the opposite sex. Both behaviors are not. In one of my survey questions where people could say how different behaviors they were the target of made them feel, most women said being followed made them fearful. Being followed was second only to being assaulted for how much it upset them. My scariest experiences have been when unknown men have followed me, too. You don’t know what they want or what they intend to do.
Have you been stalked? Followed once by a stranger? What happened? How did it make you feel?