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In general terms, stalking is defined as a pattern of behavior that makes another person worry for her safety. Stalkers often act in an obsessive way that causes their victim to feel uncomfortable or afraid. They may call a person constantly on the phone even after being asked to stop or follow a person around in their car. Stalking is illegal in most places, but the exact definition in legal terms can vary quite a bit from one place to another. Most cases of stalking involve men who are stalking women, but the roles are reversed about 25% of the time.
In many situations, the singular actions of a stalker aren’t actually illegal on their own. For example, it’s not illegal to send someone a gift or write her a letter. The illegality happens because there are several separate incidents that come together and create a sense of fear in the victim—the stalker is essentially abusing the victim by exerting an unwanted influence on her life. The victims may be afraid that the stalker is going to cause them physical harm, or they may be afraid to rebuff the stalker for fear of his reaction to a flat-out rejection. Oftentimes, the stalker has acted in a way that demonstrates mental instability.
Stalkers come from a lot of backgrounds, and they act with many different motives. Some stalkers have a former romantic relationship with their victim. In other cases, stalkers are people with a unrequited romantic interest in their victim who refuse to accept rejection. Some stalkers simply have a personal grudge and they’re purposely trying to make their targets afraid. Celebrities have many problems with stalkers because of their high profile, and certain well-known celebrity stalker cases were driving forces in the push for anti-stalking legislation.
The Internet has become a common tool for stalkers, and the term "cyberstalking" was coined to distinguish this version of the crime. Cyberstalkers often rely on e-mail and social networking sites to harass their victims. They may seek to humiliate their targets by posting private information on Internet sites or assuming the victim’s identity and making embarrassing or damaging statements. Cyberstalking can also be an extension of regular stalking, and a stalker may use both at different times.
Stalkers can sometimes be very dangerous. It’s not unusual for a stalker to eventually become violent, and victims are generally advised to take the situation seriously. It’s especially common for former romantic partners to escalate a stalking situation and physically attack, so even if a victim knows a stalker well, she can’t necessarily assume the situation is safe.