In the most recent Fifty Shades movie, one of Christian Grey's ex-submissives stalks Christian and Anastasia intensely. Like many of the things portrayed in the Fifty Shades franchise, there are some parts about the fantastical plot that hold true IRL. If we're being honest, pretty much everyone has dug up information about their ex, or their partner's ex, or their ex's new partner — but stalking is a spectrum that can go from innocent to criminal.
One in six women (16.2%) and one in 19 men (5.2%) in the U.S. have experienced stalking victimization at some point in their lifetime, to the extent that they felt fearful or believed someone close to them would be killed, according to a survey by the National Domestic Violence Hotline. And 66% of female victims of stalking were stalked by a current or former intimate partner, per the same survey.
"Stalking an ex online is like a stepping stone to more intensified behaviors, because when we go to stalk or look up information online, our brain is getting some sort of gratification," says Gabrielle Applebury, a marriage and family therapy intern and trauma specialist. And the thrill of seeing some new photo of your ex on Instagram can snowball into an obsession. "If you're feeling obsessive tendencies and the need to check them out and be better, that's an issue with your self esteem — it never has to do with the other partner," she says.
Stalking is hard to prove legally, and experts say you should keep evidence (screenshots, call records, photos of damages, witness accounts) in case you decide to report the incident. Hotlines can help you make a safety plan, review local laws, weigh your options for seeking a protection order, and refer you to other services. Ultimately, you should contact the police if you think you're being stalked, and you can get a court order that tells the stalker to stay away from you. Every state has stalking laws, and the stalker may also have broken other laws by doing things like assaulting you or stealing or destroying your property. If you feel you're unsafe, you probably are, so don't downplay the danger.
Here are some signs that you might be being stalked by someone.