How To Know If Your Ex Is Stalking You

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
This story was originally published on March 1, 2017.
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.
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"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.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224 for confidential support.
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You feel it in your gut.

Stalking behaviors can appear totally neutral — like someone just happens to be at the same parties as you all the time — but when you're really in danger, you'll usually feel it, Applebury says. "Our brain might tell us it's just a socially appropriate thing, but your gut will be screaming that something seems off." Trust your instincts.
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They call or text you a ton.

If your ex still insists on texting or calling you, you need to make it clear that you don't want to hear from them. Receiving unwanted phone calls, voice, or text messages is the most commonly experienced stalking tactic for both female and male victims of stalking (78.8% and 75.9%, respectively), according to the NDVH survey. If you believe their behavior is putting you in danger, you should absolutely not answer. You can also take advantage of the blocking feature on your phone to block the stalker's number. (And you might want to screenshot any relevant call logs or texts, and save any voicemails that could be used as evidence.)
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They like all your social media posts, even though you don't follow them.

Stalkers often leave unwanted gifts for the person they're stalking, in order to lure them in again. Because it's 2017, these "gifts" can be likes on Instagram, screenshots on Snapchat, or comments on Venmo — the possibilities are, sadly, endless. (And again, taking screenshots will be useful if you end up reporting this person.)

Go to town on the block button, and report anything that could be considered harmful to the social network — Facbeook and Instagram tend to be better than Snapchat and Twitter about reporting concerning posts.
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They hang at your regular spots alone.

Everything about a stalker's behavior is calculated, particularly where they are. They may spend time at a place where you used to hang out when you were together, or in some cases, they might lurk around your home or workplace. If someone tells you they saw your ex hanging around a place that you frequent, it's a red flag.

Having support is huge, so tell people — friends, colleagues, and the security personnel at your place of work — about the situation so they can look out for you. You should also have some sort of safety plan in place, which includes how you'd change your routine, arrange for a place to stay, and who would be available to help you in a dangerous situation. Again, hotlines can help with this.
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They ask your friends about you.

Your ex asking about you to a mutual friend at a party might sound flattering, but if it becomes a very regular thing, that can be a form of stalking. Listen to your friends if they're telling you something that seems off, and make it clear to them that you're concerned about this person's behavior. Also, make sure they know about your situation, so they can be sure not to engage with this person if they're pressing for information — your friends shouldn't answer any questions if the person presses, either.
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They test your boundaries.

Stalkers like to figure out how far you're willing to open up, Applebury says. If they know you like to post a lot about your life, they're going to consider you an open and vulnerable target. They may try to lure you in to reveal even more information about yourself, by watching your Instagram stories or commenting with seemingly innocuous questions. Responding to these messages could potentially open up the door for more communications, so don't.
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