Signs of a Stalker and How to Deal with a Stalker

What is stalking and what can you do about it?

HAVN SECURITY |

August 2022

Michael Douglas, Madonna, Britney Spears, John Lennon…the list is long and troublesome of celebrities or public figures who have experienced extreme – if not deadly – stalking.  And while most stalking does not become physically dangerous or deadly, it is best to know the definition of stalking, the signs of a stalker, and have a plan on how to deal with a stalker.  As a serious crime, stalking is a felony (or misdemeanor) and carries significant legal consequences. It’s also one of the top reasons to hire a bodyguard service.

Why HAVN? An unfortunate part of our business is dealing with celebrity stalkers and the result of their actions.  And while celebrities and public figures are more likely to experience stalking, the same principals can apply to anyone – especially in the era of social media.

We’d like to provide some insight to help you stay safe and better prepare you if you are experiencing signs of a stalker.

The legal definition of stalking is “engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to – (A) fear for his or her safety or the safety of others; (B) suffer substantial emotional distress.”1

Practically speaking, stalking is harassing behavior directed specifically at you – and it’s usually a repeat thing.

When you’re being stalked, first stay calm.  Most stalking does not lead to violent crime.  Also, stalking is common – for example, 79% of television personalities experience stalking at some point during their career1, so you’re not alone.

Here are some warning signs of a stalker and our tips on how to deal with a stalker.

unexpected visits are one of the signs of a stalker. We know how to deal with a stalker. Stalking can be a felony.

A stalker caught on door cam footage.

DEFINITION OF STALKING:

Stalking is "engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to - (A) fear for his or her safety or the safety of others; (B) suffer substantial emotional distress."

Violence Against Women Act
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What are the warning signs of a stalker?

Stalking is a pathological fixation.  This fixation is “an abnormal, highly-focused and all-encompassing interest” in you that comes to dominate the stalker’s life, leading them to believe they are entitled to a relationship with you.” This definition of stalking helps differentiate stalkers from superfans, who may hope for a relationship BUT DO NOT FEEL ENTITLED to one.

It’s hard to know a stalker will eventually become violent. In the case of celebrity attacks, 77% of eventual attackers have a history of communication with the target. And there are almost always “warning behaviors” in these interactions:

  • Repeated unwanted phone calls , texts, direct messages, or emails with no response
  • Knowing your schedule for no reason
  • Showing up where you are for no apparent reason
  • Stealing or asking for your things
  • Sending you unwanted gifts
  • Driving or walking around places you frequent
  • Trying to become friends with people you know
  • Researching you on social media or public records
  • Taking pictures or videos of you or collecting photos of you off your social media accounts
  • Telling people you are friends or sexual partners (when you are not)
  • Threatening you
  • Approaching you with a weapon (or dangerous object)
  • Attempting to breach your security
  • Being angry with you in person or communication
  • Declaring specific intents toward you
  • Using suicidal or homicidal language
  • Using last-resort language – like they have no other options
  • Communicating delusional beliefs to you
  • Seeking sexual or emotional intimacy with you, despite having never met
  • Telling you they are a god or have a destiny
  • Persistently complaining to you

While any combination of these behaviors do not guarantee a violent encounter, you should take them seriously.  Please take any signs of a stalker seriously – the best way to stop a stalker is to deal with them as soon as possible.  Stalking is a felony (or misdemeanor) even if it does not lead to violent crime.

Social Media Increases the Likelihood of Stalkers

Celebrities and public figures seek public attention and affection as part of their career. Performance contracts regularly require specific levels of follower social engagement 7. “Letting people into your life” is a common strategy. Influencers now build their entire careers off of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.  Attention may be good for careers, but it has the undesirable side effect of encouraging potential stalkers to see and interact with you – while simultaneously giving them more information about your private life.

Consider the case of  Ena Matsuoka – a Japanese pop star.  In September 2019, a stalker zoomed into a high-resolution photo that she posted on social media.  The stalker used clues found in the reflections of her pupils to discover her home address.  He waited for her to return home one night and sexually assaulted her.

Pablo Tarazaga-Orero camped outside of Harry Styles’ house for months, claiming that he had visions of being together with the One Direction star in Ireland.  One day while Styles was jogging, Orero ambushed and grabbed him.  Styles hired private security, installed panic locks, and continued to feel anxiety and dread even after his Orero was found guilty of harassment.  Unfortunately, none of this stopped the stalker – he broke his restraining order in January 2021.

Are stalkers violent?

Most stalkers do not commit actual physical violence, but the probability of incidents increases the larger your public profile. This is because a certain percentage of stalkers also have a severe mental illness – and this can be a dangerous combination when there are not measures in place that can physically stop a stalker.

We calculate the likelihood of an attack based on your popularity and following size. We understand from the data that a certain percentage of followers will demonstrate the signs of a stalker, others will be extreme stalkers, and another percentage will be stalkers with mental health issues. The bigger you get, the more opportunity there is for a dangerous situation – and the more likely you will be to experience a physical or psychological assault.

Regardless, stalking is a felony (or misdemeanor) and carries significant consequences on its own – whether or not your stalker goes on to commit a violent crime.

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of television personalities experience stalking during their career.1

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of female homicide victims experience stalking by an intimate partner before they are killed.8

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of attackers have a history of communication with their target.1

Why do people stalk celebrities?

Vulnerable people sometimes seek identity and fulfillment through celebrity worship 6.  Stalkers take it a step further by gathering so much information about a celebrity that the next step becomes seeking them out in real life2. According to modern psychiatry, the act of stalking belongs in the same family of actions as regicide (king killing), erotomania (delusions of intimacy), and paranoia. The stalker profile overlaps with public figure assassins, school shooters, workplace shooters, and lone-wolf terrorists. Stalkers develop a pathological fixation on a person, and then come to expect something from that person in return.  Some people will then “snap” and act out in extreme ways. The intense feeling of intimacy with a celebrity can lead stalkers to “lose it” when the star does not reciprocate. Pent-up anger and resentment can drive individuals to hunt politicians when they don’t fix a problem that is important to the stalker. More important to the victim is that stalking is always invasive and problematic  – and stalking usually comes before a physical attack. 

Paparazzi vs Stalkers and what you can do?

Stalkers expect something from you and won’t take no for an answer.  They can take unilateral action to get what they want whether or not you reciprocate.  Often times, paparazzi walk a fine line between legitimate journalism and dangerous stalking – they can demonstrate multiple signs of a stalker. When there is an implicit agreement that you are trading photos of yourself in exchange for publicity, that can be a good business arrangement.  In fact, at a clients’s request, HAVN can facilitate the healthy, respectful interaction between professional, courteous paparazzi and the client. At other times, HAVN must speak to paparazzi and ask them to “back off.” When paparazzi “cross the line,” it’s best to have someone around that knows how to stop a stalker – because the same rules apply.  Ultimately, mutual trust is important to a sustainable business relationship.  

When paparazzi fail to respect your boundaries or “cross the line,” it’s up to you as the celebrity to deal with the consequences.  That can be encroachment and/or damage of your personal property, undesirable photos or videos showing up in magazines, and embarrassing or traumatic public appearances.  Law enforcement can respond after the fact, but private security is a better fit for real-time corrective action.  You can try to handle it yourself, but you may end up compounding the problem – much like Alec Baldwin or Sean Penn did when dealing directly with paparazzi themselves.

It’s beneficial to have a good, working relationship with the paparazzi – and hiring a private security firm who has experience dealing with paparazzi is a good way to go.

What is the difference between stalkers and superfans?

Celebrities are often reluctant to bring stalking behavior to the attention of the police because it is challenging to know the difference between a stalker and a superfan. However, if you are experiencing multiple behaviors in the list above, you may very well be dealing with a stalker. Please ask for help if you think you may be dealing with a stalker.  Even if a stalker doesn’t commit an act of violence, it is emotionally damaging to you and other victims.  Stalking is a felony (or misdemeanor) in many jurisdictions because it causes fear and substantial distress to another human being.

When Ex-boyfriends and Ex-girlfriends Turn Into Stalkers

Further complicating personal relationships for celebrities is that ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends are already at higher risk of stalking behavior in general. Former lovers account for a high percentage of stalkers. In fact, 76% of female homicide victims experience stalking by an intimate partner before they are killed8. These lovers-turned-stalkers did once have a legitimate reason to expect reciprocal intimacy from you, but when they no longer do this can someone to “snap” – especially when the ex also has issues with mental illness. Now, compound these issues with the fact that you are a celebrity or public figure, and the situation can deteriorate quickly.  Handle these situations deliberately, just like you would anyone else who is demonstrating the signs of a stalker. Just remember that roughly half of all stalking in the USA is done by a current or former intimate partner8. There is a 50/50 chance that if you’re being stalked, you already have a history with the perpetrator.

How to deal with a stalker? How to stop a stalker?

As we consider how to stop a stalker, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Keep detailed notes and evidence of any stalking behavior.  These will help you if you need to go to court.  Notes and evidence may help the prosecution prove that this instance of stalking is a felony instead of a misdemeanor – which will give you more power to limit future encounters.
  • Be proactive and have a physical security plan at home, work, and while traveling.  Your safety is paramount.
  • Change your locks if the stalker is an ex-partner.
  • Always lock the car doors when traveling. 
  • If you are being followed in a car, immediately dial 911.  Next, drive somewhere safe and honk until someone comes to help.  Also, consider changing your daily routine by taking different routes.
  • Be careful not to post private information online, especially your physical location or schedule.
  • Consider private security services. As your public profile gets more prominent and you become more at risk, it’s vital to have a professional security plan in place. This is simply an essential cost of doing business as a celebrity or public figure. At HAVN, we strive to create “safe havens” for our clients to live happy and worry-free lives.
  • For your own mental health, talk to family, friends, doctor, or counselor about your stalker.
  • Dial 911 in the event of an emergency (or your country’s equivalent).  Authorities do know that stalking is a felony (or misdemeanor) and will take it seriously.
LAPD's Threat Management Unit is one of the resources you have to deal with a stalker.

Is stalking a felony? That depends.

As we consider how to stop a stalker, the legal system is one of the main tools we have at our disposal.  

In California, stalking is considered a “wobbler” for first time offenders – this means the crime can be classified as either a felony or a misdemeanor according to Penal Code section 646.9.

The prosecution has flexibility in how they want to approach the case.  The law recognizes that some stalking is less harmful, while other stalking is extremely dangerous.  This gives the prosecutors the opportunity to look at the specific case and decide if the particular instance of stalking is a felony-level offense.

However, stalking is a felony (automatically) in the following cases:

  • The stalker has been convicted of stalking before
  • The stalking occurred in violation of a pre-existing restraining order (protective order)

Also, stalking can lead to other crimes – and each violation of the law will be taken into account.  Make sure to keep detailed notes and evidence of any worrisome actions.

For more information, California Penal Code section 646.9 is a readable document.  If you are outside of California, you will need to research your local laws, consult local law enforcement, or talk to an attorney.

What public resources are available?

In Los Angeles, the LAPD’s Threat Management Unit responds to harassment and stalking. As we mentioned before, there is a strong correlation between dangerous stalking and severe mental illness. For this reason, the LAPD’s Crisis Response Support Section includes both the Threat Management Unit to respond to harassment and stalking and the Mental Evaluation Unit (MEU) to assist patrol officers with mental health issues.

If someone is demonstrating the signs of a stalker, you may be able to get a restraining order to protect you.  When a restraining order is enough to stop a stalker, then it is worth the effort – unfortunately, often times it is not.  In this case, the courts may issue a harsher sentence, including jail time.

What private resources are available?

HAVN specializes in keeping celebrity and public figures safe as a private security firm.  This includes many facets of security expertise – including how to stop a stalker. Our goal is to track potential stalkers, gather and maintain intelligence, and reduce the likelihood of physical threats. We also diffuse physical security situations in real-time.

HAVN also works with the LAPD’s Threat Management Unit to ensure our clients get the best possible combination of private and public security available for any given situation.

Do you want to know how much a bodyguard costs? Check out our article to get an idea of what is involved.

Plelase note: HAVN is not a first responder. We handle security situations when we already have a relationship. It is always best to be proactive and have an appropriate security plan already in place. Among other factors, a personalized HAVN threat assessment looks at your level of public exposure and your audience/fanbase size. Contact us today to learn more. If you believe your life or safety is in danger, please dial 911 immediately.

External Sources

1. Wilson, Dempsey, Farnham, Manze, Taylor.  “Stalking Risks to Celebrities and Public Figures”.  BJ Psych Advances (2018), vol 24. 2018.
2. Taylor, Trey. “Extreme Celebrity Stalking in the Digital Age”.  The Face. October 2019.
3. Rosenbaum, Claudia. “The New Age of Celebrity Stalkers”.  BuzzFeed. December 2015.
4. Department of Justice Canada. “Stalking is a Crime Called Criminal Harassment”.  Attorney General of Canada. 2003.
5. Murray, Mersadie. “The Dangerous Reality of Stalking”.  Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence. January 2021.
7. Piazza, Jo. “Celebrity, Inc.: How Famous People Make Money”. Open Road Media. 2011.
8. NYC Mayor’s Office. Intro & Stalking Fact Sheet. Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based-Violence. 2018.
9. Fisher, Kendall. Run-Ins With the Paparazzi: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. eonline.com. November 2016.

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