How to Protect Yourself From a Stalker

A new TV series tells the stories of women who were relentlessly pursued by dangerous men. The show's criminal psychologist talks to us about ways to stay safe.

Recently, a new show called Stalked: Someone's Watching, premiered on the Investigation Discovery channel. Over the course of six episodes, the program recounts the stories of men who relentlessly pursued former partners, or neighbors, or relative strangers — and provides some insight into their twisted motives. The first episode details the relationship between Peggy Klinke and Patrick Kennedy, the man whom she once considered the love of her life — who would eventually kill her. Michelle Ward, a criminal psychologist and stalking victim herself, is featured in the series and talked to me about men like Kennedy ... and what we can do to protect ourselves from them.

Why do stalkers become stalkers?

It's hard to say. But some people seem to be predisposed to that behavior, due to biological or genetic factors, or the way they were raised. The vast majority of stalkers exhibited troubling or violent behavior earlier in their lives.

Who is most vulnerable to stalkers?

Anyone can become a stalker's target. But women who have been stalked often refer to themselves as the "savior type." They enjoy trying to help troubled or struggling men.

Is there anything women can do to preemptively protect themselves from stalkers?

While there are very few specific antecedents to stalking, controlling behavior is probably the biggest predictor. A man who tries to dictate a woman's wardrobe, how she does her hair, what she does at work, the people with whom she socializes, her relationships with her family, or her activities inside and outside of the home often ends up stalking her. Additionally, women should be wary of a partner who is extremely jealous of other men, and other people in general. Stalkers sometimes try to eliminate a woman's resources, particularly her access to friends and family.

All of this means women shouldn't brush aside warning signs that pop up at the beginning of a relationship. Be very selective about whom you allow into your life. A man who is overly jealous, irrationally suspicious, or aggressive in ways that make you uncomfortable may become dangerous as your intimacy grows. And if your friends, family, or colleagues are concerned about the guy, listen to what they say. Also, try to find out how he behaved in previous romantic relationships. Arrests or charges for domestic violence, harassment, or any other aggressive behavior are very bad signs, of course.

Often, stalker victims are women who stay too long in bad relationships, or put up with too much before ending things.

Can we do anything to prevent relative strangers from stalking us?

Be very careful about keeping your personal information confidential. Don't leave mail in your car. Don't list your phone number and address. Have a policy of never giving your email address to a stranger — not even the cute guy you meet at a bar. Ask for his number instead. Cyber-stalking is another big problem these days, so make sure you have strict privacy settings set on all of your social media accounts, and don't post information about your whereabouts or hangouts to these sites.

What's the most important thing to do if you are being stalked?

Alert law enforcement immediately. (Amy Johnson, a police officer profiled in the series, seemed to think she could handle it herself when her ex-husband began to stalk her … but she couldn't.) Do not have any further contact with your stalker. Try to record any harassing phone calls or interactions. Law enforcement agencies want to help you, but you have to be your own best advocate. This means keeping careful logs of everything that happens and reporting them frequently. Alert friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers about your stalker and try to provide a photo and description of his or her car. Try to maintain an inconsistent schedule so he won't be able to predict where you'll be.

Investigation Discovery worked with The National Center for Victims of Crime to put this show together. Visit the NCVC's Stalking Resource Center for more information.