Surprising reasons why so many people are afraid of being stalked or harassed

Written by Staff Writer at CNN; produced by Brooke Fretts, CNN

If you find yourself thinking of running away from work for the day, or avoiding social media after dark, it may be worth checking in with yourself before you make a rash decision.

You may be paranoid, but you are not alone. According to a recent study, one in six individuals experiencing emotional distress might have a fear of being stalked or harassed. Just 10% of those with these fears report them to the police, despite the fact that stalking and harassment is illegal in the United States.

Stalking is defined as a criminal act committed against a person that includes physical force or mental distress, rather than just emotional distress. It is the intentional or attempted stalking of another person, on a regular basis, for some reason, in order to obtain some type of emotional gain or to establish power and control over that person.

Facebook’s AI is up to the task of detecting these types of interactions.

The study by the AATSA — American Association of Suicidology — found that depression and anxiety, PTSD, and the ability to handle interpersonal conflicts were potential factors in a person’s fear of being stalked or harassed.

These results may be surprising considering that we’re on the internet, where everyone is constantly connected — and it’s easy to tell if someone is stalking you. Yet despite the rise of technology and online social media, as reported by CNN, many US police departments are struggling to equip their officers with the proper tools. The resulting lack of training leads to the arrest of innocent people and deters victims from reporting offenses.

Some people face emotional problems after a divorce. They may start following other people who’ve gone through a similar experience. Credit: Jonathan Tannock/AFP/Getty Images

“This is a largely recognized but under-reported crime in the United States,” says Dr. Peter Grieger, founder of the AATSA and an associate professor at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Connecticut. “Few individuals experiencing emotional distress acknowledge the likelihood that they could be stalked or harassed and, consequently, persons experiencing such emotional distress seldom report any observable signs of such psychological distress.”

Grieger urges people to remember that even though the police can’t always intervene, “they can provide a service to the individual through professional counseling or other programs.”

However, there are some things you can do to help.

First, check your emotions. When you’re stressed, overwhelmed or experiencing too much stress, your body may react by keeping your emotions in. That is, by not letting your emotions out and showing them out loud.

According to the study, 25% of those with stalking and harassment fears in the US never “let go” of their feelings.

Secondly, Grieger says that it’s important to remember that it’s not always physically dangerous for a person to stalk you or harass you. Sometimes a person will stalk someone, and not physically, but psychologically, causing anxiety or a sense of loneliness that makes them want to do something to respond.

“Imagine a relationship with a lover, where every minute they just don’t want to see each other or talk to each other,” Grieger says. “That’s how it feels after suffering from PTSD, or with a person who is threatening your job or taking money from you. The only way to relieve yourself from that — to end the relationship — is to physically leave.

“You may not feel ready to physically leave, but you can allow that person to physically stalk you on a regular basis — and they will.”

If you are not sure whether or not you are being stalked, you can get help by calling the police at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324). And if you don’t want to call the police but you’re scared, you can call 9-1-1.

This article was originally published by CNN.

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