It was a cold Sunday night as I sat still in my bed. One hand gripped to the phone and another hand tightly held the pepper spray.
Every time I heard a car, I would peak out the window. My heart raced so fast it felt as if it was going to jump out of my skin. I couldn’t breathe. My mind was flooded with thoughts. What if he comes in my bedroom window? How will I escape? Will he rape me? Will he kill me? Will he find my children?
Days prior to this, I was a fearless and strong woman. But one phone call changed my life. It changed my sense of security and it changed the way I look at everything in life.
I was stalked. I was stalked through phone calls, texts, social media messages and threats. Threats to myself and to my children. I cannot go into details because the case is still ongoing.
But what I can do is provide advice that was given to me as I went through and continue to go through this horrific process. Men and women need to know how easily people can find you, how social media can let these creeps into your life and how you can stay safe.
You may think that you live a private life, but for a few dollars people can find out a lot about you, your family and even your friends.
In my case, I do put myself out there in the land of social media. I own a public relations business, I am on television and I’m a speaker. I do document my life and my children’s lives on social media. It’s part of my job and my brand.
I have both a business and personal page on Instagram and Facebook. On my personal Instagram I highlight my working- mom lifestyle. It focuses on a single mom life, my children and work/life balance. That page was not private and we think this is how this person found me.
Before this happened, I had no idea how easy it was to access my information. From where I live, past addresses, my salary range etc. But I quickly found out that it is everywhere!
During this experience, I turned to police and friends in other agencies to gather as much information as possible to help keep me safe then and in the future. Here is what they have taught me.
Make Your Social Media Private
Make your social media accounts private. If anyone wants to follow you they must send you a request. It is now up to you if you want them following you.
Be Careful About Posting Locations
Social media is all about sharing, right? You want to tell your friends and followers where you are. In my job, I am always promoting my clients, their businesses and events that we are at. But, if someone is watching you and wants to know where you are they can immediately find you. If you want to post your location, do it when you are not there anymore. It’s okay to wait a few hours to share your status and location.
Don’t Share Your Routine
If you go to the gym every morning at 6 am or having a frequent running route, don’t share that on social media. Again, if someone is watching you they know your routine and could track you there.
Be Cautious When Posting Your Children
If you want to post pictures and videos with your children be careful about mentioning their school or showing your home address. A police officer went through my social media and found that I posted my child’s school information multiple times. Not good!
Weed through Your Friends and Followers
Take some time to really look through who you are friends with on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and even Linkedin. We are so quick to accept friend requests, even if they have one or two mutual friends. Think about it like this, would you want that person to see your life on social media.
Be Careful About Responding to Social Media Messages
I have been very vocal about being a single mom and do put myself out there. It is part of my brand and I’m not about to stop because of this lunatic. But I have learned to be careful when responding to messages. I have received some very interesting propositions and I do not respond to them. If in doubt, block them.
Ghost Your Snapchat Location
Did you know that there is a way for anyone who follows you on Snapchat to see your location? Go into your settings and “ghost” who can see your location. For me, I had a business page and so many people could see where I was, many of them I did not even know. If your children have Snapchat make sure they are on ghost too!
Remove your Contact Information
This is a very tricky and time-consuming process. Do a Google search of yourself and you will be amazed at how many sites have your contact information. We all freely give out our information to apps and companies and they sell it to other sites. For example, your phone number and address automatically go on White Pages. You have to go to their site and request that it be removed.
Every site that you find your contact information on, email them and ask that it is taken down. This is not a one –time fix. Authorities say that you must constantly be monitoring these types of sites.
Change Your Routine
The reality is that someone may be stalking you and you don’t even know it. Police say that it is a harsh reality and we need to always be aware of that. Experts say to change up your daily routes and activities. This will throw them off.
Keep Your Clean Car
Don’t leave papers, mail or anything that has your information in your car. You never know where they may be looking to gather information.
Have a Safe Word
Discuss a safe word with your family and friends. If you are ever abducted and can get to a phone use that word to alert them that you are in trouble. But make sure it’s not too obvious.
This is the number one piece of advice every police officer and expert gave to me. Get security cameras on your house. They are fairly inexpensive and can be installed easily.
There are so many alarm system options out there and you don’t have to own a house to have one. Systems like Simply Safe can be installed anywhere and can go with you if you decide to move.
Go to the Police
If you do become a victim of harassment or stalking go to your local police. I was hesitant about calling them because I thought that they would not take my case seriously. I was wrong. The Agawam Police Department took my situation very seriously. I was immediately assigned a detective and he was committed to find the person who was doing this to me.
Stand Up For Yourself
The most difficult thing that I had to do was stand in a courtroom while the accused man was standing there. In order for me to get a harassment order I needed to be there. I don’t agree with this and it was terrifying. I do believe the many women do not press charges for fear of seeing their attacker or for retaliation. But if you don’t do it, they could do this to someone else. It is up to you to help put an end to what they are doing. You could be saving someone else’s life.
If you are a victim of harassment or stalking please contact your local police department and get help immediately.