Stalking

Disclaimer: Although this article discusses ways in which stalking targets can fend off their stalkers, we want to emphasize that stalking is NEVER the victim's fault. We hope that the strategies outlined will help stalking victims defend themselves and get out of their situations. We do not intend whatsoever to excuse stalking behaviors or diminish the responsibility of those who choose to stalk. We also do not mean to inspire fear in our readers. As always, we only seek to provide the best information we can.


 

What is Stalking?

The legal definition of stalking varies from region to region, but most legal codes define the act of the stalking as the following: any repetitive-approach behavior done by one party that makes another party fear for their safety. Stalking behaviors can include:

  • Following the “target”

  • Waiting outside the target's home or workplace

  • Physically assaulting the target or a third party

  • Making repeated phone calls

  • Sending unwanted gifts to the target

  • Surveying the target via video or the internet.1

For behaviors to classify as stalking, as opposed to harassment, they usually need to meet the above criteria. It is noteworthy that while harassment has long since been considered a crime, anti-stalking legislation has just recently been written into the law: in 1990, California was the first U.S. state to pass anti-stalking legislation, and many other countries and U.S. States have passed their own legislation.2

Who Stalks and Why?

Stalkers could be anyone with whom the target person has had contact at one time or another: former intimate partners, employers/coworkers, family members, or even strangers (which is the least common stalking scenario). Offenders are frequently noted as having strong sensitivities to rejection, abandonment, and loss. While not all offenders are male, they do comprise about 80% of stalking cases. It is also estimated that 60% of female victims and 33% of male victims were in a prior intimate relationship with the offender; however, the motivation behind the stalking is not always to reunite in a relationship with the target.1 Some experts classify stalking offenders into five groups based on motivation and social functioning:3

1. The Rejected Stalker: an individual who targets a former intimate partner and communicates both romantic and angry feelings to them.

  • The Intimacy-Seeking Stalker: an individual who seeks to obtain the affection of the target due to their own erotomanic delusions.

  • The Incompetent Stalker: an individual who seeks an intimate relationship with the target but realizes that their affection is not reciprocated.

  • The Resentful Stalker: an individual motivated by an insult or wrongdoing (real or imagined) to scare or intimidate the target.

  • The Predatory Stalker: the rarest subgroup, these individuals stalk for the purposes of eventual rape or sexual assault.

How Dangerous are Stalkers?

Even when a stalker is nonviolent (only an estimated 38.7% are violent) the stalker can significantly disrupt their target's life because the target generally experiences feelings of fear and powerlessness.4 It is difficult to judge whether or not an offender will be violent. Stalking will often continue for long periods of time without turning violent, while other times a perceived "harmless" or "shy" stalker can suddenly turn violent or even deadly. Mullen found in a 1999 study that rates of assault varied across the five subgroups. More specifically, rates of violence were positively correlated with the following: threatening behaviors, previous intimate interactions between target and offender, feelings of jealousy, the offender's history of drug/alcohol abuse, the offender's history of violence, and nearer proximity between the target and stalker (situations can range from distant, such as a relationship through e-mail, to close, such as face-to-face contact).5 These indicators were more predictive of violent behavior than the perpetrator's prior psychiatric history, criminal history, prior domestic violence, or prior threats to a third party.1 Also, the stalker's sex and gender have not been found to correlate with likelihood of violence.

Who is Stalked and How does Stalking Affect One's Life?

Popular media tend to sensationalize accounts of celebrities being stalked, as in the case of Monica Seles—the professional tennis player who was stabbed by a man who was obsessed with her rival, Steffi Graf—or television star Rebecca Shaeffer, who was murdered by her stalker. Shaeffer's stalker had gone so far as to move into her apartment building to get close to her.6

In reality, stalkers and their targets come from all walks of life. It is estimated that as many as 1 in every 12 women and 1 in every 50 men will be stalking targets in their lifetime.6 Statistically, men are more likely to have sexual intercourse with their stalker than are women targets.7 Some stalking victims develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).6 Other symptoms reported by targets are anxiety, insomnia, depression, and somatic complaints.1 These findings apply to all cases of stalking, regardless of their comparative intensity.

 

How Can Targets Protect Themselves?

Targets of stalking may find it difficult to report their situation to the authorities because anti-stalking laws can be vague and vary significantly from place to place. Stalking is also particularly difficult to legislate because lawmakers run the risk of criminalizing otherwise ordinary activities (like waiting outside of a building or repeatedly calling the same person).1 Experts recommend that potential stalking targets not make any contact whatsoever with their potential stalkers. Before one can take legal action, there is usually a two-week threshold period. If intrusive behavior continues past the two-week mark, one ought to contact the police. At the very least, the police may want to keep a running log of stalking behaviors.1 The target may want to keep a log of their own—including pictures of the stalker marked with the date and time at which they were taken.

In extreme cases, stalking targets should consider obtaining a restraining order. Experts recommend that targets of extreme stalking take the following steps: arrange for a safehaven you can flee to, keep your emergency numbers on-hand, change your phone numbers and screen your calls, save any of the stalker's messages, and travel with company while frequently varying your routes. Also, local authorities should be able to provide you with resources and professional help. 

 

Cyberstalking  

Some stalkers use the Internet as a stalking tool. Whether the stalking behavior begins online or in the “real world,” cyberstalking can have serious consequences. Cyberstalking can be particularly damaging for people whose social lives or businesses are largely internet based. Cyberstalkers may group up in chat programs to try to convince their targets to commit suicide, or they may obtain their target's personal information and try to find them in person. Social media sites like Facebook can become ideal sources of information for cyber-stalkers. The nature of these networking sites—as well as Internet chat rooms, blogs, and forums—encourages users to disclose personal information that can be viewed by virtually anyone with a computer and an internet connection. By recognizing the threat of cyberstalking and using their privacy settings wisely, people can minimize their chance of falling victim to stalking. Legislators and website moderators are constantly fighting to prevent the possibility of stalking behavior.

 

Cyberstalkers and their Victims

Many cyberstalkers are lured into the practice of stalking by its very ease and anonymity. Cyberstalkers have basic traits similar to stalkers in the physical world, and can also range from sexual predators to identity thieves. Cyberstalkers can target complete strangers or people with whom they already know in real life. Cyberstalkers have a wide range of motives for stalking, which may include (potentially sexual) obsession with the victim, a desire for personal revenge, or a sadistic urge to humiliate and harass the victim.

 

Ways to Minimize the Threat

These internet safety guidelines apply to social media sites as well as chatrooms and Internet forums:

  • Limit the amount of (accurate) private information you provide online. Do not disclose any information that could allow a stalker to contact or locate you. This information may include the city you live in, your workplace, your email address, your phone number, and your date of birth. If you are a young adult, it is especially important that you refrain from disclosing which high school or middle school you attend.

  • Make sure you know the people you add as “friends” on your site. Do not add someone as a friend unless you are sure that you know them.

  • People you talk to over the Internet are often not whom they claim to be. Do not always trust what strangers say about themselves, because there is no way for you to know factual information about their age, sex, location, or true identity.

  • Look into the privacy features of websites like Facebook and Twitter. These sites offer various features that can, for example, only allow your friends to see certain parts of your profile.

  • Be selective about the photos you choose to put on the Internet. Photos can reveal more information about you than you might be aware of. Be careful about posting photos that expose your home address, license plate number, place of employment, neighborhood landmarks, etc.

How to Respond to Cyberstalking

If you believe that you are being stalked on the Internet, it is important that you immediately remove all information about yourself from the web. Do not try to contact the stalker directly—this puts you in danger each time and may encourage the stalker to continue their behavior. Be sure to file a report at your local police station.

 

References

  1. Cling, B.J. ed. Sexualized Violence Against Women and Children: A Psychology and Law Perspective. New York: The Guilford Press. 2004.

  2. Kamphuis, Jan H, Paul M G Emmelkamp, Vivian de Vries. "Informant personality descriptions of post intimate stalkers using the five factor profile". Journal of Personality Assessment. Vol 82(2), Apr 2004, pp. 169-178.

  3. Rosenfeld, Barry. "Violence risk factors in stalking and obsessional harassment: A review and preliminary meta-analysis". Criminal Justice & Behavior. Special Stalking. Vol 31(1), Feb 2004.

  4. Joseph, David I. "Surviving Stalking". Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. Vol 65(3), Mar 2004, pp. 449.

  5. Roberts, Karl A. "Women's Experience of Violence During Stalking by Former Romantic Partners". Violence Against Women. Vol 11(1), Jan 2005, pp. 89-114.

  6. Comer, Ronald J. Abnormal Psychology. fifth edition. New York: Worth Publishers. 2004.

  7. Buss, David M. "Conflict During the Ending and Aftermath of Mating Relationships". SPSP Meeting. New Orleans. Jan 2005.

  8. Purcell, Rosemary, Michele Path, Paul E. Mullen. "Editorial: When do repeated intrusions become stalking?". Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology. Vol 15(4), Dec 2004, pp. 571-583.

  9. Stalking Awareness Month. Stalking Awareness Resource Center of the National Center for Victims of Crime, 2004. Web. 2015. 

 

Last Updated 3 April 2014.

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