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Stalkers and Their Victims
Stalkers and Their Victims Second Edition
Paul E. Mullen Monash University and Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, Victoria, Australia
Michele Pathé Monash University and Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, Victoria, Australia
Rosemary Purcell ORYGEN Research Centre, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo Cambridge University Press The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York www.cambridge.org Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521732413 © P. Mullen, M. Pathé and R. Purcell 2009 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published in print format 2008
Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate. Every effort has been made in preparing this publication to provide accurate and up-to-date information which is in accord with accepted standards and practice at the time of publication. Although case histories are drawn from actual cases, every effort has been made to disguise the identities of the individuals involved. Nevertheless, the authors, editors and publishers can make no warranties that the information contained herein is totally free from error, not least because clinical standards are constantly changing through research and regulation. The authors, editors and publishers therefore disclaim all liability for direct or consequential damages resulting from the use of material contained in this publication. Readers are strongly advised to pay careful attention to information provided by the manufacturer of any drugs or equipment that they plan to use.
page vii ix
Stalking: a problem behaviour
Stalking as a social construction and social reality
The epidemiology of stalking
The victims of stalkers
Stalking typologies and classifications
The rejected stalker and the resentful stalker
The intimacy seeker and the incompetent suitor
The erotomanias and the morbid infatuations
The predatory stalker
Stalking among juveniles
Stalking by proxy
The law as the stalker’s agent
Stalking in the workplace
Stalking of health professionals
Stalking celebrities and other public figures
False victims of stalking
Evaluating and managing risk in the stalking situation
The therapeutic approach to the stalker
Reducing the impact of stalking on victims
Defining and prosecuting the offence of stalking
Appendix: Victim services References Index
295 297 313
Since the first edition of this book was published in 2000 there has been an explosion in the information available about stalking, and several hundred new studies are referenced in this second edition. In the scientific literature, studies have tended to focus on the nature and prevalence of this problem behaviour, as well as on risk assessment and management. The advances in knowledge about the management and protection of victims have also been considerable. Far less progress has occurred in the management of stalkers. The stalker continues to attract the attention of mental health professionals mainly as an object for risk assessment technologies rather than as a potential patient. This is unfortunate, for though not all stalkers are amenable to treatment some are, and their treatment may provide the most effective long-term relief for the victim. This is a book written by clinicians with an interest in research. We all spend part of our working week with stalkers and their victims. Michele Pathé now works mainly with victims but also with the most troubling group of stalkers, those found among predatory sex offenders. Rosie Purcell has a special interest in stalking within institutional settings like universities and companies. Paul Mullen sees a range of stalkers referred from courts and other mental health services. Both Michele Pathé and Paul Mullen have had the opportunity to work with David James and colleagues in the UK on the stalking of royalty and prominent politicians. These experiences influence and shape the approach in this book. We have attempted to provide a clinical, and ultimately a practical, account of a problem behaviour and its impact on both the victims
and the perpetrators. The systematic studies and theoretical accounts provided by other workers in the field, as well as our own research, form the basic material for the book. The manner in which this information is analysed and understood is, however, through our perspective as clinicians concerned both for stalkers and for their victims. In keeping with our clinical bias, regular use is made of case vignettes. These accounts, all from our own clinical practice unless otherwise specified, have been
anonymised by changing names and non-essential features, and sometimes aspects from similar cases have been combined. Our hope is that the book will provide a clear and accessible account which does justice to the complexities of the social, criminal justice, psychological and psychopathological factors in stalking situations. We hope we have succeeded in conveying some of our fascination with the stalking situation and our concern for the victims of this all too common behaviour.
Our sincere thanks to Julie Thompson for her diligence and fortitude in preparing the manuscript. Our thanks also to Dr Rachel MacKenzie and Dr Troy McEwan for their doctoral research and ongoing contributions to this body of work. We are very grateful to Hugh Brazier for his meticulous and good-natured copy-editing. Finally we would like to thank the victims of stalking and the stalkers who provided information through interviews and questionnaires at the cost of their time and their emotional energies, knowing it was in pursuit of our scientific enquiries and not necessarily their own management. Marina Perkovich is a Melbourne-based artist who was born in Croatia. The cover artwork is part of a series entitled Inside the Sick House, which deals with both her experiences as a social worker and her stalking victimisation. Images of her home environment and photographs of custody settings in which she worked are collaged together to create a mysterious world full of foreboding. Marina is currently studying textile design.
1 Stalking: a problem behaviour
Ce grand malheur, de ne pouvoir être seul1 La Bruyère, quoted by Poe (1840)
Introduction Stalkers and stalking are words which have acquired new connotations by being increasingly applied to individuals who persistently pursue or otherwise intrude on others. Stalking has emerged as a social problem which not only commands considerable public attention but is now, in many jurisdictions, a specific form of criminal offence. Stalking is increasingly attracting clinical and research interest among behavioural scientists and mental health professionals. The word stalk refers to the act of following one’s prey, as well as meaning to walk stealthily. To label someone a stalker has been, at least from the sixteenth century, to imply they are a prowler or a poacher (OED, 1989). When the media appropriated the word to describe those who pestered and harassed others they provided a new focus for this ancient indictment. Stalking is now part of our culture’s language. It has become a category with which we describe and understand our experiences. If someone is repeatedly followed by a stranger, or is distressed at receiving numerous unwanted letters from an estranged partner, then, in today’s world, they are likely to describe themselves as being stalked. Looking back over their life, they may now recall having been stalked in the past. At the time they
‘This greatest of misfortunes, not being able to be alone.’
might have described the experience as one of being persistently pestered but now, retrospectively, it is recognised as having been stalked. This is not just the substitution of one word for another. Stalking and being stalked are constructs with particular implications and resonance. Stalking is now a warning of future violence. Stalking is a cause of psychological damage. Stalking is a form of victimisation. Stalkers are dangerous. Stalkers are criminals. Stalkers are disturbed and unpredictable. Stalking implies the inflicting of distress and damage (whether or not the perpetrator consciously intends such damage). Being stalked evokes the self-perception of being violated and hurt. In attributing to ourselves the experience of being stalked (and occasionally of being, or having been, a stalker) we potentially change our evaluation of ourselves. We change our moral judgement of what is occurring. Our expectations alter of what will happen and what we have a right to expect from society. The question of whether this reframing is ‘a good thing’ is not at issue here; what is at issue is recognising the potential changes inherent in the emergence of stalking as a social category. The experience of certain types of interactions and certain forms of relatedness have been changed forever (for further discussion see Chapter 2). The capacity of new social constructs like stalking to reframe the past so as to endow it with new meanings and new resonance is not confined to personal experience. The rediscovery and publishing of the longignored first novel of Louisa May Alcott (1832–88) provides a curious illustration of this phenomenon. A Long Fatal Love Chase was written in 1866, two years prior to Little Women (Alcott, 1997). The plot involves the
Chapter 1: Stalking: a problem behaviour
protracted pursuit of the heroine, Rosamond, by her estranged husband. When Rosamond flees her marriage as a result of discovering both his polygamy and his murderous past he refuses to accept that the relationship is at an end. His reaction is initially portrayed as a desire for reconciliation and a wish to continue their relationship. As she continues to try to escape him he becomes increasingly resentful and angry: ‘with his own unabated passion was now mingled a resentful desire to make her expiate her contempt by fresh humiliation or suffering’ (p. 329). The novel climaxes with the murder of Rosamond and the suicide of her killer, who dies uttering ‘mine first – mine last – mine even in the grave!’ (p. 346). This overheated example of the gothic languished in a university library until resuscitated and published in 1993. It re-emerged as a tale of stalking. On the cover of the paperback version appears the following: ‘He stalked her every step – for she had become his obsession.’ Inside the book are numerous endorsements and quotes from reviews, including this from USA Today: ‘A tale of obsessive love, stalking and murder that seems ripped off today’s tabloids’. Though it might be more correct to say today’s tabloids have endowed this nineteenth-century novel not only with new relevance but with new meaning and a new relationship to our culture’s current preoccupations.
Defining stalking Meloy and Gothard (1995) defined stalking, or, as they prefer to call it, obsessional following, as ‘an abnormal or long-term pattern of threat or harassment directed toward a specific individual’ (p. 259). The pattern of threat or harassment was further clarified as being ‘more than one overt act of unwanted pursuit of the victim that was perceived by the victim as being harassing’, though more than one may seem a generous rendering of a long-term pattern. Meloy (1998b) further states that in distinction to legal definitions, which are set forth to define and prosecute criminal behaviour, this definition was designed to further scientific investigation and clinical understanding. The advantage of this definition is that it directs attention to actions which
are repeated and are perceived as unwanted by the object of these attentions. A further potential strength of this definition is that, disavowals notwithstanding, it closely parallels many of the statutory definitions of the offence of stalking. Pathé and Mullen (1997) define stalking as ‘a constellation of behaviours in which one individual inflicts on another repeated unwanted intrusions and communications’ (p. 12). The intrusions are further characterised as ‘following, loitering nearby, maintaining surveillance and making approaches’ and the communications via ‘letter, the telephone, electronic mail, graffiti or notes attached, for example, to the victim’s car’ (p. 12). To which can now be added texting, which is often the youthful stalker’s prime method of communication. The authors added that, though not part of the core and defining behaviours, there were also the associated activities of ordering goods on the victim’s behalf, interfering with their property, making false accusations and vexatious complaints, issuing threats, and in some cases assaulting the victim. Pathé and Mullen (1997) attempt a definition which can be operationalised and which depends on observable activities, except with the qualification that the activities be unwanted by the victim. It defines a course of conduct but, as it stands, offers no temporal or numerical limits to that conduct. In a subsequent publication, these authors suggested that to constitute stalking the behaviour should consist of at least 10 separate intrusions and/or communications, with the conduct spanning a period of at least four weeks (Mullen et al., 1999). This was an intentionally conservative set of limitations which ensured that the study group consisted unequivocally of stalkers. Westrup (1998) suggested that stalking behaviour be defined as ‘one or more of a constellation of behaviours that (a) are directed repeatedly towards a specific individual (the target), (b) are experienced by the target as unwelcome and intrusive, and (c) are reported to trigger fear or concern in the target’ (p. 276). Subsequent research (see Chapter 3) has suggested that the overarching term stalking encompasses at least two separable problem behaviours. The first typically lasts only a day or so and consists of repeated approaches and following, usually by a stranger or casual
contact. These brief periods of harassment usually either arise from inept attempts to start a relationship, or are expressions of anger at some supposed slight or injury. The second pattern is characterised by extended, but usually less intense, unwanted intrusions typically lasting for many months. This is usually perpetrated by ex-intimates or acquaintances. In these more extended episodes of stalking, unwanted communications are more prominent, as are the associated behaviours including threats and violence. It has been found empirically that it is possible to separate the stalking characterised by brief, but often intense, intrusions from the more extended pattern of stalking behaviours (Purcell et al., 2004a). Those stalking episodes which continue beyond two weeks will typically continue for many months, whereas those that ceased prior to two weeks will largely have only lasted a day or so. This bimodal distribution of very brief versus extended patterns suggests that they may be separate phenomena (for further discussion see Chapter 3). A third pattern of stalkinglike behaviour, termed obsessive relational intrusion, may be provided by the overenthusiastic, over-hopeful and insensitive courtship practices of some young people who repeatedly intrude on someone, usually from their general social circle, with whom they desire a relationship (Spitzberg & Rhea, 1999; Cupach & Spitzberg, 2000a, 2000b; Spitzberg & Cupach, 2003). The targets of this misplaced ardour have not responded positively to the advances, but to be fair have often not clearly rejected them either. Unlike the previously described stalking, irritation rather than fear is the usual reaction of the victim, and a more robust rejection may terminate hope and with it the behaviour. Given that most definitions emphasise that stalking is a course of conduct involving repeated actions, the behaviour must occur on more than one occasion – but how many more times than one? Meloy and Gothard (1995) opt for two or more instances, and in this they are in accord with most statutory definitions of the crime of stalking (for a full discussion of the legal discourse on stalking see Chapter 23). Thus by their definition the ex-partner who makes a second unwanted phone call to a sensitive erstwhile mate potentially enters the ranks of stalkers. Equally, so does the hopeful suitor who puts himself for a second time in the way of
the woman he desires, if as a result she feels harassed. The problem with such a low threshold is that it leaves little if any gap between stalking and those behaviours which may well be irritating but are certainly extremely common. By placing the lower end of the spectrum of stalking so close to many mundane activities, one captures a very wide range of commonplace behaviours. On the other hand, why shouldn’t a woman followed home by a strange man on two sequential nights be eligible to claim that she is a victim of stalking? The impetus to cast the net as widely as possible in defining stalking reflects at least three influences. The first is the tendency noted by Westrup (1998) to conflate stalking as a description of surreptitious following with stalking as the overarching term for a variety of unwanted attempts to maintain contact. Being followed on one occasion is, for most of us, an unsettling experience – and when it is repeated most reasonable people would become concerned about their safety. This is all the more so if the follower is a man, unknown, or, worse still, is known to hold a grudge. Secondly, stalking is constructed, particularly by law enforcement agencies, as a warning sign of imminent violence. If stalking is viewed primarily as the harbinger of assault then the quicker it is recognised and responded to the better. The third is that more than once seems less arbitrary than more than five, more than 10, more than 17 times. Nobody would want to advise a terrified victim who has had a man stand outside the house all night looking up at the window on nine consecutive nights that, according to Mullen et al. (1999), they had another night to go before they could claim they were being stalked. Central to the concern not to place an inevitably arbitrary barrier to the recognition and potential response to stalking is the proper concern to respond to fear and distress in a potential victim. The resolution of the dilemma of the threshold for the number of intrusions which constitute stalking should, we believe, be a function of the purpose for which the behaviours are being labelled as stalking. The law may plausibly claim a need to respond promptly in pursuit of public safety to the first signs of risk. Given the all too often tardy and partial responses of police and the courts to even gross and extended stalking activities, anxieties about overreaction may seem misplaced.
Chapter 1: Stalking: a problem behaviour
It should be noted, however, that the low threshold for committing a stalking offence tempts police to use this as a so-called ‘loading’ charge to add on to other offences. At our clinic we have seen a number of men charged with stalking in association with child molestation offences where the so-called stalking was integral to the sexual offence. One man was charged with stalking on the basis of following a child around a playground and subsequently approaching the child in the street where he exposed himself. The two approaches were enough to trigger the stalking charge, which in our jurisdiction carries a potential sentence many times greater than that for the indecent act of exhibitionism. Though the child molester’s plight may evoke little sympathy, the use of anti-stalking laws in this context risks diluting their effectiveness in situations where no other legal protections exist. If penalties for indecent exposure to children are inadequate the solution is to change the penalty. To inappropriately employ antistalking laws which are still in the process of having their role and scope determined by the criminal justice system puts in jeopardy reforms whose purpose was to extend protection to a previously ignored group of victims. If we place only brief time constraints on the behaviour which constitutes stalking, then walking past someone and looking at them on three or four occasions in the space of an hour or so at, for example, an open-air market could conceivably be construed as stalking. And in fact was, in one case we evaluated. Equally, to return to our example of the nocturnal observer outside the front gate, is it reasonable to deny the protection of the law until two weeks have elapsed? It would be comforting to believe that common sense would arbitrate between irritating but broadly sanctioned behaviours and those which are sufficiently intrusive and so potentially fear-inducing as to justify their being labelled, and potentially prosecuted, as stalking. But such common sense depends on shared common values. It is at least arguable that the emergence of stalking as an issue reflects a process of change, if not fragmentation, in our culture’s previously shared notions of privacy, personal safety and the proper limits on the forms of contact and approach sanctioned by courtship and even marriage. Central to the construction
of stalking are the perceptions of the person who is the object of the unwanted attentions that these behaviours are harassing and frightening. It is not the intentions of the putative stalker that are the defining element, but the reactions of the recipient of the unwanted attention who, in the act of experiencing themselves as victimised, creates a stalking event. In the final analysis, stalking lies in the eye of the beholder. Stalking is those repeated acts, experienced as unpleasantly intrusive, which create apprehension and which can be understood by a reasonable fellow citizen (the ordinary man or woman) to be grounds for becoming fearful. A case example will illustrate the extent to which perpetrator and victim may construct the behaviours differently. CASE EXAMPLE When first seen, Patrick was in prison on remand for charges relating to the stalking of his ex-wife. His imprisonment had followed the repeated phoning and approaching of his ex-wife despite both his bail conditions and a previous court order which specifically forbade such contact. He was a practising Catholic, married five years with one child. He regarded marriage as a permanent union. From his perspective he had fulfilled all his obligations to his wife and child: he had worked long hours to provide a substantial income, he had never, whilst they were together, been threatening, let alone violent. He believed he had always been loving and considerate, and he had never even looked at another woman. He had complied, albeit reluctantly, when his wife asked him to move out of the marital home for what he claimed she said would be a brief period because she ‘needed space’ and had ‘some personal issues’. When, however, a few weeks later she had indicated she wished the separation to become permanent, he described himself as devastated. He saw his behaviour over the subsequent year as reasonable and constituting legitimate attempts to attain a reconciliation with his estranged wife. He claimed his repeated phone calls and multiple attempts to approach his wife simply indicated how important she was to him and how enthusiastic he was for a reconciliation. Following her and watching the house at night were in his view the natural result of her seeing another man with sufficient frequency to stimulate in him fears about her fidelity. He acknowledged that on occasions he had become enraged by his wife’s repeated rejections of his advances and that he had several times threatened her and on one occasion torn up the garden fence when refused entry to the house. Though he was prepared to accept he should not have lost control he was firmly of the view
Stalking as popular, legal and scientific discourses
that any reasonable man in his position would have been likely to have responded in a similar way. Patrick was an enormous man, standing over two metres and weighing more than 120 kg, but, in his view, he couldn’t be held responsible for his size and it was of no relevance that he might have been seen as intimidating. Patrick was an intelligent man who was perfectly capable of calculating his own advantage. Despite this he had given the magistrate, who told him he must not continue trying to contact his estranged wife, an extended and forceful lecture on the magistrate’s moral failings in trying to put asunder those whom God had joined. At a later stage he gave the Parole Board a similar piece of his mind. Such outbursts, he was aware, virtually guaranteed his detention, but he felt he could not in all decency refrain. The estranged wife’s perspective was clear from her various statements to police and from two thorough victim impact reports prepared as part of the court’s consideration of sentencing options. She had been initially attracted to Patrick because he seemed so strong and stable, and at that time in her life, following the breakdown of a previous relationship, these had been important qualities. She stated she had wanted them to live together but she had acquiesced in his wishes for marriage. From her perspective the relationship had soon foundered as she was exposed to the extent of Patrick’s demanding dependence. She stated she felt as if she had a family of two small children, not one. She described repeated attempts to negotiate a separation, which Patrick had ignored, threatening suicide should she leave. Her statements did not attempt to hide that she had established a new relationship with an old boyfriend prior to finally persuading Patrick to move out. Nor did she deny that she had managed finally to evict Patrick by misleading him into believing this was a temporary separation. Equally clear was the devastating impact of Patrick’s repeated intrusions on his ex-wife. She was terrified. She described barricading herself in her house, never going out without an escort, being too frightened to answer the phone, being constantly vigilant, expecting yet another intrusion. She reported fearing not only for her own life but for that of her child. She had broken off her relationship with the other man for fear of further provoking Patrick. She now lived the life of a recluse. For the first time in her life she was using sleeping tablets, and she had been prescribed antidepressants. Over the subsequent two years, Patrick spent several periods in prison and made two serious suicide attempts. His estranged wife finally fled to another state, changing her name, breaking off all contact with friends and family and attempting to ‘disappear’. Two lives were devastated, and that ignores the possible impact on their child. Patrick’s sense of entitlement
to his wife and child are unchanged. He still believes he acted in the only ways open to him.
This was a clear case of stalking in the context of a relationship breakdown. Patrick’s behaviour was not only illegal but would probably be regarded by most of his fellow citizens as unconscionable. Not so long ago, however, in most Western societies it would have been the ex-wife’s behaviour that would have been likely to attract most criticism, if not frank outrage. There are still many societies in which the premises that Patrick appealed to in justification of his behaviour would find considerable resonance among established practice and even legal entitlements. Stalking is new, partly because of changes in our society’s understanding of the nature of the relationships between people.
Stalking as popular, legal and scientific discourses In the late 1980s the term stalking came to be used by the media to describe the behaviour of the unwanted followers of the famous. Initially it was the paparazzi to whom the label was applied, only later being attached to disordered fans (Nicol, 2006). It was then extended to include those who harassed ex-partners, co-workers, casual acquaintances and a whole range of fellow citizens. The intense media attention which stalking and stalkers attracted, and continues to attract, has generated a public consciousness and concern, which has found political expression in a series of anti-stalking laws. As discussed in Chapter 23, the first such law was enacted in California, with the other states in the Union clamouring to follow suit, the sole exception being Maine. Currently, most Western nations have either passed anti-stalking laws or are in the process of doing so. The legal definitions of stalking are often framed in response to local preoccupations, be it with protecting the famous, preventing the harassment of ex-partners or strengthening the laws against persistent nuisance. The emergence of what has amounted to a new category of criminal behaviour in its turn has generated interest amongst mental health professionals and behavioural scientists, particularly
Chapter 1: Stalking: a problem behaviour
those working within the criminal justice area and forensic mental health services. Stalking has generated, almost simultaneously, (1) a legal discourse, particularly around how to define the offence of stalking, (2) a popular discourse, carried forward with no signs of flagging interest, not only in the media but through novels, films and television drama, and finally (3) a scientific discourse. The scientific discourse initially focused on the nature and motivations of stalkers, and on the impact on the victims. Today the focus is also on evaluating the risks presented by stalkers, together with an emerging interest in how best to manage stalkers and relieve the distress of their victims. This emergence of a new way of describing and talking about the world provides an opportunity to examine how these popular, legal and scientific discourses have developed and interacted, and in turn how they have created new categories of fear, crime and scientific study. The rapid acceptance of the word’s new connotations and purpose was in large part because the categories of stalking and stalker filled a need which, if not perceived previously, became obvious once coined and accepted. It defined an area of human behaviour that caused distress to others. The behaviour itself is not new, but once labelled it could in rapid succession be discussed, defined, prohibited and studied. In short, the coining of the word stalking and its establishment as a significant social problem allowed us to recognise and act upon a previously unregarded area of human activity. Stalking, like any form of complex human activity, can be the end point of a range of intentions and influences. Similarly, like many other forms of behaviour which cause distress to others, it lies towards the extreme end of a spectrum of activities ranging from the usually accepted and mundane to the terrifying and fortunately rare. One of the consequences of the identification and naming of stalking as a form of deviance has been to focus attention on which types of related behaviour are, in current society, acceptable, questionable or to be outlawed. The carving off of certain forms of activity, usually aimed at establishing or maintaining interpersonal contact, as not only unacceptable, but criminal and deviant, has occurred with scant discussion of boundary problems outside of law journals.
Little attempt has been made to reconcile the emerging ideas of what constitutes stalking with what in marginal cases amounts to a disjunction between the intentions and attitudes of those involved in establishing a relationship or negotiating an end to a relationship. The legal literature has focused extensively on legitimate versus criminal following and intrusion, as well as subjective versus objective definitions of offending. This has, however, been strictly within discussions of legal process and the framing of effective legislation. In part, the uncritical acceptance of stalking as a social evil has been because initially the actions so described were so obviously dangerous to the victim. Prominent among the first well-publicised cases of stalking were examples in which the victim was eventually murdered by the stalker. That many stalkers are at best a distressing nuisance and at worst dangerous is beyond dispute, but this still leaves unresolved the boundary issues. In, for example, an ex-partner, where is the line which divides the acceptable pursuit of reconciliation and the stalking of that erstwhile love? In the would-be suitor, how many phone calls denote enthusiasm, and how many stalking? In the dismissed worker, how many angry letters and enquiries constitute the legitimate pursuit of clarification and assertion of rights, and how many stalking? This book will attempt not only to describe unequivocally damaging stalking behaviours but also to examine the boundaries and continuities between stalking and related forms of human behaviour. Stalking is a problem because it evokes distress and even fear in the object of the unwanted attention. There are real grounds in some cases for victims to fear for their physical safety, and even for their lives. Equally, there are good reasons to suppose the disruptions produced by persistent stalking will have deleterious effects on the victim’s mental health. It should not be forgotten that the lives of the stalkers are also severely disrupted by their actions. At the root of much stalking lie such states as loneliness, the pain of loss, nostalgia and the longing for intimacy. This is not to excuse, or to argue for some equivalence of suffering, merely to state the obvious: in many cases of stalking both victim and perpetrator have everything to gain from resolution and an end to the behaviour. The successful management
The archaeology of stalking
of stalking, it will be argued in this book, requires that the stalker be exposed to an appropriate balance of therapeutic help and legal sanction. For some, such as the individual with erotomanic delusions, treatment is paramount. In the calculating and vengeful ex-partner, confrontation with the personal costs of continuing to stalk, in terms of legal consequences, can have a gratifyingly salutary influence. For most stalkers a mixture of external treatment and control is optimal. Victims, even if the burden of the stalking has been relieved, are often left sufficiently traumatised to be in need of considerable help. In those still being stalked, practical help and appropriate support may go some way to relieving the burden and speeding its removal. The question of how certain activities come to be identified as stalking has only occasionally been directly considered. As already emphasised, it is the victim who ultimately defines stalking, but what are the cues for recognising oneself as being stalked? Emerson et al. (1998) attempt to address this question by considering stalking as a social process. They base their analysis on a variety of accounts of individuals who had been followed and harassed. They argue that ‘stalking is keyed to a variety of hitches and disjunctures surrounding relational coming together and splitting apart’ (p. 295). What they describe as the ‘core dynamic’ is a one-sided attempt to create or sustain a close relationship. Central is the notion of one party being indifferent or opposed to the establishing or reestablishing of a relationship, with the other party eager for such an outcome. Many intimate relationships begin with the meeting of strangers. The encounter with another person who is either previously unknown or largely unregarded is a common but nonetheless charged event. This is particularly true when the context is one which promises the beginning of an important relationship. As we move from encountering someone to relating to that person we travel across a complex social and interpersonal minefield. Traversing the pitfalls which lie between encountering and relating is rarely straightforward. The opportunities are many, not just for failure but for producing unsolicited responses of anger or fear. Perceiving the other as intrusive and harassing, and oneself as stalked, can be a measure of the experienced
disjunction between the intentions and perceptions of the protagonist of the relationship and that of the unwilling object of those aspirations. When intimate relationships founder and fail one partner usually perceives (or even pursues) the termination before the other. Again this is fruitful ground for those disjunctions which make possible the self-definitions of being a stalking victim. In the quest for a new intimacy the initiator risks being defined as a stalker. In the dissolution of intimacy it is the initiator of the break-up who risks provoking a response in which they experience themselves as a stalking victim. In both situations the reactions of the target may play a part in provoking or sustaining the stalker’s intrusive behaviours. Each and every struggle towards, or away from, intimacy does not inevitably occur under the threat of the evocation of the label stalking. Any unlucky individual could find themselves accused of being a stalker by an oversensitive, overanxious or even self-serving target of their affections. In practice, however, most reasonable individuals give a fair degree of latitude to those whose advances they intend to resist or reject. Sometimes that generosity stems from guilt, sometimes from sympathy, occasionally from simple politeness, but it is usually offered. In most cases the pursuer needs to be possessed of a good dose of insensitivity and an overwhelming sense of entitlement to place themselves at risk of their behaviour being construed as stalking.
The archaeology of stalking The emergence of stalking as a term for a particularly egregious form of harassment has clarified and specified the possible perspectives from which repeated unwanted intrusions can properly be viewed. It has also constrained the extent to which similar behaviours can be presented in a positive light. One construction of courtly love was the unrequited love of the persistent suitor who merely admired from afar the unattainable perfections of the loved one (see Singer, 1987). The great Italian poets Petrarch (1304–74) and Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) both celebrated in
Chapter 1: Stalking: a problem behaviour
their works lifelong devotions to women with whom they had had little or no actual contact. Dante writes of his love of Beatrice in La Vita Nuova (c. 1292). Though some have held Beatrice to be a symbol, she is usually identified with Beatrice Portinari. For Dante she is ‘an abstract, almost allegorical, embodiment of beauty, goodness and the other perfections’ (Singer, 1987, p. 156). T. S. Eliot (1930) regarded Dante as having a pathological obsession with Beatrice, with whom he has no real contact but whom he nevertheless uses as the focus and inspiration of his idealised love. Petrarch had a similar infatuation and idealised love for Laura (thought to be Laura de Noves, married 1325, died 1348, the mother of 11 children). It is not the reality of Beatrice or Laura but entirely their imagined properties which moves these poets. De Rougemont (1950) writes: ‘but here again the woman, whether absent or present, is never but the occasion for a torment he cherishes above all else’ (p. 178). Petrarch wrote of Laura, ‘I know to follow while I flee my fire: I freeze when present: absent my desire is hot’ (quoted in de Rougemont, 1950). We don’t know in what manner Dante pursued his Beatrice (though the Pre-Raphaelites portray him as furtively spying). It is not known whether Laura felt harassed by Petrarch’s 365 daily poems, assuming he sent them to their inspiration (number 366 was dedicated to the Virgin Mary). What is clear is that for their contemporaries, and for many generations to come, Dante and Petrarch were a subject not of scandal but of admiration. Western society at that period accepted as an ideal an autistic love constructed by a man out of projections and fantasies which took no account of the realities or feelings of the actual woman. To be fair to these renaissance lovers, it could be argued that they embodied one essential element of the process of romantic love. Scheler (1954, originally published 1912) says the joy of love comes primarily from the act of loving, not from the delights provided by the one loved. Love for Scheler is also a movement that tends to enhance value in the one loved. Thus Dante and Petrarch may well have accessed part of the joy of loving through their distant infatuations. Beatrice and Laura, in their relatively small society, may not have remained entirely ignorant of the great literary appreciation directed at them, and perhaps it is not pushing
extrapolation too far to imagine them gaining some greater sense of their own value and place in the world. Whatever the reality for those long-dead white men, they certainly point to a possible element in the intimacy-seeking stalker, that of indulging the joy of being in love. Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55), the Danish philosopher, theologian and founder member of the existential elite, wrote a curious collection of pieces published as Either/Or (1987, originally published 1843). The first volume, Either, is ostensibly written by ‘A’, a young self-styled aesthete, and includes the narrative The Seducer’s Diary. This is said to be the fictionalised account of Kierkegaard’s pursuit of a young woman, Regine Olsen, renamed Cordelia Wahl in the book. The pursuit consists of surreptitious following, spying upon her, gathering information about her and engineering repeated encounters in public places. Kierkegaard in the fictionalised account describes his (or A’s) first contact with the supposed beloved as follows: A figure appears, enveloped to the eyes in a cape. It is not possible to see where he is coming from … He passes by you just as you are entering the front door. At precisely the crucial moment a sidelong glance falls on its object. You blush; your bosom is too full to unburden itself in a single breath. There is indignation in your glance, a proud contempt. There is a plea, a tear in your eye, both are equally beautiful. I accept them both with equal right … I certainly shall meet her again sometime; I certainly shall recognise her, and she may recognise me – my sidelong glance is not forgotten so easily … I promise she will recall the situation. No impatience, no greediness – everything will be relished in slow draughts; she is selected, she will be overtaken. (pp. 314–15)
In the author’s mind a relationship is created in the moment of eye contact. It is for him an exchange: an exchange of vows, a moment of recognition and reciprocity. The ‘she may recognise me’ at some time in the future is rapidly superseded by ‘she will recall the situation’. The relationship is established, albeit autistically. His claim ‘she is selected, she will be overtaken’ takes no account of her; it is a statement of entitlement. The relationship established is for A one of worship and service: ‘my beautiful stranger … I am at your service in every way’ (p. 320). There is a recognition that at least in the first few weeks there is no real reciprocity, only
The archaeology of stalking
the hope and expectation of a favourable response: ‘in a certain sense my profits are meagre but then I do have the prospect of the grand prize’ (p. 326). The course of the following, manufactured contacts, and information gathering is documented in the form of a diary. He follows her ‘with the intention of passing by her and dropping behind her many times until I discovered where she lived’ (p. 333). He spies: ‘I will know who you are – why else do you think the police keep census records?’ (p. 327). He watches her house – ‘Today I learned something about the house into which she disappeared’ (p. 337) – and plans, for ‘if it is necessary for me to gain entrance to the house … I am prepared’ (p. 338). The behaviours appear to us to be those of stalking, although this is not how either Kierkegaard or his contemporaries would have constructed this story, even assuming the vocabulary existed for such a labelling. Even more interesting is the description of the internal world A creates for himself. First there is the fantasy of the loved one’s inevitable succumbing. Then he bestows on her characteristics, desires and intentions in a vacuum, for at this stage he knows only her appearance and the appearance of her house. She ‘lives in a world of fantasy’ (p. 341). He is convinced that ‘she is an isolated person’ (p. 339), that she is ‘proud’ (p. 342), she has ‘imagination, spirit, passion’ and even ‘maybe at particular moments she wishes that she were not a girl but a man’ (p. 343). It is difficult to avoid the suspicion that the beloved is being constructed, or reconstructed, in the image of the lover. A rich world is created out of glimpsed moments and stolen observations. The Seducer’s Diary seems a window into the world of one particular type of person we would now call a stalker. But is Kierkegaard’s account really that of stalking, and to what extent is it, as is often assumed, a true account of his initial pursuit of Regine Olsen? Regine Olsen did eventually have an actual relationship with Kierkegaard, though it didn’t last. She survived him, living until 1904 and becoming a celebrity on the basis of The Seducer’s Diary. Her later memories of Kierkegaard are not those of the stalker but of the man she eventually met and to whom for a time she was engaged. Kierkegaard remained preoccupied (even obsessed) with Regine for the rest of his life and
even in his last will and testament claimed ‘my estate is her [Regine’s] due exactly as if I had been married to her’ (Kierkegaard, 1996, p. 657). The extent to which The Seducer’s Diary accurately portrays the actions and mental life of Kierkegaard in his early pursuit of Regine Olsen must remain questionable. It could be more fictional than factual, it could conflate (or even transpose) other episodes of such stalking-like behaviour. Kierkegaard (1996) claimed that ‘The Seducer’s Diary was written for her sake, to help repulse her’ (p. 417). What it does unquestionably is to provide an insight into the thinking and behaviour of someone who we would now label a stalker. At the time, however, A could have legitimately, in the eyes of his culture and his contemporaries, styled himself a lover. We do not know the impact on the victim, who must, to some extent, have been aware of the undeclared observer. If this is an account of the stalking of Ms Olsen it is difficult to retrospectively view her as unduly disturbed, let alone traumatised, given that she later accepted his attentions and offer of marriage, and given that she accepted, in later life, the role of the eminent philosopher’s great love. We would speculate that the experience of being followed and spied upon would have been very different for Regine Olsen in the Copenhagen of the mid nineteenth century than it would be for a teenager (she was 16 or 17 years old) in London or New York at the beginning of the twentyfirst century. The man, though unknown, would not have been a stranger in the same sense, for his identity, if not already suspected, could easily be established in the relatively small community. His appearance would have defined him in terms of probable social class and role to a far greater extent than in today’s world. His behaviour would have had acceptable explanations in terms of the shy suitor, the gauche admirer or even the romantic stranger. The threatening and sinister were not imminent to anything like the same degree in the attentions of a stranger. John Updike (1997) describes Kierkegaard’s behaviour as revealed in The Seducer’s Diary as convoluted gallantry, though he does also describe it as stalking. Updike gives stalking a curious resonance, however, when he writes, ‘The hero’s long and loving stalking of a girl too young to approach provides, in fiction
Chapter 1: Stalking: a problem behaviour
as in reality, the peak of erotic excitement’ (p. xiii). Kierkegaard’s alter ego A does not appear in The Seducer’s Diary to be desisting from direct contact because Cordelia is a schoolgirl, so the reader is left in some doubt as to whose reality it is that finds stalking young girls the peak of erotic excitement. That such people exist will become clear as this book progresses; that Kierkegaard was an example is, one can hope, a misinterpretation.
Conclusions Stalking is a problem behaviour which is characterised by repeated attempts to impose unwanted communications and/or contacts on another in a manner which could be expected to cause distress and/or fear in any reasonable person. The core features of stalking are often accompanied by other harassing
behaviours, including ordering or cancelling goods and services on the victim’s behalf, making vexatious complaints and perhaps most importantly threats and violence. Stalking usually emerges out of two broad contexts. The first is the attempt to establish, re-establish or impose a relationship on another who has either made clear their disinterest or has not even been consulted on the matter. The second is to retaliate for some perceived injustice. Stalking behaviours have been clearly described in the legal, psychiatric and fictional texts for generations. What is new is not the behaviour but the naming of this course of conduct and the initiation of popular, legal and scientific discourses about the nature of the behaviour, its effects, and how it can be remedied. This book sets out to illuminate those discourses, with an emphasis on the rapidly expanding empirical and theoretical literature on stalking.
2 Stalking as a social construction and social reality
Introduction Stalking as a word to describe the course of conduct involving imposing unwanted and potentially frightening communication and contacts has a relatively short history. It is possible to trace the expanding range of behaviours and contexts to which the term stalking has been applied. With the changing usage the term stalking has acquired a changing resonance. Not so long ago stalking was dismissed as a curiosity produced by celebrity and confined to the overheated culture of California. Now it confronts us as a social problem throughout the industrialised world. From a rare culturebound syndrome to a common criminal activity: the progress can be understood as the development of a new conceptualisation of pre-existing activities in which new meanings are attached to behaviours and events once viewed in isolation but now synthesised into a single entity. This process of social construction is to be understood primarily as the accumulation of attributions of meaning (Hacking, 1995, 1998). Developing a new way to understand the world is, however, only part of the story. Stalking is a social construction, but it is also a pattern of behaviour which emerges from the concrete lived experience of certain individuals in response to particular social and cultural contexts. To label a behaviour as stalking is a new way of talking about the world which has led to new ways of understanding and responding. What is now termed stalking could represent the exposure of previously obscured reality, or it could be useful fiction, like fugue states in their time and post-traumatic stress disorder in our time. If stalking were pure social construction
(assuming such could exist), what would be new would be the conceptualisation. If stalking were a pure discovery about reality, what would be new would be the behaviour, or at least the ability to recognise the behaviour for what it is. In our view it is both construction and the recognition of a specific form of behaviour.
The emergence of a social construction of stalking In an outstanding article Lowney and Best (1995) examined the emergence of the construction of stalking as a social problem. They examined media coverage between 1980 and 1994 in the form of newspapers, tapes of television and radio broadcasts and magazine articles, together with scholarly journals and court and congressional proceedings. The focus was on how and in what form claims about stalking were brought to public attention, and how this led to the construction of a new crime problem. They identified three phases, or periods, in the emergence of stalking as a widely recognised social problem. The first period described by Lowney and Best (1995) was from 1980 to 1988, when there were articles and discussions under such headings as psychological rape and obsessive following. The word stalking hardly ever appeared. The psychological rape and obsessive following which manifested in various forms of sexual harassment and intrusiveness were typified by the non-violent, but persistent, pursuit of a victim (usually, but not exclusively, female). The victims, though distressed and exposed by the limitations of the criminal
Chapter 2: Stalking as a social construction and social reality
justice system’s ability to protect them, were nevertheless often portrayed as at least partly complicit in their plight. Though the behaviours were accepted as problematic they were not ‘packaged and presented so as to command public attention’ (p. 39). The second phase, from 1989 to 1991, was, Lowney and Best (1995) argue, marked by the increasing use of the term stalker, usually in the form of star stalkers. These were men and women who persistently followed and harassed the famous. The murder of the actress Rebecca Schaeffer by a disordered fan, Robert Bardo, gave a dramatic focus to this new construction. Victims were now celebrities, and the perpetrators typically mentally disturbed and/or inappropriately obsessed with their victims. Stalking becomes a form of random violence for which the victim bears no responsibility. The behaviour of the stalker was now seen as the harbinger of violence, and often as the product of mental disorder. The new construction captured public attention, captured the attention and harnessed the energies of the media and entertainment industries, and finally captured both the attention and (self) interest of the law makers. The final construction articulated by Lowney and Best (1995) was the redefinition, in the period 1992–4, of stalking as a product of failed relationships and male violence. Stalking was reframed as a ‘women’s issue, a widespread precursor to serious violence … a common problem … a form of domestic violence against women’ (pp. 42–3). These authors illustrate how juxtaposing domestic violence and stalking could create new evidence. Thus a statement that 90% of women killed by their partners had previously called the police was equated with 90% having previously been stalked. This in turn generated the claim that nine women a day (in the USA) are killed by stalkers. Stalking had been reconstructed into a violent crime, usually committed against women by former or current husbands or lovers and also labelled by some as an ‘epidemic’ (e.g. Gilligan, 1992). The new construction virtually excluded psychological explanations, let alone psychiatric accounts, of the perpetrator’s motivations. Typifying examples of stalking, when not an extension of the battering of women, feature children and adolescents as victims. Such examples made the stalking child molester’s
responsibilities clear, and the essentially evil nature of the perpetrator manifest. Stalking’s emergence as a social issue and a new category of crime shares features with other similar categories which have come to prominence, including child sexual abuse, mugging and road rage (Scott, 1995; Fergusson & Mullen, 1999). Each in their different ways has acquired the status of social facts whose existence is no longer challenged. The process of constructing a social problem, for example child abuse, has been conceptualised as occurring in the four overlapping stages of discovery, diffusion, consolidation and reification (Parton, 1979; Scott, 1995).
Discovery The key question about the ‘discovery’ of stalking is why these particular forms of harassing behaviours were defined as a special problem at that particular historical moment, and why stalking suddenly gained such prominence. As has been emphasised, there was nothing new about behaving in the manner we now call stalking, nor in considering such behaviour a problem. What was new was increasingly regarding such behaviour as a problem separable from other forms of inappropriate intrusiveness and as having peculiarly sinister implications. The discovery of stalking does not reflect a single influence but the concatenation of a number of trends and concerns, many of which had remained inchoate before the concept and the very word stalking gave them a medium for expression. These included: 1. The last 30 years are marked by an increasing public concern about privacy and the capacity of others to monitor and pry into the lives of fellow citizens. These concerns were particularly acute for those in the public eye, who were more and more the object of the intrusions of gossip columnists, photographers (the paparazzi), investigative journalists and the multiplicity of TV and radio shows which claimed to expose or reveal the doings of the famous. For the famous, be they entertainers, politicians, sports people or royalty, nothing was now sacred. Every action, or rumour of action, was potentially grist for the exposure mill. Alongside the increasing availability of information about celebrities came
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a different way of presenting celebrity. Magazines, radio and above all television attempted to create a sense of pseudo-intimacy between the audience and not just presenters and celebrities but even the fictional characters of sitcoms. This manufacture of a sense of connectedness succeeded all too well for some vulnerable and lonely souls. For ordinary citizens a similar dialectic was on the move. The combination of information technologies with institutional suspiciousness about fraud and deception, or just the benign hope of keeping track of the services and benefits customers were entitled to, has led to the accumulation of vast databases on each and every one of us. In Australia, for example, in theory it would be possible to trace your every contact with a medical practitioner, virtually every prescription you have taken to a chemist, your hospital and mental health records, a complete credit record, every contact with the police as victim or offender, your education record, your international travel record, and any benefits or government loans you have accessed, to say nothing of records kept by commercial organisations on your buying habits, your computer usage and your favoured internet sites. In the UK you could add miles of video footage of your walking the public streets. In the USA you could add phone conversations and covert surveillance, should you have raised political anxieties, plus drug screens at work and at play. To even enter the USA currently some 30 pieces of information are demanded, many of a patently private nature. In the modern world we are not just potentially naked but transparent, should those with authority, or the covert skills, wish to expose us. With so little real privacy, the appearance of privacy becomes all. Privacy legislation abounds. As clinicians and researchers we are effectively impeded from accessing information or sharing information which would benefit our patients and our science: the very same information that any minor functionary can access with ease, and which governments and companies claim to own. We are painfully aware that true privacy is dead, so we value the ghosts and appearances of privacy in its absence. As a result we tend to feel observed, intruded upon and vulnerable.
Not being able to influence corporations and government agencies, we become more sensitive to the intrusions of those like ourselves, who at least we can try to keep at a distance. 2. There has occurred over the last century or so a continuing change in how people experience themselves in relation to other members of their society. The emergence of large conurbations inevitably led to people living among those about whom they had no knowledge. As early as 1798 a Parisian police agent was complaining, ‘It is almost impossible to maintain good behaviour in a thickly populated area where an individual is, so to speak, unknown to all others and thus does not have to blush in front of anyone’ (quoted in Benjamin, 1968, p. 40). The stranger, in contrast to the foreigner, was of the same society, but was an unknown element within your own community. In literature, the stranger as potential threat and as the carrier of evil became an increasingly common theme. At the very moment in the 1980s when the word community was rising to ideological prominence, the reality for most of those in Western society was a dissolution and virtual disappearance of community. The bonds of common interest which linked individuals to those other individuals with whom they lived in some proximity were disappearing. Most of us no longer live among those of similar occupation and class. Few even live in the neighbourhoods into which they were born and raised. In urban life, neighbours were increasingly becoming strangers. The individuals’ interests were no longer experienced as linked to those among whom they lived. Our neighbours may even become sources not of mutual support but of irritation, intrusiveness and risk. Fear can become a central mediator between the individual and the stranger. In this climate the transformation of stranger into predator was readily accomplished. The fear of others is perhaps greatest in celebrities and politicians, whose role and identity depends on being the object of many people’s attention. Part of achieving prominence has become the acquisition of a need for protection. Whatever the real level of threat to the famous, the perception of risk spawned a specialist security industry with
Chapter 2: Stalking as a social construction and social reality
new technologies and new forms of expertise to assess risk, manage risk and protect. It would be difficult not to become increasingly sensitive to threats if surrounded by security experts who advise, and induce, the spending of large sums of money on protection from as yet undeclared dangers. 3. The roles of victim and perpetrator emerged towards the end of the twentieth century as central to the processes of government (Simon, 2007). Crime became the pre-eminent manner of understanding and managing social problems. In the USA the problems of African Americans were approached in the Kennedy/Johnson era as rooted in economic and above all educational inequality. Today school integration, Head Start programmes and positive discrimination in tertiary education are dead or dying. Racism is now a crime to be dealt with as a manifestation of an individual’s action. Child abuse was once understood as largely the manifestation of ignorance and deprivation. Today it is only as crime that it is understood by government. Drug and alcohol abuse became less and less problems reflecting social and psychological problems. Abuse became a criminal justice issue to be controlled through interdiction and confinement. Our prisons are now full of substance abusers receiving discipline with or without a semblance of therapy. Even such issues as industrial relations, poverty and immigration policy are in the process of resolving themselves into criminal justice issues. Stalking is a footnote to government through crime. Here failed relationships, social ineptitude, rudeness and interpersonal vindictiveness are being transformed into the simplification of a criminal offence. 4. The 1980s were marked by a perception that our society contained increasing numbers of strange people who might intrude and threaten. Public awareness, and wariness, of groups like the mentally ill, the addicted and the intellectually disabled were fed partly by the reality of increased numbers of such people in the community, but equally by constructions of such disorders and disabilities as predisposing to impulsive and aggressive conduct. 5. The changing roles of women are in our view the single most important factor in both the generation
and the recognition of stalking. Women’s greater ability to reject unwanted advances and choose to separate from unsatisfactory partners sets the scene for greater potential problems with unhappy males. In the workplace, women’s greater prominence, and even occasional seniority, can and does evoke resentment from more traditionally minded males. Attempts to redress past injustice by positive discrimination, or just unprecedented equity, also create anger in some men who lose out where previously they would have succeeded. Women’s unaccompanied presence in public leaves them both more approachable and for many more apprehensive of the unwanted or potentially dangerous approach. Women’s greater choice, increased freedoms and greater assertiveness all have their reverse side of potentially creating a greater wariness about safety, and evoking in some others more frequent disappointment and resentment. These and other social processes found expression in the notion of stalking. The murder of Rebecca Schaeffer provided the case around which the concerns with privacy, safety and the threat presented by the disordered crystallised in the form of the new issue of stalking. Those claiming that stalking should be recognised as a specific and serious crime were able to organise their advocacy around this dramatic example.
Diffusion The phase of diffusion of the awareness of stalking through the wider society was remarkably rapid. Given that stalking was initially viewed primarily as a threat to which media personalities were peculiarly vulnerable, it is not surprising that coverage was as extensive as it was effective. Equally, the combination of the famous, sinister pursuit, violence and in many cases disordered affection proved irresistible to the watching and reading public. Doubtless, experts expounding on exotic and potentially titillating subjects like erotomania and obsessional following added to the fascination. The ready acceptance of stalking as a social problem was accompanied by a dramatic widening of the concept. What began as a description of behaviour directed at the famous was rapidly generalised to include similar
The emergence of a social construction of stalking
behaviours directed at ordinary individuals. A social problem which was relatively uncommon, because it was circumscribed by the contingency of being a star, was transformed into an experience open to all. Nobody was safe, or at least, in the early stages of the genesis of stalking as a social problem, no woman or child was safe. The first and most important phase in the generalising of stalking occurred when well-established concerns about the harassment of women by their male partners were annexed to the emergent phenomenon of stalking. The bracketing of stalking with domestic violence was dramatically successful for those who had been advocating for more recognition and greater protection for battered women. The media fascination with stalking, together with the public and political acceptance of it as a serious form of criminal activity, was readily transferred to stalking as a form of domestic violence. For a period, the construction of stalking was almost completely colonised by legitimate, but previously discounted, attempts to extend legal protections to women harassed and pursued by current or previous partners. The first anti-stalking legislation in California reflected concerns with the stalking of the famous, though subsequent legislation increasingly gave primacy to the protection of women, with some antistalking statutes even confining stalking to the harassment of those who had previously either cohabited or had intimate relationships with their stalker (e.g. original legislation in West Virginia in the USA and New South Wales in Australia). Stalking made one of its earliest entries into the scholarly behavioural science literature firmly coupled with domestic violence (Kurt, 1995). The first community study to be published of the prevalence of stalking surveyed only women (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996). The US Department of Justice, which has played an important role in documenting stalking and supporting legislative responses in the USA, produced its reports under the title of Domestic Violence and Stalking and reported to Congress under the Violence Against Women Act. Despite this, to its credit, the research commissioned by the Department of Justice surveyed males as well as females. This research has been important in widening notions of who stalks and who is stalked (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998).
To understand how it was possible for stalking to be so successfully translated into an aspect of domestic violence, it is necessary to examine developments over the prior decade. The intimidation and battering of women by their male partners attained substantial prominence as a social problem in the 1970s and 1980s. The success of advocates for abused women in evoking appropriate social and legislative responses was, however, limited with regard to harassment that did not involve overt physical violence (Follingstad et al., 1990; Walker, 1993). In the early 1980s the media gave considerable attention to the following and harassing of women, after the revelation that Jodie Foster had been persistently pursued by John Hinckley, who later attempted to assassinate President Reagan. Though the media at this time tended to focus on the famous, it did generalise into the broader issue of the harassing of women by their male partners (Wilcox, 1982). Female harassment was the term usually employed for this phenomenon, though ‘psychological rape’ briefly had currency in the media (Jason et al., 1984; Lowney & Best, 1995). An interesting study by Jason and colleagues (1984) examined female harassment. They defined female harassment as ‘a male persistently using psychological or physical abuse in an attempt to begin or continue a dating relationship with a female who had indicated a desire to terminate the dating relationship’ (p. 261). Their study, further detailed in Chapter 4, amounts to arguably the first study of this form of stalking in a community sample. Female harassment did not continue to receive sufficient media coverage to establish its position on either the public or the political agenda. Further systematic studies also had to wait for the stimulus provided by the emergence of the stalking phenomena in 1989 and 1990. Though female harassment failed in the wider public arena to hold attention, it remained firmly on the agenda of activists and advocates. The women’s movement was only too aware of its frequency and its destructive potential. When stalking exploded onto the media as a hot issue, female harassment was a ready-made claimant for a share of the attention, a claim which was pushed home with considerable success by the domestic violence lobby. As part of this phase of diffusion, the emphasis on the stalker being mentally disordered or at the very least
Chapter 2: Stalking as a social construction and social reality
an obsessional follower was replaced by a characterisation of the stalker as a male who brutalised and potentially battered his female partner. Mental disorder was replaced by criminality, and the stalker became more strongly gendered. Stalking, conceptually and legislatively, has not remained so closely tied to domestic violence. It is not clear exactly which influences led to a further generalisation of stalking and a partial return to a concern with pursuit by disordered admirers. Certainly, when studies of stalkers began to appear they suggested a wider range of victims and perpetrators than could be accommodated within either the domestic violence paradigm or the notion of stalkers to the stars. Initial studies on victims also spoke to a wide range of relationships between stalker and victim (see Chapter 4). The media continued to give prominence to accounts of the stalking of men as well as women, and one of the outstanding journalistic accounts during this period was of the stalking of a male surgeon by a female journalist (Brenner, 1991). Perhaps what was most important in driving the increasingly broad conceptualisation of the relationship between stalkers and their victims was the practical experience of both courts and researchers. Beginning with the behaviour of persistent intrusions and unwanted communications rather than with causal theories (be that around domestic violence or obsessional following) reveals a far richer reality in the phenomena of stalking. Courts must first and foremost consider behaviour, not theories of causation. Behavioural scientists should likewise start with the behavioural phenomena, not with their pet theory about those phenomena. As this book hopefully will illustrate, if you begin with the behaviours which constitute stalking you uncover a varied and rich tapestry of intentions, motivations and forms of relatedness which frustrates attempts to restrict stalking and stalkers to any single context or any overarching theory of causation.
Consolidation The phase of consolidation of a new social problem occurs when a social agency or agencies come to be held responsible for responding to the perceived needs
created by this new social and political agenda. Stalking, once given life by the media, was rapidly transformed into a specific type of criminal offence. It was to the police and the courts that the responsibility of dealing with stalkers fell. Stalkers were initially regarded as drawn from the disturbed and the mentally disordered of the community. Despite the powerful impact of the subsequent absorption of forms of domestic violence into stalking, the notion that stalkers were at least in part a mental health problem persisted. The first organisational structure to emerge specifically to manage stalkers was the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Threat Management Unit (Zona et al., 1993, 1998). This combined the skills of police, legal and mental health professionals in a system that aimed to manage, and where possible prevent, stalking. They employed a range of interventions, including those of mental health professionals. In our own mental health clinic the first initiative was directed at providing support to victims of stalking, but this soon led to a parallel concern with the assessment and management of perpetrators of stalking. This book is predicated on the assumption that the approaches and skills of mental health professionals and behavioural scientists are central to understanding and managing stalking.
Reification The final stage of the reification of a social problem involves the ossifying of the issue into something taken for granted as a natural area of concern by the general community (Scott, 1995). The question is no longer ‘What is stalking?’, ‘What brings it about?’ or even ‘How much of it is out there?’, but merely ‘Who should deal with it?’ and ‘Why haven’t they dealt with it?’ The issue becomes one for professional competencies and institutional technologies. The problem itself becomes an accepted part of the social landscape which may raise concerns but not curiosity. There are problems over the use of theories of social construction. In attempting to describe the way in which a phenomenon becomes an object of knowledge and a topic of concern within a particular culture, it is all too easy to appear to be overly sceptical or even mocking. Persistently inflicting repeated unwanted
intrusions and communications on someone else is a totally unacceptable way of behaving, which, in our view, has rightly been made criminal in most Western jurisdictions. Such behaviour induces fear and can produce in the victim considerable psychological damage, extensively disrupting their functioning. It is a real social evil. It was a social evil before the word and the concept of stalking emerged. Stalking is nevertheless a construction. Neither the reality of the pain and distress which so often accompanies stalking, both for the victim and for the perpetrator, nor that stalking is a construction, should be in question.
Stalking as an emerging social reality Stalking is not a new behaviour, so why has it emerged to prominence at this particular moment in Western societies? The cynical answer would be that we as communities are becoming increasingly sensitive to annoyance, intolerant of risk, prone to experience ourselves as victims, and likely to feel entitled to demand protection from the forces of laws and order. But even if timidity and dependence are now making a major social problem out of one of yesterday’s irritations, it raises the question of why attitudes are changing and why the focus is on stalking rather than a host of other nasty behaviours. Our view is that stalking’s newformed profile is to no small degree a product of an actual increase in the frequency and severity of the behaviour (see Chapter 3 for discussion of the evidence). Societies are becoming more concerned for the very good reason that it has become a far greater problem. The question becomes not just one of changed attitudes and sensibilities but of what is driving the increased resort to stalking. Stalking behaviour can emerge from a variety of contexts and in response to various motivations. In Chapter 5 a typology will be described in detail of five groupings based on context and motivation. These are: 1. The rejected, whose stalking emerges in the context of the end of a close relationship and who initially stalks out of a desire for reconciliation or revenge (and not infrequently a fluctuating combination of both), but who may continue because the
opportunities for contact created by the stalking become a substitute for the lost relationship. 2. The intimacy seeker, who from a context of loneliness and lovelessness begins to pursue someone with whom they in fact have no relationship in the belief that intimacy either already exists or will inevitably develop. The stalking is sustained by unassailable hope and because better a fantasised love than no love at all. 3. The incompetent suitor, who, lacking a partner, attempts to make contact or pursue someone who attracts them in such an inept or unreasonably persistent manner as to create not the desired reciprocal interest but irritation, anger and eventually fear. 4. The resentful, whose stalking emerges in the context of perceiving themselves as a victim of injustice and/ or humiliation, motivated by the desire for retribution and sustained by the satisfaction of feeling, for once, powerful and in control. 5. The predatory, whose stalking in most instances emerges in the context of a sadistic sexuality and which initially is an information-gathering exercise preparatory to an assault but which may become extended because of the satisfactions of the voyeurism, anticipatory fantasies and sense of control. If stalking is fostered in specific social and cultural niches (to borrow a concept from Hacking), then if the context or niche becomes more common the behaviour might reasonably be expected to become more prevalent. The context in which the five types of stalking emerge may provide a clue to why the behaviour is on the increase.
The rejected Contemporary Western society is marked by far greater mobility, geographic, occupational and relational, than in most previous epochs. We live in societies where the norm of a lifelong monogamy (with or without adultery) has been replaced by a norm of serial monogamy (again with or without extra-relational liaisons). It is not just divorce and remarriage at issue but the moving in and out of sexual and emotional relationships which were marked by some semblance of commitment and
Chapter 2: Stalking as a social construction and social reality
permanence, or at least the hope of such in the mind of one or other participant. Later marriage, later child bearing and more partners differentiate today’s heterosexual intimacy landscape from yesterday’s. In the gay world the beginnings of acceptance, not just tolerance, have brought more gay people out of the furtive and into the world of committed relationships, with all their fragilities. With more relationships come more separations. Each and every parting of the ways brings the risk that one of the parties will become enraged or refuse to accept that the relationship is over. This is particularly so in cases where one partner still entertains the now contested religious and ethical values which once sustained the notion of the permanence of marriage. In short, the conditions conducive to the stalking of the rejected are occurring more frequently. There is now an increased chance that those predisposed to such behaviour will find their vulnerabilities challenged, and more will attempt to resolve their distress through stalking.
The intimacy seeker The context of loneliness and longing for love from which the stalking of intimacy seeking emerges is probably no more common in today’s world. Interestingly, as far as we can tell, the cases of stalking-type behaviours which came before the courts and entered the pages of psychiatric texts in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries involved intimacy seeking (see Chapter 7). The earliest description of stalking behaviours in the psychiatric literature was in Esquirol’s (1965, originally published 1845) description of erotomania, which is the disorder associated with stalking of the intimacy-seeking type (see Chapter 8). This suggests that the intimacy-seeking stalker has been recognised as a distinct problem for longer than the other types. What has changed is that thanks to television, magazines and radio the lonely are exposed in their own homes both to images of the missing intimacy and to desirable and lovable celebrities offered for their admiration, often in the context of manufactured intimacy. Some of those who might once have lived their lonely lives able to ignore their deprivation
now have their noses rubbed in their isolation. Some of these may solve the problem by the fantasies and delusions of love, which can on occasion lead to stalking behaviours.
The incompetent suitor The stalking of the incompetent suitor is born out of a combination of a desire for a new relationship and a sense of entitlement to that connection. The approaches reflect the desire, and the unreasonable persistence and entitlement. To which can be added the ineptitude, which results in the disturbing nature of the approaches, and may have contributed to the pre-existing unpartnered state. Incompetent suitors are almost exclusively male, and the relationship they seek is usually sexual. There are reasons to believe unattached males are more abundant in today’s world. What is more important, however, is the changed manner of experiencing being without a sexual partner and the reasons likely to be adduced to explain this absence. Sexuality has become a core element in many people’s self-identity (Giddens, 1992). Sexual expression has become integral to personal realisation. Our culture places emphasis on the evoking and satisfaction of sexual desire. Sexiness is everywhere and for everyone. The awareness of being unpartnered is constantly brought home to the single, who, like all of us, are bombarded by libidinal images and the media representations of the carnal aspects of relationships. For most in the West, religion can no longer offer the comfort of effectively constructing a virtue out of sexual continence sufficient to ameliorate the unease at lost pleasure. One of the characteristics of modernity is the assumed supremacy of the individual, with their own rights to fulfilment and expression. Sexual satisfaction all too easily ceases to be serendipity or the product of a mutual engagement, and becomes an individual’s right, something they are entitled to have and to take. The stalking of incompetent suitors may be becoming more common not because the context of the lone male seeking a partner has altered but because of the increased sense of both urgency and entitlement attaching to sexual satisfaction. The welcome presence
of women in public places, in work places and in entertainment venues may inadvertently contribute to increasing the behaviour, because it leaves them more vulnerable to unwelcome attentions. A final reason for the upsurge in men persistently pursuing those who attempt to reject or avoid their approaches may be the virtual disappearance of the social mechanisms which once virtually guaranteed partners for young men, however socially awkward and unattractive. Long after arranged marriages disappeared from Western societies, the culture continued to support various less formal ways of assisting the shy and ill-favoured into relationships. In extended families and interconnected communities even the least socially assertive would be included. Finding them partners would be a shared responsibility accepted by parents, imposed on sibs and cousins, and assisted by aunts and the parents’ peers. A relative scarcity of men when male babies still succumbed more frequently than females would have made no small contribution to pairing off the less prepossessing young man. A less cosy aspect of these increasingly defunct premodern cultures was the limited choices open to young women, and the limited acknowledgment of their right to choose, even within the restricted areas of action which remained to them. Finding a husband was effectively the only choice open to ordinary women, for whom employment other than domestic offered very limited opportunities. Presumably such dismal lack of alternatives added lustre to even very ordinary males. The low-status, inept or rude male is not likely to thrive so well in a world where women have, if not equality, at least a wider range of alternatives to becoming dependent on males, and can now consult their own preferences, not just those of necessity and parental authority. The males who from shyness, ineptitude or misfortune fail repeatedly to establish relationships may now be more numerous, as well as more likely to feel disadvantaged and unfairly deprived by their solitary state. There are many potential escapes from their distress, but one way to attempt to improve their situation is to become more persistent and assertive in their courting behaviours, which is fine until it spills over into stalking.
The resentful The resentful stalker emerges from a context where they have perceived themselves to have been a victim of injustice. That injustice may have taken such forms as being denied a merited benefit, like promotion or acknowledgment, or having inflicted on them unwarranted blame or abuse, or having had their rights ignored. The resentful stalker is typically driven by righteous indignation as they strike back at those who they believe have treated them unfairly. In the West today there are more agencies dedicated to handling complaints and resolving disputes than ever before. The ideological core of Western democracies is articulated in the language of individual rights, and the war cry with which they confront dissenting nations is human rights (Chandler, 2002). Never have the rights held such a pivotal role, nor procedural justice been accorded such importance. Taking rights seriously is a fundamental tenet of all our viable political parties, and being seen to be fair in safeguarding those rights is proclaimed as an imperative (the War on Terror allowing). In theory we live in societies where citizens are empowered to assert their rights and exercise their freedoms, and in which they are liberated from discrimination. In practice, however, not a few ordinary people experience themselves as none of these, but as marginalised, powerless and victimised. In most Western nations currently the emphasis is on the rights invested in the isolated individual rather than on civil rights which protect group membership and collective action. The protection of those rights is left to the individual operating within legislative frameworks and through complaints organisations and agencies of accountability, such as ombudsmen. Unfortunately the rhetoric of rights is creating in some unrealistic, or at least practically unrealisable, expectations (Mullen & Lester, 2006). Most may understand that the proclamation of such ideals as equal pay for equal work, equal opportunities, and an end to discriminations, are always going to be to some extent aspirational. They accept that the well-publicised cases where such rights are established in law are exemplars, not generally enforceable models to guide the management of all mundane irritations and conflicts. Similarly, as civil rights and
Chapter 2: Stalking as a social construction and social reality
collective action give way to individual rights, so society becomes a complex of intersecting and potentially conflicting rights. The successful satisfaction of one person’s claims may create a sense of injustice in another claimant. I failed to gain the job because I was either a woman, black, gay, an ex-con, an immigrant, disabled, admitted a history of depression, or wasn’t any of these and fell victim to political correctness. For the self-absorbed and entitled who take their rights very seriously, everyday life has become a minefield. Victimisation is imminent in every frustration and every conflict. Taught by the culture’s media that it is all-important, they live in constant danger of becoming enraged by the failure of others to respect one or more of their multitudinous rights. Injustice created by failures to deliver on the multifaceted social contract constructed on individual rights is everywhere. And such injustice is not just a product of oversensitivity and self-absorption; it is a reality for many who are indeed stigmatised and discriminated against. Redress comes in theory from accessing one of the official mechanisms for helping individuals resolve disputes and assert their rights. In reality few have either the persistence or the confidence to even begin the conciliation/resolution process, and of those that do not a few find the process just adds to their grief. The fortunate majority are protected by friends and family who support their self-esteem, if not their rights, colleagues who sympathise, unions and professional bodies who advocate, and by common sense. The unfortunate isolates left unsupported and seething with anger occasionally resort to projects of retaliation, prominent among which is stalking.
The predatory Predatory stalkers are to be found among a range of sex offenders including serial rapists, child molesters, the more intrusive of the voyeur/exhibitionist group and certain scatological callers who target specific victims for repeated obscene phone calls and other forms of suggestive obscene communications. Femicide is not infrequently preceded by a period of stalking, though this seems to be most frequent in the context of
stalking ex-partners (Warren et al., 2008). The distinction between the predatory stalker and those such as rejected stalkers who go on eventually to attack and even kill their victim is that the project of violence initiates the stalking in the predatory, whereas it develops out of the stalking process in the other types. There is nothing new about rapists, child molesters and sexual pests in general, and the predatory stalker may well be no more prevalent today. Predatory stalking is almost always a preamble to a sexual attack of some form. The predatory stalker is usually a sadist in the sense that part of the gratification comes from the intrusive observations and the sense of power and control that arises from planning and fantasising about the attack whilst observing and being near the future victim. The brutal imposition of a perpetrator’s sexuality on a victim may be no more common, but sadism itself just might be fostered in our modern world. If we accept Medard Boss’s (1949) model of sadism as a response to anxious isolation, it is possible that sadism, and masochism, may be becoming more common. Boss suggests that those who experience themselves as both distanced from others and vulnerable to others create what amounts to a psychological carapace to protect themselves from intrusion and exposure. Such protective skills are common enough, but Boss suggests problems arise when the individual senses themselves as both cut off and unacceptable to others because of the protections they have built around themselves. The next stage is to see others as like oneself, isolated and invulnerable behind a protective shell. You confront each other from behind the protective screen, incapable of real contact let alone intimacy. The possibility of intimate contact requires a rending of the protective screen, or a furtive glancing behind what veils the other. Mutuality is impossible, only the tearing apart of the protective shell and the imposition of sexuality. Sexuality becomes about domination, rending, exposing and humiliating to overcome resistance. The sensitive and sensible resolve such damaging impulses through a sexual dramaturgy where performance and acted-out fantasy satisfy the urges of the ‘twisted nerve’ (Powys, 1967). The less imaginative and more brutal may seek satisfaction through predation and its associated stalking.
Conclusions The social construction of stalking began around instances which typically involved extensive and prolonged intrusions, and which culminated not infrequently in assaults that could on rare occasions be lethal. The incorporation of female harassment in the rubric of stalking widened the net but maintained a clear association with assault, battery and even murder. Stalking has now been greatly extended to encompass behaviours which, though distressing, are typically far less likely to involve either such extensive intrusions or such obvious risks of serious assault as did the earlier typifying cases. This extension has not to date been accompanied by an equivalent modification in the meanings and expectations attached to being stalked. As a result, a radical restructuring of our understanding of the social world may be occurring. A similar trajectory was followed when child sexual abuse, initially constructed around severely physically intrusive and often prolonged incestuous abuse, was broadened to incorporate a wide range of forms of the sexual molestation of children. The benefits of this process were the recognition of the true extent of the sexual exploitation of children and the emergence of a social consensus that such behaviour should be stopped and victims accorded appropriate protection (and in some societies treatment and monetary recompense). The downside was a widespread confusion about the nature, extent and effects of child sexual abuse in all its forms which impaired effective responses (Fergusson & Mullen, 1999). It also brought about a change in how victims understood themselves and their pasts which was certainly not without its problems. The attempt to
more accurately inform professionals and the public about the realities of stalkers and stalking is central to this book. We are at a relatively early stage in the development of stalking as a social issue and an area of scientific study, but already the need to confront growing myths and unexamined assumptions about stalkers and stalking is clear. Stalking in our view gained attention and social prominence because it is becoming increasingly common, not just because of the emergence of a new way of constructing and understanding this old behaviour. The increased prevalence of stalking reflects fundamental changes in modern society. ‘Star stalking’ thrives with a particular form of celebrity in which media access, with its revelations and pseudo-intimacies, creates the impression, and even the expectation, of a relationship between star and audience. The stalking which follows the failure of intimate relationships increases along with the frequency with which people enter, and more importantly in this context end, such relationships. The centrality of sexuality to self-image and modernity’s fetishising of individual entitlement feeds into intrusive, insensitive and unreasonable persistence in courting behaviours. Modern man, wrapped up in his individual rights, fed on expectations, is all too vulnerable to disappointed expectations which can on occasion breed the rancour and resentment that explodes in stalking. Perhaps more importantly, the changing role of women in the domestic, work and public spheres has created, particularly for the unregenerate male, challenges and temptations that some are ill-equipped to manage. This vision of stalking as some kind of judgement on modernism may be fanciful and overstated, but then perhaps stalking really is one of the disorders of our time.
3 The epidemiology of stalking
Introduction The answer to the question ‘How common is stalking?’ depends both on how the behaviour is defined and on the methods employed to ascertain its frequency. The prevalence of stalking will differ if we confine the use of the term to the pursuit of the famous, the harassing of women, the obsessive following of others, or the specific patterns of repeatedly intrusive behaviour which occasion fear. The changing constructions throw up different typifying instances with different propositions about what constitutes stalking and what are its likely implications. As noted in the previous chapter, the stalking of Rebecca Schaeffer was the paradigm case of ‘star stalking’. The construction of stalking within a domestic violence paradigm offered equally frightening defining instances in, for example, the killing of Kristin Lardner by her ex-boyfriend (Lardner, 1995) and the extensively reported pursuit of Joy Silverman by her ex-lover, Chief Judge Sol Wachtler (Gross, 1994; Kurt, 1995). As the net represented by stalking widens to catch an ever larger range of behaviours and perpetrators, there has not always been an appropriate shift in the image conjured up by the label stalking. When the lifetime prevalence of stalking was reported to be between 8% and 12% for women in the USA (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998), the image conjured up for many was of vast numbers of women living in fear for their lives. These researchers were careful in their definitions and in the presentation of their data, and can in no way be held responsible for the ways in which their figures were utilised in the public arena. The problem is the familiar
one that once a memorable image of a particular activity is established in the public mind it then becomes not a dramatic, attention-grabbing extreme example, but the defining instance. Whenever stalkers, or for that matter child molesters or muggers, are referred to, it conjures up an image drawn from the extreme and most damaging end of the spectrum encompassed by such descriptions. At the present stage of research into the epidemiology of stalking, research questions are couched in the form of the broadly defined category of stalking. Widely different activities are often grouped under the single rubric. The community studies which have been conducted are inevitably bracketed with the far larger number of case reports and series drawn from clinic or court samples. This reinforces the tendency to view the data as a function of the more extreme aspects of the stalking phenomena. Case studies and clinical series are usually drawn from samples of people whose stalking activities have been sufficiently outrageous to lead to their arrest, admission to hospital or at least referral to a mental health clinic. These are likely to be a different population from those who harass randomly selected community respondents endorsing such enquiries as ‘Have you ever been followed or spied upon, or have you ever been sent unsolicited letters?’ These were among the entirely appropriate screening questions from the study of Tjaden & Thoennes (1998), intended to capture a wide sample of the harassed. No equivalence should be automatically assumed between such community respondents considered to have been stalked and the victims described in clinic-based populations (e.g. Pathé & Mullen, 1997; Kamphuis & Emmelkamp, 2001).
As research has developed, prevalence figures are increasingly being expressed in terms of more tightly defined types of stalking behaviours. Tjaden and Thoennes (1998) took an important step in this direction by quoting figures for victims defined both more and less stringently in terms of the level of fear induced by the stalking behaviour (equivalent in some cases to child sexual abuse being separated into contact and non-contact abuse). Similarly, with more recent community studies, we are also seeing more sophisticated analyses of stalking in terms of its constituent behavioural elements, its frequency, and its impact and associations, most particularly to other forms of violence. The epidemiology of stalking in practice is the epidemiology of the reporting of having been stalked. Epidemiology attempts to establish the prevalence of the phenomenon, what correlates with its occurrence and what are its consequences. Prevalence refers to the portion of the population who have the condition (or in this case, the experience) at a given time. The estimates of stalking will be affected by how stalking is defined. It will also be influenced by the way in which questions eliciting information about being stalked are framed. The selection of the sample to be surveyed can also have considerable influence, as can variability within and between such samples. If stalking is taken as two or more episodes of some form of harassing behaviour, the prevalence will be considerably higher than if the threshold is set at, say, 10 such incidents. If a criterion for a stalking event includes that it occasioned fear in the victim, this will reduce prevalence estimates compared with those obtained by including reports of having been subjected to the behaviours irrespective of their impact. Similarly, as will be seen in this chapter, the degree of fear required to qualify the stalking event also affects prevalence (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). At this stage in the epidemiological inquiries into stalking it is desirable that results be presented in a manner which allows the potential variables in the definition to be applied to the data. Thus, on the issue of how many events constitute stalking, data can be provided for populations reporting varying frequencies of harassment. Equally, the temporal constraints can be shifted if the results are presented with an analysis of the varying lengths of time involved in the stalking events.
The manner of framing enquiries will also influence ascertainment rates. Overarching questions such as ‘Have you ever been stalked?’ are likely to produce lower ascertainment rates than a series of specific questions about particular experiences. Thus, ‘Have you ever been subjected to unwanted telephone calls?’, ‘How often did these calls occur?’, ‘For how long did the calls continue?’, and finally ‘How much distress did they cause?’ A far richer and more flexible database is generated by using properly structured questions which constrain the respondent to detailing what happened, how often, over what period of time, and with what level of distress being generated. Sample selection can also have significant effects on estimates of prevalence. Using convenience samples such as students, or those from a particular occupation, will provide prevalence estimates that are difficult to generalise beyond the group from which the sample was drawn. Even more restricted in terms of generalisability will be samples drawn from clinics or attendees of health professionals, as the effects of being stalked may increase or decrease the chances of attending such services. Restricting sampling to women, or the young, or those from neighbourhoods with a particular class structure, can all profoundly influence prevalence estimates. A representative random community sample is the preferred sampling method likely to produce the most widely applicable prevalence estimates, although this design is not without its problems. The prevalence of stalking behaviours and the extent to which such behaviours are experienced by their target as fear-inducing will almost certainly vary between cultures, between communities and even within communities. The willingness to participate in surveys of stalking will differ, affecting response rates. Systematic errors in prevalence estimates will reflect the extent to which the willingness to participate in a survey of stalking experiences is directly influenced by whether or not the subject has been stalked. Those who have been stalked may be more eager to participate, or, conversely, may experience any enquiry as a re-victimisation they can well do without. In either case, response rates would directly reflect the experience of stalking and bias the resulting prevalence estimate.
Chapter 3: The epidemiology of stalking
The bulk of information regarding the nature of stalking and the characteristics of both stalkers and their victims was initially derived from clinical studies conducted in forensic mental health settings. In recent years, several large, well-conducted epidemiological studies of stalking have been undertaken in the USA, the UK and Australia which provide invaluable evidence regarding the rates of stalking in the community, the behaviours involved and the characteristics of victims and their stalkers. Attempts to gauge the prevalence of stalking in continental European nations have also recently emerged. This chapter reviews the available literature on the extent and nature of stalking in community samples.
Early estimates of the prevalence of stalking Initial guesses at the prevalence of stalking suggested that each year in the USA, 200 000 stalkers were pursuing victims. It was further speculated that one in 20 women would at some time in her life experience the unwanted attentions of a stalker, though predictions regarding the scale of male victimisation were not proffered. These early estimates were tentatively advanced by a prominent US forensic psychiatrist, Dr Park Dietz, who properly qualified the figure as an educated guess. Subsequently, these figures took on a life of their own, being reiterated through popular and scholarly publications and being endorsed by the US government (National Institute of Justice, 1996). Dietz had in part extrapolated from a series of studies that examined threatening and inappropriate letters sent to Hollywood celebrities and members of the US Congress (Dietz et al., 1991a, 1991b). The authors of these letters all reportedly sent numerous missives to their targets, typically at least 10 but in some cases up to several hundred, their communications persisting for on average 12 months or more. Many of these letter writers undoubtedly shared similar motivations to those encountered in stalking populations (e.g. infatuation or resentment); nonetheless this group could by no means be regarded as representative of stalkers per se, given the highly selective population to whom
they directed their communications, and their unitary method of pursuit. Epidemiological studies subsequently demonstrated that inferring the prevalence of stalking solely on the basis of these early studies certainly underestimated the true extent of this phenomenon in the community.
The prevalence of stalking: results of community studies Australia The first epidemiological study of stalking was published in Australia in 1996. The Australian Bureau of Statistics conducted a national survey of women’s experiences of physical and sexual violence, part of which included novel questions related to stalking and harassment (ABS, 1996). A random, representative community sample of 6300 adult women were asked during confidential interviews whether they had ever been ‘stalked’ by a man. Stalking was defined as being followed or watched; having a man loiter outside the home, workplace or places of leisure; being telephoned or sent mail (including electronic mail); receiving offensive material; or experiencing property interference or damage. This definition was based on a composite of then Australian State anti-stalking laws (see Chapter 23), which broadly defined the criminal offence of stalking as two or more acts that the victim believed were undertaken with the intention to frighten or harm. Those respondents who acknowledged experiencing two or more stalking behaviours, or who had experienced the same unwanted behaviour on more than one occasion, were for the purposes of this study defined as victims of stalking. Based on this definition, the ABS survey found that 15% of women reported being stalked by a man at some time in their lives, which would imply that an estimated one million Australian women have experienced this type and level of stalking. Some 2.4% reported having been stalked in the 12 months prior to the survey. Those who reported stalking were drawn from the entire age spectrum, although young women aged 18–24 were the most likely group to have been pursued
The prevalence of stalking
in the previous 12 months. Contrary to the findings of case reports and non-random studies of stalking (see Chapter 4), most women reported being stalked by a stranger, as opposed to a prior intimate partner or acquaintance. The duration of the stalking experiences lasted less than a month for over 30% of subjects, with a quarter reportedly pursued for a period of between six months and two years, and 15% stalked for two or more years. Those pursued by strangers experienced the shortest duration of stalking (usually less than a month), in contrast to prior intimate partners, who typically reported being stalked for at least six months and not infrequently for over two years. Thus, while women were more often stalked by a stranger than by someone they knew, the duration of stalking was greatest when there had been a previous relationship with the perpetrator. The methods of harassment consisted mostly of unwanted telephone calls and the receipt of letters or cards. Being kept under surveillance and followed were also common experiences, but the incidence of loitering, property damage and the receipt of offensive material was reportedly low. Unfortunately the survey did not examine the frequency of threats to the victim, nor the rates of physical or sexual violence associated with the stalking. Many of the women who had been stalked in the 12 months prior to the survey said they were living in fear for their personal safety, irrespective of whether the stalking was continuing or had ceased. Over a third changed their social activities in response to the stalking, while others modified their shopping routines (16%), or arranged alternative child care or voluntary work arrangements (10%). One in 10 victims in paid employment reported having to take time off work as a consequence of the stalking. Surprisingly, though, the majority of women who were stalked (60%) indicated that their experience did not produce any safety fears. Furthermore, only 38% of victims notified the police of the unwanted contacts or communications. Unfortunately, the survey did not examine whether the impact of stalking was mediated by the duration of the pursuit, the methods used to stalk and intimidate, or the prior relationship to the perpetrator. Similarly, victims were not questioned as to whether their
reluctance to notify the police related to fear of inciting their stalker, concerns that they would not be believed, or a lack of appreciation of the criminal ramifications of such conduct (particularly as most anti-stalking laws in Australia had been in operation for less than a year at the time of the survey). The Australian Bureau of Statistics conducted a subsequent nationwide survey on personal safety in 2005, this time considering the stalking experiences of both females and males (ABS, 2005). The same definition of stalking used in the 1996 survey was employed here (i.e. more than one intrusion designed to frighten the recipient), although on this occasion without qualification regarding the gender of the perpetrator. The results indicated that, since the age of 15, 19% of women reported having experienced this level of stalking, compared to 9.1% of men. The 4% increase in the reported rates of stalking for women between the 1996 and 2005 surveys is perhaps not all that striking, considering that the 2005 figures also allow for samegender stalking. Consistent with the 1996 results, those aged 18–24 years reported the highest rates of stalking (both for males and females) and those aged over 55 years the lowest. Equal proportions of males and females claimed to have been stalked by a stranger (approximately 30%), but females were more likely than males to report having been stalked by a previous partner (20% vs. 11%), and were less likely than males to report victimisation by a relative or friend (28% vs. 39%). The modal duration of stalking was at least six months for both sexes (approximately 45%). The 2005 survey results indicated that males were significantly more likely to perceive the behaviour as ‘stalking’ when it was perpetrated by another man rather than by a woman (56% vs. 14%). No such gender difference was observed for female victims, with 45% overall considering the behaviour to constitute stalking. Interestingly, however, female victims were somewhat less likely to report the stalking to the police when the perpetrator was a male, compared to a female. The surveys conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics demonstrate that, broadly defined, stalking is not an uncommon experience, with 15–19% of Australian women and 9% of Australian men reporting some level of harassment. However, when interpreting
Chapter 3: The epidemiology of stalking
these figures, it is critical to be mindful of the definition of stalking applied. In these studies, respondents qualified as victims of stalking if they had experienced as few as two unwanted contacts. Importantly, this definition of stalking was not contingent on the behaviours producing fear. On the basis of such criteria it is likely that essentially inadvertent, though perhaps unsettling, behaviours (e.g. following someone or standing outside their home) were redefined or reinterpreted by some respondents and/or interviewers as stalking. Thus, while the ABS data provide an indication of the proportion of individuals experiencing unwanted contacts that meet the broad definition of stalking, they fail to illustrate how many were subjected to episodes of stalking causing significant apprehension and distress.
United States The US National Institute of Justice commissioned a study to specifically examine the extent of stalking in the US population (Office of Justice Programs, 1997; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). Like the 1996 ABS survey, its primary purpose was to examine the prevalence and patterns of violence against women, particularly within the domestic context. Additionally, however, the study collected information related to stalking, including its frequency, the nature of the relationship between stalkers and their victims, and the psychosocial impact on victims. The design incorporated both male and female respondents. A representative random sample was generated and potential respondents were surveyed via telephone interviews until a sample of 8000 males and 8000 females was attained. The number of refusals and terminated interviews for women was reportedly 4961 (representing a response rate of 62%) and for men 8890 (representing a response rate of 48%), giving an overall participation rate of 52%. Unlike the ABS survey, the US study did not explicitly ask respondents whether they had ever been ‘stalked’, as this approach necessarily – and perhaps erroneously – assumes that respondents know to what ‘stalking’ refers. Instead, the study used a behavioural definition (derived from US state anti-stalking laws) that intentionally omitted the word ‘stalking’. Respondents were asked to indicate whether any person, male or female
(but not including debt collectors, telephone solicitors or other sales people), had ever followed or spied on them; sent them unsolicited letters or written correspondence; made unsolicited telephone calls; stood outside their home, school or workplace; showed up at the same places even though they had no business being there; left them unwanted items; tried to communicate with them against their will; vandalised their property or destroyed something they loved. A legal definition of stalking was again used, and the study therefore considered as possible victims all those respondents who had experienced such behaviours on two or more occasions. However, only those respondents who additionally acknowledged that the assailant’s behaviour rendered them significantly frightened or fearful of bodily harm were defined as stalking victims in the US study. The study found that 8% of women and 2% of men had experienced stalking at some time in their lives. The 12-month prevalence was 1% for women and 0.4% for men, a rate only half that reported in the ABS sample. The study also examined the prevalence of stalking on the basis of less stringent criteria, whereby respondents were required to feel only a little or somewhat frightened. Using this definition, the prevalence increased substantially, from 8% to 12% for women and from 2% to 4% for men, while the 12month prevalence jumped from 1% to 6% for women and from 0.4% to 1.5% for men. These figures more closely resembled the earlier Australian findings, indicating that setting a low standard of fear significantly boosts the reported rates of stalking. The US study confirmed that women were most likely to be victims of stalking, though men were by no means immune, accounting for 22% of all those having been stalked at some time in their lives. There were no differences in the prevalence of stalking among white and minority respondents of both sexes, although Native American and Alaskan women were found to be at greater risk of stalking than women from other minority ethnic backgrounds (the rates of fatal and non-fatal violence within these populations are also increased, however, suggesting that stalking may be one aspect of a broader pattern of violence in these indigenous communities: Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998).
The prevalence of stalking
The majority of US victims were aged between 18 and 29 years when the stalking first commenced. Indeed, stalkers in the USA showed a preference for young victims, with apparently few pursuing victims aged over 40 years. Female victims reported being stalked almost always by a male (94%). In contrast, males indicated that they were as likely to be harassed by men as by women. One-third of male victims reported pursuit by a current or former intimate partner (most cases involving heterosexual relationships), 34% by an acquaintance and 36% by a stranger. For the men who reported being stalked by a non-intimate, the perpetrator was in almost all instances a male. The researchers were at a loss to explain this unexpectedly high proportion of same-gender stalking, but speculated that this may be motivated by homosexual attraction, homophobia or even gang-related activities. We would argue that this high rate is more likely an artefact of the definition of stalking, as men are arguably more likely to acknowledge and report the experience of fear when the intruder is another male, as opposed to a female, who may be perceived (often erroneously) as less threatening (Purcell et al., 2001). Women claimed to be stalked most often by someone with whom they had a current or prior intimate relationship, be it a spouse, de-facto partner or casual date. The survey did not differentiate between stalkers who were current or former intimate partners, nor did it separate spouses from other types of romantic partners. This practice of treating what are disparate groups as a unified whole unfortunately obstructs the understanding of what may be significant differences in the prevalence, nature, impact and risks of violence associated with stalking in these distinct groups. Furthermore, the failure in this study to distinguish current from former intimate relationships confuses the phenomenon of stalking with the control and manipulation of spouses that occurs in the broader context of domestic violence. The study certainly demonstrated a strong association between domestic violence and stalking, with up to 80% of women who were stalked by a current or former partner reportedly having previously been assaulted by the perpetrator. Similarly, in 60% of cases involving intimate-partner stalking, the pursuit commenced before the relationship had ended. Nonetheless, as the
results of this study also demonstrate, the experience of stalking occurs in a variety of contexts, as well as in the context of diverse intentions, thus warranting its status as a separable phenomenon, rather than an annex of domestic violence (and see Chapter 5). The US survey examined the duration of stalking using an index of years, rather than weeks or months. Almost half were pursued for ‘less than a year’, with a quarter stalked for at least two years, and 10% for five years or more. In keeping with the ABS findings, the average duration of stalking was longer when the perpetrator was an intimate partner than a non-intimate. The methods of pursuit favoured by stalkers included following, unwanted telephone calls and letters, and surveillance. Women were significantly more likely to be spied upon and followed, and to receive unwanted telephone calls, than male victims, although threats, property damage, unsolicited materials and letters were directed equally to both sexes. Almost 50% of victims reported being threatened by their stalker, and a third experienced property damage. One in 10 stalkers reportedly killed or threatened to kill their victim’s pets, although curiously the incidence of physical violence against the victims themselves or third parties was not examined. Half the victims in the US study indicated having notified the police of their stalking. Those who chose not to report frequently claimed that ‘it was not a police matter’, that ‘the police couldn’t do anything’ and that they feared reprisal from the stalker. Equal proportions of men and women informed the police, though police intervention appeared to be heavily dependent on the gender of the complainant. Perhaps not surprisingly, the police were more likely to arrest or detain a male suspect accused of stalking a woman, and were also more likely to refer women than men to appropriate victim services. Less than a fifth of victims who reported their stalking to the police had their case prosecuted, and only 50% of these cases resulted in a conviction. The study found that women were more likely to obtain a restraining or protective order against their stalker than male victims (28% vs. 10%), which may reflect the greater incidence of intimate-partner stalking against women. The use of restraining orders, however, proved largely ineffective, with 70% of female and 80% of male
Chapter 3: The epidemiology of stalking
victims reporting a violation. Of those victims who notified the police, only half approved of the police response and intervention. The remainder claimed to be dissatisfied that the police had not detained or arrested the stalker, that the complaint had not been taken seriously, or that the police had failed to offer them sufficient protection. Consistent with the 1996 ABS findings, the impact of stalking on victims in the US survey varied. A third of victims stated they were fearful that they would be stalked again by another perpetrator, and 20% took ‘additional precautions’ as a consequence of their experience. Victims reported enlisting the help of family and friends (18%), relocating (11%) or even going to the extreme of obtaining a gun as a protective measure (17%). A third of women and 20% of men sought counselling to deal with the experience, and 25% of victims reported losing time from work, usually up to 10 days, though 7% claimed they were unable to return to work at all. In keeping with the ABS results, however, a significant proportion of victims (50%) indicated that they were not concerned for their personal safety as a result of the stalking, nor did the majority (80%) acknowledge taking any extra precautions in response to the stalker’s conduct. However, the extent to which the methods and duration of pursuit, or the nature of the prior relationship with the perpetrator, mediated the victims’ responses to the stalking was again not considered. The study by Tjaden & Thoennes (1998) provided a comprehensive account of the prevalence and nature of stalking, particularly by its inclusion of male victims and female perpetrators. However the extent to which the reported prevalence rates are inflated by allowing instances of ‘stalking’ by current intimate partners is unfortunately obscured.
United Kingdom The Home Office conducted the first study to examine the extent and nature of stalking in England and Wales. The 1998 British Crime Survey (BCS) included for the first time questions pertaining to the experience of stalking. This followed the introduction of the Protection from Harassment Act in 1997. A random, representative
sample of 9988 adults aged 16–59 years were asked to complete a self-administered computerised screening module examining the experience of persistent and unwanted attention. An overall response rate of 76% for the section pertaining to stalking was reported (Budd & Mattinson, 2000). Unlike the earlier studies, which used specific behavioural probes to define stalking experiences, the BCS used a single gating question to ascertain whether subjects met the criteria for having been stalked. A preamble to the stalking module stated that ‘People may sometimes be pestered or harassed either by someone they know or a stranger. This person might do things like phoning or writing, following them or waiting outside their home/work place’ (Budd & Mattinson, 2000, p. 111). Respondents where asked whether they had ever been subjected to ‘persistent and unwanted attention’ from known individuals or strangers. Only those who endorsed this screening question were classed as stalking victims and further information regarding their experiences sought. The use of a single gating question was designed to ‘capture a wide range of experiences that could potentially be defined as stalking’ (Budd & Mattinson, 2000, p. 6). Importantly, the BCS did not require that the unwanted attention induce fear. The results indicated that 11.8% of adults had been subjected to persistent and unwanted attention since the age of 16. The lifetime rates were significantly higher for females (16.1%) than for males (6.8%). Some 2.9% of adults had been subjected to unwanted attention in the 12 months prior to the study. The annual prevalence of harassment did not differ when more stringent criteria requiring that the behaviour cause distress or upset were employed, with 2.6% of adults reporting this level of harassment. However, the requirement that the conduct involved fear of violence reduced the 12-month prevalence to 1.9%. The majority of those reporting persistent intrusiveness were female (73%). The BCS expanded upon previous studies by examining demographic risk factors associated with victimisation in the year prior to the study. Age and gender emerged as important predictors, with young women aged 16–19 years reporting the highest rates of unwanted attention (17%). Single
The prevalence of stalking
females were at greater risk than their married counterparts, and female students reported higher rates than other occupational groups. The prevalence of harassment was also elevated among respondents (particularly women) who had completed their A levels, who lived in low-income households and who rented their accommodation. The identification of demographic risk factors associated with stalking represents a step forward in this area, but the BCS results are limited in that many of the factors identified are likely to be highly confounded (e.g. it is reasonable to expect that many young women aged 16–19 would be single, and potentially students with a low income). Consistent with the US study, the majority of perpetrators in the BCS were male (81%). Female victims were usually harassed by a man (90%), in contrast to males, who were almost as likely to report being stalked by a woman (43%) as by a man (57%). The majority of victims were harassed by someone known to them, including current or former intimates in 29%, acquaintances in 32% (including 9% who were work-related contacts) and estranged friends or relatives in 6%. In 34% the perpetrator was a stranger. The nature of the prior relationship did not differ according to gender, although females were somewhat more prone to report being intruded upon by strangers. The duration of the unwanted attention varied from a short burst of harassment to often protracted periods of pursuit. In 16% of cases the intrusions abated within a week. Almost a quarter of victims were harassed for between one and three months, and 20% were pursued for a year or more. There were no differences in the duration of pursuit between males and females, though women stalked by intimate partners (current or former) were subject to longer periods of harassment than those pursued by non-intimates. The BCS enquired about the experience of 14 forms of unwanted attention, ranging from silent telephone calls (45%) and following (39%) to being touched or grabbed (34%) or physically intimidated (42%), which included the perpetrator ‘getting too close’. The most frequently reported behaviour, however, involved being ‘forced into talking to the offender’, with 49% of victims reporting this form of contact. The methods of harassment differed according to the victim’s gender,
with women more likely than men to report being forced to talk to their assailant (52% vs. 39%), being followed (43% vs. 30%), having the offender ‘refuse to take no for an answer’ (36% vs. 22%) and being physically intimidated (45% vs. 33%). In most instances the harassment was confined to one or two types of intrusiveness (30%), though 19% were subjected to four or five methods. Curiously, despite meeting the screening criteria for stalking, some 7% of subjects failed to endorse any of the methods of harassment about which the study enquired. The BCS paid greater attention than earlier studies to the rates of associated violence in the stalking situation. Threats of violence were reported by 30% of victims (32% of males, 27% of females), with almost one in five stating that ‘physical force’ had been used against them (24% of males, 19% of females). Nine per cent of women and 3% of men disclosed having been subjected to a sexual assault. The study did not analyse the relationship between prior threats and subsequent physical violence. Most victims in the UK study perceived the unwanted persistence to be motivated by a desire to initiate a relationship (22%), to upset or annoy the victim (16%) or to maintain a relationship (12%). Interestingly, only 33% of victims considered their experiences to be a crime. A further 37% regarded it as wrong, but not criminal, and a quarter felt that it was ‘something that just happens’ (a perception more common among males than females). Only a third of victims notified the police of the behaviour and 8% sought the assistance of health professionals. Nonetheless, most victims indicated being annoyed or irritated by the conduct (92%), and 74% stated they found the episode distressing or upsetting. A significant proportion of victims (particularly women) modified aspects of their lifestyle in response to the intrusions, including avoiding certain people or places (59%), restricting social outings (35%) and taking additional security precautions (42%). The purpose of the BCS was stated clearly at the outset: to capture a wide range of persistent and unwanted conduct. The desire to cast the net as widely as possible may reflect the legislative approach to stalking in the UK, where the Protection from Harassment Act broadly defines the offence in terms of conduct that ‘amounts
Chapter 3: The epidemiology of stalking
to harassment’, or that causes the victim to ‘fear that violence will be used’, rather than specifying activities that constitute stalking. While many respondents recounted episodes of prolonged harassment, a significant proportion reported brief instances of unwelcome attention that abated within a week. The extent to which such behaviour represents genuine episodes of stalking, as opposed to minor (if not inadvertent) instances of intrusiveness cannot be established from the data. That the majority of ‘victims’ considered the behaviour to which they were subjected wrong or irritating, but not criminal, suggests the BCS captured a wide range of unwelcome phenomena, of which stalking was only one form. The British Crime Survey was repeated in 2001, involving a representative sample of 22 463 women and men aged 16–59 years who completed a computerised, self-administered questionnaire (Walby & Allen, 2004). Unfortunately the definition of stalking differed substantially from that of the 1998 survey, being defined as ‘a course of conduct involving two or more events of harassment causing fear, alarm or distress, of three types: phone calls or letters; loitering outside home or work; damaged property’ (p. 4). The decision to limit stalking to only three methods of harassment is curious (and unexplained), particularly since the 1998 survey referred more broadly to ‘persistent and unwanted attention’. Based on this definition, 8% of women and 6% of men reported being stalked in the 12 months prior to the survey, with lifetime rates of 19% and 12% respectively. Despite the more stringent definition, the lifetime rates of stalking actually doubled for men in comparison to the 1998 survey (up from 6.8%), with a comparatively minor increase for females (up from 16%).
Germany Dressing and colleagues (2005) published the first community-based study of stalking conducted in continental Europe. The authors sent a postal survey to a random sample of 1000 men and 1000 women aged 18–65 years selected from the resident register in the German city of Mannheim (population approximately 330 000). The questionnaire contained a list of 18
harassing behaviours (e.g. unwanted letters, emails, faxes or telephone calls, following, loitering nearby, invading the victim’s home, property damage). Respondents who indicated experiencing any of these intrusions completed additional questions regarding the nature and context of the behaviour. The authors defined stalking as multiple episodes of harassment occurring over a period of at least two weeks, which involved more than one form of intrusiveness and which provoked fear. A total of 679 people responded (400 women, 279 men), representing a response rate of 34%. There was a gender bias among respondents in favour of females (59% vs. 41%), but they were otherwise representative of the resident register in terms of their age (mean = 42.5 years, SD = 13.3) and educational status. In total, 12% of respondents (n = 78) reported an episode of repeated harassment in their lifetime. For 14% of these the harassment was continuing, which amounted to a point prevalence rate of 1.6%. The majority of victims were women (87%) and most perpetrators were male (86%). Nearly all of the female victims (91%) were stalked by a man, whereas males were as frequently harassed by another male (44%) as by a female. The duration of harassment ranged from less than one month in 17%, to a year or longer in 24%. In 76% of cases the stalker was known to the victim, being a prior intimate partner in 32%, a friend or acquaintance in 20%, a work colleague in 9%, and a family member in 4%. The victims perceived the stalking to be motivated by a desire for a loving relationship (35%), the resumption of a former relationship (30%), jealousy, envy or distrust (32%), revenge (27%) and rejection (24%). On average, victims were subjected to five different forms of harassment, most commonly unwanted telephone calls (78%), loitering (63%) and unwanted letters, emails or faxes (50%). Other common forms of harassment involved following (38%), using a third party to approach the victim (36%), standing at the front door (33%), silently hanging around (24%), pursuing by car (19%), invading the home (15%) and placing orders under the victim’s name (10%). Physical violence was reported by 31% of victims, including physical restraint (24%), beating (12%) and hitting with objects (9%). Sexual harassment was reported by 42%, and 19% reported sexual assaults.
When does intrusiveness become persistent stalking?
As a consequence of the stalking, most victims (73%) reported making lifestyle changes. Some 20% reported their victimisation to the police and 12% sought help from a lawyer. The authors also examined the association between stalking victimisation and mental health impacts, which are summarised in Chapter 4. The study by Dressing et al. (2005) is important as the first empirical study of stalking in Europe, as it essentially provides ‘proof of concept’ of this crime, which is yet to be recognised in law by most European nations (see Chapter 23). While the low response rate impedes the generalisability of the results, the findings are nonetheless strikingly consistent with the community studies conducted in English-speaking countries, indicating that the prevalence, nature and contexts of stalking differ little in industrialised Western nations at least.
When does intrusiveness become persistent stalking? The critical two-week threshold The community studies reviewed provide a broad indication of the extent of harassment in the community, but there are limitations. For example, the first ABS study considered only the victimisation of women by men, while the BCS did not require that the behaviour cause fear. With the exception of the recent German study, each survey included harassment by current, and as well former intimate partners, potentially contaminating the prevalence rates with episodes of domestic violence, and failed to impose any time constraints on the duration of the conduct, thus combining intrusions which occurred over the course of minutes or hours (e.g. prank telephone calls) along with instances of persistent stalking over months or years. Such an approach obscures the prevalence of more severe episodes of stalking, which are exactly the incidents so damaging to the victim’s wellbeing and functioning. Purcell and colleagues (2002, 2004a) sought to clarify the prevalence and nature of stalking, by considering both conduct meeting broad legal definitions and more protracted and damaging episodes of stalking. The relationship between stalking and other forms of violence was also examined, along with factors which mediate the type and duration of stalking. Unlike previous
studies, which used telephone and/or home-based interviews, surveys were mailed to a random, representative sample of adults drawn from the electoral roll in the State of Victoria in Australia (population 4.7 million), to examine the experience of stalking victimisation. Entry age to the electoral rolls in Australia is 18 years and the rolls cover over 96% of the population, as both registration to vote and voting are compulsory. A postal survey was considered a more appropriate method to maximise access to potential victims, as clinical studies suggest that a significant proportion of stalking victims, in response to their harassment, screen or avoid incoming telephone calls or unannounced visitors (Pathé & Mullen, 1997; Hall, 1998). Consistent with the approach of Tjaden and Thoennes (1998), the word stalking was not used in our survey, to avoid preconceptions associated with the term. A behavioural definition of harassment was employed, with respondents asked whether ‘any person, male or female, has ever: (a) followed you, (b) spied on you or kept you under surveillance, (c) loitered around your home, workplace or some other place you frequent, (d) made unwanted approaches to you, (e) made unwanted telephone calls to you, (f) sent you unwanted letters, faxes or emails, (g) sent you offensive material, (h) ordered things on your behalf that you did not want, or (i) interfered with your property’. Respondents who endorsed any of the behaviours were asked to indicate the frequency with which it occurred (once, twice, 3–9 times, 10 or more times) and whether the conduct produced fear. In keeping with legal definitions of stalking, respondents who acknowledged two or more intrusions which caused them fear were broadly classed as stalking victims. Respondents who endorsed the experience of any harassing intrusions completed questions regarding the nature of the behaviour and their responses to the conduct. Subjects were asked to indicate the duration of the intrusiveness, the nature of the prior relationship, if any, with the perpetrator (importantly, current intimate partners were not included as a response category) and whether threats or assaults accompanied the harassment. Of 3700 surveys distributed, 1844 were returned completed (61% response rate for data for analysis). Of the
Chapter 3: The epidemiology of stalking
1844 respondents, 23% (432) experienced unwanted intrusions sufficient to meet the legal criteria for stalking, the behaviour being both repeated and fearprovoking. For 10% the stalking involved multiple intrusions (10 or more) which spanned a period of at least one month’s duration, with 3% exposed to this level of stalking in the previous 12 months. Female respondents (17%) were more likely than males (7%) to report having been stalked in their lifetime, though the annual prevalence did not differ significantly according to gender. The experience of having been stalked was significantly more common among younger than older respondents, which is consistent with the results of the 1998 British Crime Survey (Budd & Mattinson, 2000). Both the lifetime and annual prevalence of stalking for those aged under 30 years was double that of respondents aged 56 years or more. There may be several explanations for these results. Stalking may essentially be an experience of younger people. If so, it could be expected that older respondents may have difficulty recalling incidents which occurred many years prior. However, the incidence of more prolonged episodes of harassment which are unlikely to be forgotten (i.e. greater than one month’s duration) also showed a similar age differential, suggesting that recall difficulties alone cannot account for this result. A second explanation may involve greater awareness among younger respondents of stalking as an emergent social problem. For example, Tjaden and colleagues (2000) reported that older women whose experiences met the legal criteria for stalking were less likely than their younger counterparts to actually label themselves as stalking victims. The authors speculated that as stalking has only recently been recognised as a distinct crime, older men and women may be less familiar with the terminology and consequently less likely to acknowledge themselves as victims of this conduct. However, care was taken in this and previous studies to avoid the use of the word stalking, in order to circumvent any such confusion associated with this term. In our view the higher rates of stalking among younger respondents probably reflects a real increase in this behaviour over the last 20–30 years, reflecting the various influences discussed in Chapter 2.
Consistent with all previous studies, the majority of respondents meeting the legal criteria for stalking were female (75%), and most were pursued by a male (84%). Overall, 24% of victims were harassed by someone of the same gender, although males were again overwhelmingly more likely to report same-gender stalking (76%) than females (8%). The duration of harassment ranged from one day to 40 years (mean = 7.8 months). For over half the cases (54%) the harassment lasted one month or less, with 22% pursued for between one and six months and 13% for a year or more. This variability in the duration of stalking prompted consideration of whether a discrete disjunction exists between brief, self-limiting instances of intrusiveness and the type of tenacious stalking which places the victim at risk of psychological and physical damage. We used receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves to determine the discriminating ability of cut-offs in the duration of the harassment. ROC curves were produced until the ‘best fit’ was statistically determined (see Purcell et al., 2004a). The results indicated that two weeks was the most sensitive indicator by which to potentially distinguish groups in terms of the severity of their harassing experiences. This cut-off was then used to examine whether it clearly distinguished stalking behaviours which placed victims at risk of psychological and social impairment, from those behaviours whose victims, though distressed at the time, were not likely to suffer significant alteration to their daily functioning.
The impact of the two-week threshold on the severity of stalking For the 45% of victims whose harassment abated within two weeks, the median duration of intrusions was two days, with a modal duration of one day. The median number of intrusions reported by this group was five (range 2–40). For the 55% subjected to intrusions which exceeded two weeks, there was a risk of the behaviour continuing for a considerable period. The median duration of harassment in this group
Two weeks as the critical window for recognition and intervention
jumped to six months, with the modal length being 12 months. The frequency of intrusions was also significantly higher among victims in this group, the median being 20 intrusions (range 8–85).
Prior relationship The nature of the prior relationship between victim and perpetrator differed according to whether the experience involved a brief burst of harassment or persisted beyond the two-week threshold. Those harassed for two weeks or less overwhelmingly reported intrusions by strangers (75%). In contrast, victims pursued beyond two weeks were most likely to be harassed by someone previously known to them (82%), including former intimates (21%), casual acquaintances (30%), individuals encountered in a work context (22%) and estranged family or friends (8%). Seventeen per cent of those subject to harassment for more than two weeks were pursued for an extended duration by a stranger.
Stalking behaviours Differences in the methods of intrusiveness also emerged according to the duration of harassment, with those pursued beyond two weeks at greater risk of being kept under surveillance, loitered upon, repeatedly telephoned and contacted via letters, faxes or email. This group also experienced on average more forms of intimidation (median = 3, range 1–9) than those whose harassment ceased within two weeks (median = 2, range 1–6). The frequency of explicit threats, physical assaults and property damage against victims was significantly elevated among those subjected to protracted stalking. Third parties, such as relatives, intimate partners and friends of the primary victim, were also more likely to be exposed to threats and violence when the harassment extended beyond two weeks.
Lifestyle changes and emotional wellbeing The two-week threshold was also significantly associated with the mental health impacts reported by victims. This is examined in detail in Chapter 4.
Two weeks as the critical window for recognition and intervention Stalking is not a homogeneous behaviour. The behaviours associated with stalking overlap with other experiences which, however unwelcome and unsettling, are nonetheless relatively commonplace. Despite this, there has been little debate outside the legal literature as to what constitutes stalking or how this behaviour should be defined. This is crucial, as clinicians require definitions that carve off the more obvious forms of stalking from the universe of related phenomena. The results of the study by Purcell et al. (2004a) suggest that there is considerable heuristic value in distinguishing between two types of intrusiveness, each associated with different impacts on victims’ functioning. The watershed between the lesser and more damaging forms of behaviour is the continuation of the intrusions beyond two weeks. Imposed contacts that persist beyond this threshold are likely to continue for months, and to be associated with greater upheaval in the victim’s lifestyle and psychological functioning. As the epidemiological studies in this chapter attest, stalking victims frequently endure months (if not years) of pursuit before seeking assistance. Many, not unreasonably, hope that the behaviour will abate without the necessity of intervention, which victims often fear, lest it provokes an even more hostile response from the perpetrator. In practice, however, the longer stalking behaviours are imposed, the more ingrained the behaviour usually becomes. Critical to the likely success of any strategies to end the stalking is that these be instituted at the earliest opportunity, before the perpetrator makes a substantial emotional investment in their pursuit. Two weeks is long enough to demonstrate that the perpetrator’s behaviour is purposeful, but not so long as to allow the stalker to become overly involved in his or her quest. The two-week distinction is critical, we believe, because it enables victims, and the professionals they consult, to recognise at the earliest stage the relative seriousness of the situation, providing an opportunity for early intervention both to end the conduct and to avert serious psychosocial harm (see Chapter 20 for a discussion of the two-week threshold in assessing and managing risk).
Chapter 3: The epidemiology of stalking
Conclusions Epidemiological studies indicate that stalking is a prevalent form of victimisation, with 8% of women and 2% of men conservatively estimated to experience stalking at some time. Men are the primary perpetrators of stalking behaviours, although a significant minority are
also likely to experience victimisation, at the hands of both women and other males. While stalking is characterised by repetition and persistence, two weeks appears to be a critical threshold between self-limited intrusiveness that abates within days, and protracted stalking, which is far more likely to compromise the victim’s personal safety and psychosocial functioning.
4 The victims of stalkers
Introduction The victims of stalking are central to our understanding of the stalking phenomenon. Stalking has been criminalised because of its impact upon its victims. Our understanding of stalking behaviours has evolved from the study of the people they target. Victim responses are integral to the management and resolution of stalking. Much of our knowledge of stalking victims was initially gleaned from media reports of celebrities and other public figures who had fallen prey to crazed fans or resentful constituents (Dietz et al., 1991a,1991b de Becker, 1997), and it was generally thought that such activities rarely involved ordinary citizens. As efforts to understand and ameliorate stalking behaviours gathered momentum in the 1990s, researchers and legislators increasingly turned to stalking victims as a source of data that is not necessarily reflected in official records or in studies of perpetrators (Hall, 1998). As a consequence of systematic enquiry into victims’ experiences, many of our earlier notions about stalkers and those they target have been revised. There is ample evidence in Chapter 3 that victims of stalking do exist in the wider community and are not a rarity, with some authorities believing that this crime has already reached epidemic proportions. Nor can any citizen claim immunity from a stalker’s unwanted attentions by virtue of gender, age, socioeconomic status, occupation or cultural background, though there is little doubt that some, like public figures and health practitioners, are at greater risk than others.
Until the surge of stalking awareness that culminated in widespread anti-stalking legislation in the 1990s, we were largely ignorant of the magnitude of this societal menace. We had little appreciation of the impact of trauma of this nature upon those unlucky enough to become the object of a stalker’s fixation, and our sympathies and any therapeutic efforts were more likely to be directed at those who sustained tangible physical injuries, because it was assumed that these were the cases who suffered the most disruption and emotional damage. Because we understood little of stalking itself, we were poorly equipped to offer its victims constructive interventions, any more than we were able to prevent our patients, loved ones and indeed ourselves from ever falling victim to such behaviours. This chapter profiles the victims of stalkers and describes the various contexts in which stalkers choose their victims. It presents a typology of victims based on the status of the prior relationship, if any, between victim and stalker, and the context in which the stalking arises. The chapter will conclude with a discussion of the impact of stalking upon its victims.
Victim studies Selective samples In what is probably the earliest empirical study of stalking victims, Jason and others (1984) surveyed females who had been harassed by males after ending a relationship or refusing to enter into one. The researchers interviewed 50 women from Chicago, all of whom had
Chapter 4: The victims of stalkers
been subject to harassment which persisted for at least one month and included repeated telephone calls (92%), unwanted approaches at work or at home (48%), following and surveillance (26%), unwanted letters and other unsolicited material (24%), and threats and physical attacks (30%). Sixty-nine per cent of the sample had dated their harasser on less than 10 occasions and 14% had never dated him. While 42% claimed nothing unusual occurred during the period they dated, 24% indicated that their boyfriend was becoming too serious, discussing marriage and the like, 20% noted strange behaviours and 14% were reportedly subjected to physical or verbal abuse. Upon ending the relationship or refusing to date a would-be lover, harassment was experienced for on average 13 months (range 1–120 months), with 26% of the sample experiencing ongoing harassment. In this survey, the majority of subjects perceived the man’s behaviour as threatening and disturbing. A third experienced fear, anxiety or depression. Physical ailments such as abdominal pain, eating disorders and nervous tics were reported by 18% of the cohort, and 16% experienced a loss of trust in others. Over half the subjects talked to a friend, family member or therapist, 34% took legal action and 10% made ‘environmental changes’, such as moving address or changing their phone number. Eight per cent said they became ‘mean or distant’. Interestingly, as many as 48% claimed no psychological or physical problems as a consequence of their harassment, and a third of cases did not make any adjustments to their lifestyle, nor did they acknowledge seeking the help of a friend or professional. This study was conducted prior to the introduction of the term ‘stalking’ and at a time when there was a limited awareness of the phenomenon. The public interest surrounding the ‘harassment’ of actress Jodie Foster by John Hinckley was in fact a catalyst for the research. Nonetheless, the methods of harassment and their reported impact were similar in nature to those described in the stalking studies that emerged a decade later. The lower incidence of disorder and disruption which is apparent in this group of victims compared to those in subsequent studies may reflect a relative lack of awareness, in this pre ‘stalking’ era, of the potential seriousness of the phenomenon (‘ignorance is bliss’)
or a greater tendency to consider the victim’s experience as acceptable, or it may be due to the size and selective nature of the sample, or to a less severe pattern of harassment. A notable study from the University of Toronto (Jones, 1996) examined the nature of stalking by drawing on victims’ reports to police of ‘criminal harassment’ (the offence used to prosecute stalking in Canada) during the period 1994–5. The study analysed data from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, an annual review that encompassed 130 police departments throughout Canada, accounting for some 43% of the volume of reported crime nationally. During the study period 7472 victims reported incidents of stalking and harassment to the police. The majority of these victims (80%) were women. The victims’ demographic characteristics were not examined, the research instead focusing on the nature of the prior relationship with the stalker and the outcome of reporting stalking to the police. Most victims were pursued by an ex-spouse (33%) or, in 14% of cases, someone with whom they had had an intimate relationship. In 28% of cases the stalker had been a casual acquaintance. Five per cent of victims said they had been stalked by a family member (other than a spouse), 5% by a workmate or business associate, and 8% by a stranger. A current spouse was the perpetrator in 2% of cases, while 4% were unable to identify who was harassing them. Women were more likely to be pursued by a former intimate partner (56%), in contrast to men, who were typically stalked by a casual acquaintance (46%) or someone known through a work or business relationship (11%). The proportion of victims stalked by a stranger or a family member was similar for both men and women. In this Canadian study one in four stalking incidents known to the police involved associated behaviours not contained within the Criminal Harassment Code, including the utterance of threats, assault, breach of probation or bail, and breaking and entering. Few victims reported being physically assaulted by the stalker, though many claimed to have suffered severe emotional trauma as a result of their pursuit and harassment, particularly when the stalking occurred at the victim’s home (where indeed the majority of stalking
incidents took place.) One should be cautious in interpreting this apparently low level of associated physical violence, given that, at the time, assault was an offence carrying a substantially heavier penalty and the lesser offence of harassment may in some instances have been absorbed into the more serious charge. In 20% of the cases reported to the police, no charges were laid due to reluctance on the victim’s part to pursue such a course. This reluctance was most commonly encountered in cases where the victim knew the perpetrator through a business relationship, or when a man was being pursued by an ex-wife. In contrast, women stalked by a former intimate were more likely to proceed with criminal justice intervention. These findings indicate that stalking is not infrequently brought to the attention of law enforcers, with over 7000 people reporting crimes of this nature in two years. Males were found to be the primary perpetrators of stalking, though they were also at risk of victimisation, accounting for 20% of self-referred victims. The majority of victims were stalked by an ex-intimate partner or a casual acquaintance, though the study well characterised the variation that exists in the prior relationship between stalkers and their targets. While most cases proceeded to prosecution of the perpetrator (the exceptions being those cases in which the victim was reluctant to pursue such a course), the outcome in most instances was probation rather than incarceration. Hall (1998) recruited 145 stalking victims through press releases and media interviews which promoted the research in six major urban centres in the USA. In addition, flyers were distributed in several target regions to major victim centres, such as domestic violence and sexual abuse clinics. The author acknowledged that this selection process resulted in a nonrandom and skewed sample of self-defined victims, all of whom were willing to initiate contact with the researcher and provide their contact details. This is a significant undertaking for victims of stalking, who are typically (and understandably) wary of divulging any personal information to strangers. That a significant proportion of victims were also drawn from domestic and sexual violence centres also limits the representativeness of the study, as these agencies traditionally
do not attract male victims of violence or stalking. The study did not employ any objective criteria to define the parameters of stalking, thus possibly including in the sample victims with the infrequent experience of unwanted contact that would not qualify as stalking for more stringent clinical and research purposes. The participants were a diverse group demographically, incorporating both those who had made contact with police or victim organisations and those who had not previously divulged their victimisation. Females constituted 83% of the sample, in keeping with the findings of the other clinical and epidemiological studies reviewed. Most victims were single or in intimate relationships and were typically aged in their mid thirties. A third of victims were employed in professional positions, 20% of these being in an executive capacity, while 16% had clerical jobs. In the majority of cases (57%) victims and their stalkers were prior intimates (89% of these stalkers being male), though 35% of respondents were pursued by prior acquaintances and 6% by strangers. The duration of stalking ranged from less than a month to over 31 years, the modal duration being between one and three years (though it should be recognised that the reported duration of stalking is likely to be an underestimate in many instances, given the inability of victims, especially those stalked by strangers or acquaintances, to be confident about the time at which they first became aware of the problem.) For half the victims the stalking had ceased, but 25% of those surveyed continued to be harassed, and a further 21% were unsure whether their stalking was ongoing. Most respondents believed that their pursuit was motivated by the inability of the stalker to accept the termination of a relationship, an ‘obsession’ with the victim (frequently involving suspected mental illness in the perpetrator), retaliation for a real or imagined slight, jealousy, or an attempt to initiate a relationship. The majority of these victims experienced multiple forms of harassment, most often involving telephone calls (87%), surveillance (84%) and following (80%), while unwanted approaches, malicious gossip and unsolicited gifts or packages were reported by nearly half the sample. A number of victims recounted less common incidents designed to intimidate and control, such as
Chapter 4: The victims of stalkers
entering the victim’s home and interfering with household objects. It was often difficult for the victim to enlist police support when reporting subtle intrusions of this nature, and these were virtually impossible to prosecute in the absence of other criminal activities such as breaking and entering or theft. Sixty-three victims (43%) said their property was damaged by the stalker, 55 (38%) reported physical assaults and 32 (22%) indicated they had been sexually assaulted by their pursuer; there was no elaboration on the nature of these attacks. Over 40% of stalkers had threatened to harm a third party, although the incidence of overt threats against the primary victims was not reported, prohibiting any assessment of the relationship between threats and subsequent violence in this sample. This study also examined the impact of stalking on the lifestyle and daily functioning of the victims, noting that several victims moved residence, changed jobs or changed their surnames in attempts to elude their pursuers. Others altered their physical appearance in the hope that their stalkers would not recognise them, or would cease to be attracted to them, one woman going to the extreme of surgical breast reduction. The study did not systematically address the psychological impact of stalking, though 80% of victims agreed that their personality had changed as a consequence of their harassment, most victims noting that they had become less friendly and outgoing, and conversely more cautious, paranoid, easily frightened, aggressive and introverted. Many female victims responded that they were less trusting of men and increasingly suspicious of other people’s motives, leading to their retreat from normal activities. Other victims spoke of chronic apprehension and distress, often persisting long after the stalking had ceased, together with the omnipresent fear that the stalking would recommence at any time. As one victim explained, ‘His last contact was two years ago, but part of me is still afraid of him and when he’ll pop up again. Logically I know he won’t, but sometimes it still scares me’ (Hall, 1998, p. 135). Pathé and Mullen (1997) examined the experiences of 100 Australian victims of stalking, focusing predominantly on the impact on the victims’ psychological, social and occupational functioning. The victims who participated in the study were derived from two
sources, the first being persons referred to the authors’ forensic mental health clinic, and the second comprising individuals who contacted the authors directly following a series of articles on stalking that appeared in the print media. The participants represented a broad cross-section of the community but, given the non-random nature of the sample, could not be assumed to be representative of the general population of stalking victims. For the purposes of this study, only those individuals who reported repeated intrusions or being persistently contacted for a period of at least four weeks were defined as stalking victims. Individuals who recounted isolated instances of following or unwanted communications, or who experienced occasional instances of unwanted contact or intrusions over the course of several years, especially where the identity of the perpetrator was uncertain and may have differed on different occasions, were not included in the study, however distressing the encounters. The 100 individuals who fulfilled the criteria for stalking victimisation completed a detailed 50-item questionnaire that examined their demographic characteristics (and those of the perpetrator where known), the nature and the duration of the harassment, the prior relationship with their stalker, the impact of the stalking on their mental and physical health and their social and occupational functioning, and the availability and perceived adequacy of traditional and professional sources of assistance. Many victims provided additional comments, and those seen individually at the clinic gave extensive personal accounts, often remarking that the opportunity to discuss their ordeal in a sympathetic and constructive setting was, in itself, therapeutic. Eighty-three per cent of the stalking victims in this study were female. The victims ranged in age (at the time of the stalking) from nine to 66 years, most being in their mid to late thirties. In the majority of cases, the victim reported some form of previous contact with the stalker, most commonly a prior intimate relationship (29%), although others knew the perpetrator through a professional alliance (particularly doctor– patient) (25%) or through other work-related contexts (9%), and in 21% the victim and stalker were prior acquaintances, usually meeting through social and familial networks. In 16% of cases, the victim and
perpetrator were strangers. A significant proportion of the victims in this sample (36%) were, at the onset of stalking, employed in professional occupations such as medicine, teaching and law. The median duration of stalking was 24 months (ranging between one month and 20 years), 52% of the cohort claiming they were still being pursued. All victims in this study described multiple forms of harassment. Seventy-eight per cent received unsolicited telephone calls, often at inconvenient venues and frequently at times when they felt most vulnerable and violated, such as during the early hours. Those victims employed in professional occupations were more likely than other occupational groups to receive harassing telephone calls, usually at their workplace. Sixty-two per cent of the sample received unwanted letters from their stalkers, some receiving several missives per day. Two victims employed in professional occupations were harassed via email. Nearly 80% of victims reported unwanted approaches by their stalker, most often at their home, workplace or school, their assailants commonly seeking to express their love in person, plead for a reconciliation or verbally threaten. A further 71% were kept under surveillance, most being acutely aware of their stalker’s ubiquitous presence, typically outside their home or at places the victim frequented. Several stalkers menaced their victims by making the extent of their surveillance frighteningly apparent, often calling the victim at various locations throughout the day and night (several victims received calls from their stalker when visiting friends’ homes), or calling the victim the moment he or she arrived home. Some described the outfit the victim was currently wearing or the people he or she was with. Half the cohort received unsolicited material from their stalker, typically in the form of ‘gifts’ (flowers, perfume and chocolates prevailing), though others reported audiotapes, self-help books, magazines (often pornographic) or photographs (most often of the stalker). In several instances victims were sent mutilated animals, one finding a pig’s head on her doorstep and another a parcel containing her missing, now dismembered, cat. Property damage was reported by 36% of victims, with cars bearing the brunt of vandalism, typically in the form of graffiti, scratched paintwork
and slashed or deflated tyres, though homes were also frequently targeted, sustaining broken windows, damaged fences, upended letter boxes and ruined gardens. More than half of this sample (58%) said they received overt threats from their stalker, usually directed both at themselves and at third parties such as relatives, current intimate partners, friends or work colleagues. Threats included promises to destroy the victim unless he or she succumbed to the stalker’s demands. Death threats were received by several victims, being both explicit and implicit in the form of cards bearing gravestones, or in one case a fake notice in the ‘deaths’ column. Other victims were threatened with rape, and several were tormented with threats to harm their children. Assaults by the stalker were reported by 34 subjects, with 31 assaulted physically and seven sexually. Violence was most often directed towards the victim rather than third parties who, though frequently threatened with harm, appeared at lower risk of an escalation to assault. The majority of victims who reported physical assaults sustained bruises, abrasions and lacerations, usually as a result of being hit, kicked, slapped or pushed. However, one victim was fortunate to survive strychnine poisoning and a further two victims survived strangling quite literally at the hands of their stalker. One woman recounted in chilling detail her abduction by her ex-spouse stalker who, over the course of several days, consumed a large quantity of alcohol, watched pornographic videos and raped her. Seventy-six per cent of the victims who were assaulted by their stalker had received previous threats of personal violence. In this study, violence was most likely to be perpetrated when there was a pre-existing relationship of an intimate nature between victim and stalker. All victims had sought assistance to deal with their stalking, most commonly from family or friends (78%) and the police (69%), but many also attended medical practitioners (44%) and lawyers (38%). Police and lawyers were consulted predominantly by those victims suffering property damage, or when there was a prior intimate relationship (where violence was more likely to be a feature). Most victims noted that the stated desire of people and agencies to help was infrequently matched by their effectiveness, common examples being police who could not act to detain a stalker in
Chapter 4: The victims of stalkers
the absence of physical harm or property damage (most of these cases presenting prior to the enactment of antistalking legislation in Australia). Virtually all 100 victims reported that the stalking had a deleterious effect on their psychological, social and/ or occupational functioning. Ninety-four per cent reported major lifestyle changes and modification of their daily activities in direct response to being stalked, most often involving avoidance of any places where the stalker might be and taking additional (and frequently expensive) security measures: these included the installation of motion-sensor exterior lighting and house alarms, and obtaining unlisted telephone numbers and post office box mailing addresses. Several victims changed or modified their cars, one tinting his windows so that his stalker, who persistently and brazenly followed and abused him in traffic, at least could not make eye contact. Many altered their driving habits, taking long, circuitous routes to avoid being followed home and constantly checking their rear-view mirrors for any signs of their pursuer. Curtailment of social activities was reported by 70% of victims, many attempting to circumvent any contact with their stalker. Often victims reported losing friendships due to declining invitations to functions where known associates of the stalker may have been. Although, as noted earlier, intimate relationships often suffer under the burden of the stalker’s involvement, not all deteriorate. One victim in this series married precipitously and immediately fell pregnant because, she candidly reasoned, having a baby would legitimise her need to stay at home and would provide her with company! Over half of the victims in this study reported a decrease or a cessation of work or school attendance, in some instances attributing the loss of employment to the stalker’s incessant telephone calls or other disruptions at the victim’s workplace, including threats to harm co-workers or employers, and absenteeism through attendances at court or medical appointments. Over a third of the victims felt compelled to change their workplace, school or career as a direct result of the stalking, and some 40% relocated their residence, some of these on two or more occasions. A handful of victims changed their names by deed poll to avoid, or at least impede, detection by their stalker. Such was the
level of fear and loss of faith in the protective powers of the judicial system that several victims relocated to a different state or migrated to another country, at enormous financial and personal cost. With few exceptions, victims in this study described deterioration in their mental and/or physical health as a consequence of their harassment. Many had entertained aggressive thoughts towards their perpetrator (admitted by 65%), the desire to retaliate against their assailant being barely contained in several cases. Over 75% of victims reported feeling powerless in the face of repeated intrusions, and a quarter of the victims seriously considered or actually attempted suicide at some point during their ordeal. Many also reported guilt feelings, especially in relation to their perceived poor choice of partners (which, as noted earlier, family and law enforcement agencies may have reinforced). Over 80% of the sample reported increased anxiety and arousal as a consequence of the stalking, most often manifesting as ‘jumpiness’, panic attacks, hypervigilance and ‘shakes’. Three-quarters reported chronic sleep disturbance, largely due to nightmares and hyperarousal, though many were kept awake by their stalker’s telephone calls or lay awake listening for any intrusions. Nearly half the sample reported appetite disturbance, with most experiencing some weight loss, though several victims purposefully gained large amounts of weight in futile attempts to diminish their attractiveness to their stalker. One ex-fitness fanatic became morbidly obese as a consequence of being housebound with fear. Nausea was experienced by a third of victims (often triggered by having to attend work or other venues associated with the stalking). Fifty per cent acknowledged excessive tiredness, weakness and headaches. Almost 25% of victims reported an increase in their alcohol and/or cigarette consumption as a result of their pursuit and harassment, these substances frequently being employed to ‘self-medicate’ intolerable symptoms of stress and anxiety. Several subjects reported an exacerbation of pre-existing physical conditions, such as psoriasis, peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis and asthma attacks. One victim experienced a miscarriage which she attributed to the stress of being stalked. Another delivered a premature, lowbirthweight baby as a consequence, she believed,
of stress and (stalking-induced) excessive alcohol consumption prenatally. The majority of victims in this study reported experiencing one or more symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). More than half reported intrusive recollections or flashbacks of the stalking which were recurrent and distressing, often being triggered by everyday occurrences such as the telephone ringing, an unexpected knock on the door, or seeing cars of a particular make or colour reminiscent of that driven by the stalker. A further 38% of victims described avoidance or numbing of responses, particularly feelings of detachment from others. Only a third of the victims in this study, however, met the full diagnostic criteria for PTSD according to DSM-IV. An additional 20% met most of the elements for the diagnosis, failing only to meet the criterion of a necessary stressor that involved actual or threatened physical harm or a threat to one’s physical integrity. The majority of victims who fulfilled the criteria for PTSD in the study were female, consistent with the findings from epidemiological studies that suggest that women are at least two to four times more likely to develop this syndrome than men (ESEMeD/ MHEDEA Investigators, 2004; Kessler et al., 1995; Breslau et al., 1998, 1999). The symptoms of PTSD were more likely to emerge in those victims who reported following, as opposed to other forms of harassment, and among those exposed to violence. This diagnosis was also more likely in those subjects who shared a prior intimate relationship with the stalker, who concomitantly were both exposed to a greater likelihood of physical violence and were more likely to be female. The study by Pathé and Mullen (1997) was one of the earliest studies to chronicle the distress and disruption wrought in the lives of victims as a consequence of being stalked. Although the impact of stalking varied among victims, reflecting differences in the nature of the stalking experiences, the availability of support structures, the effectiveness or otherwise of legal interventions, and perhaps (though it was not measured) the resilience or vulnerabilities of the victims themselves, no victim was left unscathed by their experience, with all reporting changes that in some cases amounted to profound deterioration in functioning. Contrary to
popular assumptions, the accompaniment of violence with stalking was not a necessary prerequisite for deleterious effects in the victim, the majority of subjects reporting significant and usually chronic fear in the absence of any incidents of physical assault, though for many fear was a response to the threat of imminent physical violence. Instead, the menace and persistent intrusions that came to dominate the victim’s life, the often incomprehensible motives of stalkers and the unpredictable nature of the behaviour itself were powerful determinants of the observed morbidity. Ironically, several victims commented that a physical assault might have been preferable to chronic, less tangible psychological torment; certainly, this might have provoked a more assertive and sympathetic response from helping agencies. Fremouw and colleagues (1997) conducted a survey of stalking experiences among a population of approximately 600 college students. Anonymous questionnaires administered to psychology undergraduates sought to establish the prevalence of both stalkers and stalking victims in this sample, the prior relationship between stalker and victim and the coping strategies employed by the latter. The survey revealed that 30% of females and 17% of males reported being victims of stalking behaviours at some time. Conversely, a mere 1% (all of whom were male) admitted to having acted as a stalker. Among those reporting stalking victimisation, the stalker was known to his or her victim in 80% of cases, with 43% of females and 24% of males reporting a previous romantic involvement with their stalker. In fewer than 20% of cases the stalker was not previously known to the victim. The study also noted some discrepancies between reported coping strategies among female and male victims. While both either confronted or avoided the stalker, women also carried repellent aerosol weapons such as mace. An additional strategy reported by men, but not women, was to reconcile with their stalker, at least in instances where there had been a prior intimate relationship. Reporting the harassment to police, and legal remedies such as protective injunctions, were less popular options amongst this cohort. Westrup and colleagues (1999) assessed the psychological effects of stalking among a sample of female
Chapter 4: The victims of stalkers
undergraduates. The study compared students on the basis of whether they had been exposed to ‘harassment’ or ‘stalking’ behaviour. The harassed group consisted of students who claimed to have been intentionally and repeatedly followed, harassed or threatened (n = 43). Those who additionally endorsed the question ‘Would you label the situation you were in as one in which you were being stalked by someone?’ were classed as having been stalked (n = 36). A control group of 48 female students who had never been harassed, but who had at some time been involved in a significant intimate relationship of at least six months’ duration, was included for comparison purposes. Participants completed several measures of psychopathology, including the Symptom Checklist-90-R (SCL-90-R: Derogatis, 1977), a self-report inventory examining nine symptom dimensions, including depression, anxiety and paranoia, and a self-report measure of post-traumatic symptomatology (PTSD Scale: Foa, 1995). The results demonstrated variation in the nature of the unwanted intrusions between the harassed and stalked groups, with victims of stalking significantly more likely to report unwanted phone calls (86% vs. 51%), property damage (30% vs. 11%), following (80% vs. 37%) and physical assaults (36% vs. 11%). Differences in the levels of psychopathology between the groups were less pronounced. The stalking group scored significantly higher than both the harassed and control groups on the measure of post-traumatic symptoms. They also scored higher than control subjects on indices of depressive symptomatology, anxiety and phobic reactions, but did not differ significantly from their harassed counterparts on these measures. College samples are of interest to stalking researchers because college is typically a time where young adults interact with a variety of individuals, and intimate relationships are established and relinquished (see also Spitzberg et al., 1998). Bjerregaard (2000) surveyed 788 college students at a US university. The random sample (65% female, 75% white, 85% single) was representative of the student population as a whole. She found that 21% of students (25% of females and 11% of males) reported experiencing stalking at some point in their lives, 6% of whom were currently being stalked. There were no differences between
stalked and non-victimised students in terms of age, race, marital status or household income. Most victims knew their stalker, who in the majority of cases was a former boyfriend or girlfriend of the opposite gender, though males were significantly more likely than females to report being stalked by a person of the same sex. Stalking lasted several months on average, being slightly longer for male victims in this study. There were few differences between male and female victims in terms of methods of harassment, the commonest being telephone and face-to-face contact, but female victims were more likely to report threats from their stalker. Threatened females were also more likely to have experienced approaches, and 39% of female victims who were threatened (vs. 3% who received no threats) were physically harmed by their stalker. Only 5% of males, however, experienced actual violence and none who had been threatened by their stalker were attacked. Female victims accordingly reported higher levels of fear for their physical safety and emotional wellbeing, and a greater propensity than their male counterparts to involve the criminal justice system, seek counselling and invoke other measures such as changing their phone number or relocating. Kamphuis and Emmelkamp (2001) surveyed supportseeking stalking victims drawn from the Dutch AntiStalking Foundation, exploring the nature of their harassment and its impact on their lifestyle and mental health. The survey utilised standardised measures of both general psychological distress (the 12-item General Health Questionnaire [GHQ-12]: Goldberg and Hillier, 1979) and post-traumatic morbidity (the Impact of Event Scale [IES]: Horowitz et al., 1979). Surveys were distributed to 594 members of the Foundation, of whom 255 responded (43%). Twenty subjects were subsequently excluded, as they failed to meet the criteria for stalking victimisation or provided insufficient data. Of the remaining 235 respondents, 34 were male. These were excluded from the analysis, the authors preferring to focus only on the experiences of female victims. Respondents who said they had experienced an ‘abnormal or long-term pattern of threat or harassment’, and who endorsed repeated instances of specific harassing intrusions, were classed as having been
stalked. The victim sample was highly skewed in terms of the nature of the prior relationship, with 73% of women reporting being stalked by male ex-intimates. Subjects were exposed to extended periods of victimisation, the majority (71%) being pursued for at least two years, though the proportion who continued to be stalked at the time of the survey was not given. A wide repertoire of stalking behaviours was reported, including unwanted telephone calls (89%), the spreading of malicious rumours or lies (82%), intrusive visits (74%), being pestered at work or home (79%) and property damage (64%). Three-quarters of women were reportedly threatened with violence, and 55% indicated that the perpetrator had ‘used violence’ against them, although the nature of this was not defined. Virtually all victims in this study said they were fearful as a consequence of the harassment (97%), and 88% felt that their personal safety was threatened. The majority sought legal assistance (69%), despite the lack of specific anti-stalking legislation in the Netherlands at the time of the study, and over a third changed their residence, often moving to another city. A quarter of the sample ceased their work or school attendance, fearing exposure to further harassment in these settings. Over half the sample indicated that they avoided leaving their homes. The psychological toll for this group was considerable. Some 59% of victims met the threshold for ‘caseness’ morbidity on the GHQ-12, indicating moderate levels of general psychological distress. The mean total score on the IES indicated high levels of post-traumatic symptomatology. The rates of psychopathology did not differ according to the nature of the prior relationship with the perpetrator, but analysis did not extend to the potential mediating effects of stalking duration, exposure to threats and assault, or the recency of victimisation on the observed levels of psychiatric morbidity. The study by Kamphuis and Emmelkamp (2001) characterised a particularly severe form of stalking, with most victims pursued by ex-intimate partners who were prone to threatening and physically violent conduct. The high rates of general psychiatric and posttraumatic morbidity were not surprising in this context. Being stalked not only produced significant lifestyle
disruptions for these victims, but in all likelihood isolated many from their usual sources of support. Though not examined, a lack of social support or inadequate legal interventions may have also contributed to the high rates of observed psychological morbidity. Blaauw and colleagues (2002) subsequently sent a survey, including a Dutch translation GHQ-28, to 470 stalking victims registered with the Dutch AntiStalking Foundation. It is unclear whether any of these subjects overlapped with those in the Kamphuis and Emmelkamp (2001) study. The authors commented on the strikingly high levels of psychopathology in this sample, with 78% of the 241 valid respondents receiving scores on the GHQ-28 that equated with a diagnosable psychiatric disorder and 31% reporting suicidal thoughts. Symptoms were largely independent of features of their stalking experience.
Random community samples In all likelihood the experiences of support-seeking victims represent the extreme end of the spectrum of stalking. More recent studies have drawn from larger, representative community-based samples. Some of these have used comparison groups of individuals who have never been harassed or stalked in order to establish the relative risks of psychological distress among stalking victims. The British Crime Survey (Budd & Mattison, 2000: see Chapter 3) found that stalking had impacted adversely on the majority of victims, with 92% reporting some level of annoyance and three-quarters finding the behaviours distressing or upsetting. Distress was more prominent among women. Enforced lifestyle changes were reported by 71% of victims, particularly women, with over half the sample avoiding certain situations or people, a third venturing out less and 42% adopting extra security measures. The psychosocial impact of stalking was observed to be greater in those cases involving a sexual assault, violence or the threat of violence and obscene phone calls. Interestingly, only a third of victims in this survey (conducted in 1998) understood that these behaviours constituted a crime. Those who did were more likely to seek police assistance (56%). Other sources of help reported by this
Chapter 4: The victims of stalkers
sample included friends, relatives and neighbours (72%), intimates (55%) and less frequently a doctor or other carer (8%). Women were again more likely to seek advice than men. As detailed in the previous chapter, Purcell and colleagues (2002, 2005b) conducted a random, representative community survey examining the experience of harassing intrusions and current mental health. Standardised brief self-report instruments (the 28-item GHQ and the IES) were employed to assess rates of psychiatric symptomatology in those who reported the experience of brief harassing intrusions (n = 196, median duration 2 days) or protracted stalking (n = 236, median duration 6 months) and a control group who reported no such harassment (n = 432). The latter group of non-harassed subjects was matched according to gender, age, highest level of education and employment status, but marital status could not be controlled between the groups as the rates of separation and divorce were significantly higher among victims of stalking. Victims in this study reporting a stalking duration of more than two weeks were more likely than their briefly harassed counterparts to boost their home security, change residence, curtail their social outings, increase their alcohol and tobacco consumption and experience greater work absenteeism. These victims were also more likely to indicate they had sought some form of assistance (82% vs. 55%), particularly from the police (44% vs. 27%) and mental health professionals (23% vs. 4%). In this study, rates of psychiatric morbidity on the GHQ-28 were significantly higher among individuals who reported a history of protracted stalking (36%) than among either matched controls (19%) or victims of brief episodes of harassment (22%). Subscale scores on the GHQ-28 also differed according to group, with victims of stalking scoring higher than both harassed and control subjects on most measures (somatic complaints, anxiety/insomnia and severe depression). Victims of stalking were also more likely than the harassed and control groups to endorse recent suicidal ideation, an experience reported by almost one in 10 stalking victims in this study. Sixteen per cent of stalking victims in this study met the criteria for caseness on the IES, indicating clinically
significant levels of post-traumatic symptomatology. Victims of stalking were three times more likely than the victims of briefer periods of harassment to meet the threshold for caseness on the IES, and total IES scores were also elevated for stalked subjects compared with the harassed group. The rates of general psychiatric morbidity among the victims of stalking in this study were not associated with the methods of pursuit or the experience of associated threats and violence. There was no association between the nature of the prior relationship to the stalker and morbidity on either the GHQ-28 or the IES, suggesting that psychopathology among stalking victims may be largely independent of who engages in such pursuit. The recency of the stalking similarly failed to moderate the levels of general psychiatric distress, the proportion of victims meeting the threshold for caseness on the GHQ-28 not differing significantly from those pursued in the year prior to the study (43%) and those stalked more than 12 months earlier (34%). Unlike the rates of general psychiatric morbidity, the levels of post-traumatic psychopathology did vary according to the recency of victimisation. A third of victims who were stalked in the year prior to the survey met the criteria for caseness on the IES, compared to 10% of those for whom stalking ended more than a year earlier. These findings suggest that while symptoms of anxiety and depression often persist, the severity of intrusive reminders and restrictive avoidance behaviours is likely to diminish over time. Nonetheless, 10% of victims remained significantly disturbed by intrusive and unwanted reminders of the stalking long after the immediate threat of the behaviour had abated. This randomly selected community sample found that over a third of individuals exposed to protracted stalking reported elevated levels of psychiatric morbidity, and nearly one in five reported significant posttraumatic symptomatology. Anxiety and depression was more pronounced for those with a history of stalking, approximately 10% of whom acknowledged recent suicidal ideation. The nature of victimisation contributed minimally to rates of anxiety and depressive symptoms, as did the recency of stalking. These findings emphasise the chronic course of impairment that can accompany stalking victimisation, despite evidence
that the severity of the symptoms in many cases diminishes over time. The study also lends further support to our earlier premise that the fear and menace associated with threats may be more emotionally damaging to victims than the reality of physical harm. The rates of post-traumatic symptomatology in the random community sample studied by Purcell et al. were notably lower than those observed in clinical settings, and in the studies of support-seeking stalking victims described earlier (e.g. Pathé & Mullen, 1997; Kamphuis & Emmelkamp, 2001). The Kamphuis and Emmelkamp study contained a preponderance of victims of ex-intimate stalking (73%), a high proportion of whom were subjected to threats and violence. Additional variables that may mediate psychopathology among stalking victims were not measured in the study by Purcell et al. Since the study could not control for marital status, the possibility that elevated rates of psychopathology were associated with higher rates of separation and divorce could not be excluded. This study was unique, however, in distinguishing between two types of repeated intrusiveness, short-lived harassment and protracted stalking (for further discussion of the heuristic value in this distinction see Chapter 3). In doing so it was possible to demonstrate that briefer periods of harassment are not associated with longerterm emotional disturbance. Indeed, the proportion of subjects meeting the criteria for caseness on the GHQ-28 was equivalent between those exposed to brief spurts of harassment and non-harassed controls. This is not to say that individuals subject to short-lived harassment suffer no ill effects, as it is our experience that many individuals will experience some degree of fear and apprehension, and for some the conduct may precipitate a sense of vulnerability or a preoccupation with safety. The impact of stalking will be discussed further later in this chapter. More recently, Dressing and colleagues (2005) conducted a random postal survey of 1000 men and 1000 women residing in the German city of Mannheim, as detailed in Chapter 3. Consistent with the findings of earlier surveys, nearly three-quarters of the victims identified in the Mannheim study reported changes to their lifestyle in response to the stalking, including
changing their telephone number, implementing additional security measures, changing employment and moving to another address. Those who reported stalking experiences also described a range of psychological and somatic symptoms, most commonly agitation (56%), anxiety (44%), sleep difficulties (41%), suspicion of others (39%), ‘stomach trouble’ (35%), depression (28%), headaches (14%) and panic attacks (12%). In this study 24% of victims had consulted a psychologist or physician as a consequence of stalking-related distress, and 18% were reportedly on sick leave because of the impact of the stalking. Almost a third of the victim sample reported aggressive thoughts towards their stalker. The impact of lifetime stalking on current psychological wellbeing was explored by asking all participants in the Mannheim survey, irrespective of their experience of harassment, to complete the WHO-5 Well-Being Index, a five-item scale that assesses psychological wellbeing over the past two weeks (World Health Organization, 1998). Those identified as stalking victims scored significantly worse than non-victimised respondents according to this psychometric measure, despite the vast majority of victims reporting that the stalking had ended at the time of the survey. A multiple regression analysis found a strong association between ever having been stalked and low levels of psychological wellbeing at the time of the survey. The Mannheim survey further assessed current psychiatric morbidity by administering the Patient Health Questionnaire to all participants (Kuehner et al., 2007). The PHQ, an extensively evaluated psychometric tool specifically developed for use in primary care settings, generates threshold and subthreshold psychiatric diagnoses according to DSM-IV, though it does not assess symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (Spitzer et al., 1999). This group found that, when adjusted for age and sex, lifetime stalking victims (n = 77) were more likely to currently manifest major depression, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and somatoform disorder, and when further adjusted for the presence of comorbid disorders the most robust associations were with major depression and panic disorder. Lifetime stalking victims were no more likely to suffer from
Chapter 4: The victims of stalkers
alcohol-related disorders, but 20.8% of victims, compared with 5.6% of non-victims, reported current psychotropic medication usage. When active victims (n = 11) were excluded from this analysis there remained a significant association between stalking victimisation and psychiatric caseness, supporting the findings of earlier studies that stalking can produce poor long-term health consequences for its victims.
Typology of stalking victims Several classifications of stalking victims have been proposed, all based on the premorbid relationship between victim and stalker. Zona and colleagues (1993) simply divided victims into two categories, either prior relationship or no prior relationship, the former subdivided into acquaintance, customer, neighbour, professional relationship, dating and sexual intimates. Meloy and Gothard (1995) advocated categorisation of victims as either stranger or former (sexual) intimate while Harmon et al. (1995) were rather more inclusive, classifying the victim’s prior relationship as personal, professional, employment, media, acquaintance, none or unknown. Subsequently, Meloy (1996) argued for a simplification of this relational typology into three broad, mutually exclusive groupings: prior sexual intimates, prior acquaintances and strangers. Fremouw and colleagues (1997) divided the prior relationship between victim and stalker into friend, casual date, serious date and stranger, while Emerson et al. (1998) introduced the terms unacquainted stalking, pseudoacquainted stalking (where the victim is a publicly identified figure) and semiacquainted stalking (where there has been some contact between victim and stalker in the past, as in co-workers). We have proposed the following typology of stalking victims, in which they are categorised according to their former relationship with the stalker and the context in which they are targeted. These are not entirely mutually exclusive groupings, and the allocation of a victim will in some instances be a matter of judgement. The groupings are: prior intimates, estranged family and friends, casual acquaintances, professional contacts, workplace contacts, strangers, public figures, unknowns and secondary victims.
Prior intimates This is the largest category, the commonest victim profile being a woman who has previously shared an intimate relationship with her (usually male) stalker. Although some have defined prior intimates as ‘current or former spouses, current or former co-habitants (of the same or opposite sex), or current or former boyfriends or girlfriends’ (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998), we include as stalking only those cases in which the relationship has been terminated, the victim having made his or her wishes unequivocally known to the other party. It has been noted that approximately half of these cases will have been stalked by their partner while still in the relationship, being even at this stage subjected to behaviours such as following, surveillance and damage to personal property. These relationships are often characterised by the offending partner’s emotional abuse, controlling behaviour and violence. Indeed, it has been found that over 80% of women stalked by a current or former partner have whilst still in the relationship been physically assaulted by them, with a further 30% reporting sexual assaults prior to their separation (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). The stalking behaviours often indulged in whilst the relationship is still in progress serve to intimidate and control the victim. Stalking a partner isolates them from outside supports such that the victim can less easily leave the relationship. Stalked ex-intimates are exposed to the widest range of harassment methods. Repeated phone calls and persistent following, threats and violence are more likely to be experienced by this group (see Chapter 6). Walker and Meloy (1998) contend that, within the realm of domestic violence, ‘stalking is a risk factor for further physical abuse or a lethal incident just by virtue of the tenacious proximity seeking toward the victim, and especially if it occurs in combination with several other high-risk behaviours’ (p. 142). The victims of ex-intimate partners can expect the pursuit to be more persistent, though legal sanctions may persuade their ex-partner to refrain from further harassment. This is often more complicated if victim and stalker share children: the stalker may have legitimate visitation rights (though these are often
Typology of stalking victims
exceeded) or may embark on a custody battle fuelled by a strong sense of entitlement, vengeance and determination to maintain contact with the rejecting party (see Chapter 15). In one instance, a stalker made false allegations that his ex-wife was abusing their two young children, a malicious tactic that very nearly resulted in the victim losing custody of her children and facing criminal charges. Morbidly jealous ex-intimates are also more refractory to legal interventions, their victims typically reporting that they were subject to stalking behaviours, particularly surveillance, during the relationship. One woman left her ex-partner when he became increasingly suspicious of her innocent interactions with male work peers. He had been monitoring her day-to-day activities by appearing unexpectedly at her workplace or at other venues including cafés and shops, wiretapping the home phone, scrutinising her mobile phone bills for unfamiliar numbers, and reading her mail. This behaviour escalated when the relationship ended, the woman being subjected to almost constant surveillance and repeated threats. ‘Date’ stalkers, with whom the victim may have had only a brief romantic liaison, are less likely to exhibit violence than ex-partners, whose emotional investment in the victim is considerably greater. The victim of a date stalker often gives a history of discomfort early in the relationship. They are, however, often reluctant to hurt their (most commonly) boyfriend’s feelings and they may accept further dates beyond the point at which they perceive any future in the relationship. These cases lend some truth to the maxim ‘men who cannot let go choose women who cannot say no’ (de Becker, 1997, p. 203). When victims do make an assertive attempt to extricate themselves, their partner typically reacts badly, often in a childlike or pathetic manner which exploits the victim’s guilt and sympathy. Some will threaten suicide (Pathé, 2002). The guilt frequently experienced by victims in this category can be reinforced by the propensity of others to judge their predicament. Family and friends may express their disapproval of the victim’s relationship choices, and helping agencies may convey their suspicions that the victim in some way encouraged the stalking. Ex-intimate victims are more likely than those in other categories to seek police help and legal advice,
where they may encounter similar attitudes. The response of the criminal justice system does not always live up to the victim’s expectations, leading to calls for comprehensive training for workers in the criminal justice system in the special needs of victims of intimate-partner stalking (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998).
Estranged family and friends Victims may be pursued by an estranged parent, sibling, child, extended family member or former friend. Parents who cannot tolerate their children’s lifestyle or relationship choices on account of religious, cultural or personality factors may engage in stalking behaviours. A 25-year-old psychology student who consulted us had moved out of the parental home in response to her Croatian father’s strenuous opposition to her relationship with her Macedonian boyfriend. Her father stormed her boyfriend’s home and threatened his family, he repeatedly phoned his daughter and called her a whore, and he interrupted her lectures and was so abusive he had to be forcibly removed. The victim ultimately suspended her studies, abandoned her long-suffering boyfriend and fled overseas. In another case a middle-aged man with antisocial personality traits blamed his elderly parents for his childhood sexual abuse by a Catholic priest. He repeatedly threatened his parents and attempted to extort $50 000 from his pensioner father as ‘compensation’, he smashed windows at the front of their house when they refused him entry, and he spread malicious rumours about his father’s sexual proclivities. The parents were forced to obtain a protective injunction against their son, but because the harassment was perceived as a ‘family dispute’ the police were reticent to enforce the order.
Casual acquaintances Victims in this category know their stalker through a casual social encounter or other casual association. They may for example be neighbours. Hall (1998) found that this was the commonest category for male stalking victims. Intimacy seekers and incompetents may commence their activities after a casual social
Chapter 4: The victims of stalkers
encounter, while rejected stalking patterns may emerge after the breakdown of a casual friendship. Neighbour stalking is generally perpetrated by resentful stalkers. Typically, the victim becomes embroiled in a dispute with a neighbour, often over property boundaries, renovations, gardens, pets or noise. The perpetrator develops a grudge against the victim that is disproportionate to the original conflict and becomes increasingly focused on revenge. His or her activities escalate, with personal threats directed at the victim, malicious complaints to police and government departments, property damage, the theft or killing of pets, letters and notes affixed to the victim’s car or property, house break-ins, leaving unsolicited material such as dead rodents on the victim’s doorstep, monitoring the victim’s movements from a vantage point such as a front or side window in the stalker’s home (sometimes aided by binoculars and cameras), repeated accusatory approaches when the victim ventures out and even full-blown assaults. The stalker in these situations may also target the primary victim’s family or other co-habitants, children especially becoming pawns in the conflict. Protective injunctions are problematic and difficult to enforce in these circumstances, the victim or victims frequently resorting to a change of residence to escape their highly stressful home environment. Though drastic and disruptive to the victim’s entire family, this strategy is frequently curative in these situations.
Professional contacts Healthcare providers, lawyers and teachers are especially vulnerable to stalking. These professions are at increased risk of stalkers from all motivational categories, though intimacy seekers, incompetents and the resentful predominate. The termination of a therapeutic relationship may occasionally give rise to ‘rejected’ stalking patterns, and this group of victims can also be prone to the sexually predatory behaviours of their patients, clients or students. Chapter 17 presents research on the prevalence of stalking within the healthcare industry, and examines its impact upon health professionals and its implications for the profession as a whole.
Workplace contacts For some individuals, stalking victimisation arises in a work-related context. Chapter 16 discusses the nature of workplace stalking and a range of approaches to this growing problem.
Strangers Victims in this category are not aware of any prior contact with the stalker. The stalker’s unfamiliarity in itself creates confusion and alarm. Most commonly they are pursued by intimacy-seeking or incompetent individuals, both of whom may admire the victim from afar for some time before subjecting their love interest to more overt forms of harassment. On occasion the stalker’s identity is initially concealed from the victim and is presumed to be a stranger, but later, when the stalker chooses to shed his or her anonymity (or has no choice but to do so in order to seek greater proximity to the object of interest), he or she may actually be known to the victim. Intimacy seekers generally select their victim on the basis of his or her elevated social status or their prominence in the stalker’s environment (see Chapter 7). A socialite was pursued over a two-year period by a 30-year-old male with an untreated schizophrenic illness and secondary erotomanic delusions. He believed that he was secretly engaged to the attractive young woman whose picture frequently appeared in the social pages of the local newspaper. He wrote regularly to his imagined lover and occasionally watched her at public events, but when he finally approached her at a charity dinner he was unceremoniously evicted. Fearful that she was being held captive by her minders and prevented from joining her faithful suitor, he returned to the dinner armed with knives and ‘prepared to fight’. He was easily overpowered and conveyed to a psychiatric hospital for treatment, his victim commenting, ‘He sent a few letters but I thought he was a pretty harmless, pathetic kind of guy … I don’t know what it was with me – I’d never seen him before in my life.’ While psychotic, as opposed to personalitydisordered, intimacy seekers may have a lower incidence of violence towards their love object they are as
Typology of stalking victims
likely as other stalkers to make threats and they are among the most persistent of stalkers (Mullen et al., 1999). Occasionally these stalkers will react with extreme violence to their victim’s repeated rebuffs (Mullen & Pathé, 1994b). Those who fall victim to unfamiliar incompetent stalkers find that, typically by virtue of physical attractiveness and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, they are subsequently subjected to repeated approaches and other unwanted intrusions from an unknown or little-known individual of usually limited endowment who is unnervingly impervious to rejection. Victims report crude attempts to court them, often receiving gifts such as flowers and soft toys, especially on occasions like birthdays and St Valentine’s Day. In this group victims may describe feelings of surprise and even flattery when first approached. In these circumstances they may reply with a polite and often ambiguous response which is perceived by the stalker as encouragement. At times victims give in to their stalker’s persistence, dating them on one or more occasions, perhaps out of naive curiosity but more often in the misguided hope that their unwanted suitor will then desist. This response does indeed gratify the stalker’s wishes – to have, and hold onto, a relationship – and reinforces the pursuit. The sexually predatory stalker frequently targets strangers. The victim is an adult female in the majority of cases, but neither children nor men have escaped the attentions of this group of stalkers. Commonly, victims report a shorter duration of pursuit relative to their counterparts in other victim categories, although their stalker’s involvement often predates the victim’s awareness of their interest. This group is subject to a range of sexually abusive behaviours, from obscene phone calls to rape and even sexual murder, as detailed in Chapter 9. The following case illustrates the overlapping nature of the classificatory system, demonstrating both stranger and workplace stalking with predatory and incompetent elements. CASE EXAMPLE Con was a 22-year-old man of Greek immigrant parents who was referred to our clinic by the court for a pre-sentence psychiatric assessment. He had been convicted of stalking a
19-year-old shop assistant and misuse of telecommunications equipment. He presented as a rather immature and shy man with limited verbal skills but he was reasonably forthcoming at interview, expressing some guilt for his actions which he summed up as ‘stupid … it was really dumb’. It transpired that one day almost a year previously Con had been browsing for jeans in a clothing shop near the home he shared with his parents. He was approached by the sales assistant, an attractive woman who greeted him with a friendly smile and offered to help him find his correct size. As he tried the jeans on he envisioned the young woman as his girlfriend and felt highly sexually aroused. He wanted to ask the shop assistant out but lacked the confidence; he instead put the jeans aside, ostensibly to further contemplate the purchase, but with the actual intention of returning to speak with the girl of his dreams. Con claimed to have made multiple further attempts to engage this woman, but he simply felt too awkward to proceed to ask her out on a date. Instead, he hovered outside the shop, mostly out of sight, trying to catch glimpses of her at work. He admitted also to following her to her car at the end of her shift and to watching her and a group of females as they lunched at a nearby shopping mall. He became preoccupied with her, and she became the focus of his sexual fantasies. One day, he called her anonymously from a payphone opposite the shop, but was paralysed with anxiety and said nothing. However, on the second occasion a day later he asked her about the lingerie she was wearing, proceeding to make a number of lewd suggestions before she hung up. He made a further eight calls, all obscene, before the police intercepted. Con was the youngest of three brothers. Both of his brothers were substantially older and had long before married and moved out of home. Con considered himself a loner who had struggled at school, leaving during Year 10 to embark on a printing apprenticeship. He regarded himself as heterosexual but had never had a girlfriend and remained a virgin, blaming his shyness and lack of social opportunities. Con’s parents were concerned about their son’s social isolation and had arranged on a number of occasions for him to meet the daughters of friends, but Con was never comfortable about pursuing these. By Con’s account his parents were caring people who both now suffered major ill health and wanted to see Con ‘settled with his own family’ before they died. Con had no record of prior convictions but admitted previously following and monitoring other attractive women, though always, he believed, without their knowledge. He denied making obscene calls in the past and specifically denied paraphilic arousal patterns and other sexually offensive activities. He was not a substance abuser, though he was inclined to drink excessively on the infrequent occasions
Chapter 4: The victims of stalkers
he ventured out socially. He said this gave him a little more confidence around people. Mental state examination did not reveal any major mood disorder or psychotic features. Intelligence testing demonstrated an IQ in the low-average range. Con said he had not returned to the clothing shop since his arrest, nor had he made any attempt to further contact his victim. He recognised that his actions would have had a negative impact on her, even though she was probably unaware of the full extent of the stalking behaviours. He claimed he no longer fantasised about the woman, finding his arrest and court appearance sufficiently aversive to extinguish these feelings for her. He agreed to participate in a group programme which provided training in social and intimacy skills, and education in human sexuality.
Victims may also fall prey to an unknown stalker whose actions are motivated by resentment. The victim may well have done nothing specific to provoke the harassment, but rather is selected as a representative of a particular group or class detested by the stalker. For some victims this may be only that they epitomise success in life. One female executive found herself the recipient of threatening phone calls and letters as well as having her gleaming new sports car scratched and scrawled with abusive graffiti. She was eventually confronted with the heretofore anonymous persecutor in the driveway of her home. The stalker, an unemployed young man, bitterly accused her of knowing nothing of hardship and profiting from the misery of the disadvantaged. This same man, who had been retrenched from his job two years earlier, had previously made threats to a prominent wealthy businessman, for which he still faced charges. While the choice of target may not always be clear to the victim of a resentful stranger, there is much less confusion about the stalker’s feelings towards them. As suggested by the word resentful, these individuals are embittered and aggrieved, and it is their intention to induce fear and distress in the object of their unwanted intrusions. Like those stalked by ex-intimates, victims in this category are subject to a range of behaviours including being threatened and assaulted. It is of little comfort to victims that progression to full-blown assault occurs infrequently, the stalker preferring to intentionally create a climate of fear over a protracted period (see Chapter 6). Unfortunately for some victims,
the harassment persists or even escalates in response to legal intervention. One woman received death threats from her imprisoned stalker on his illegally obtained mobile phone. The woman had once worked for a betting agency against which her stalker had a longstanding vendetta. He one day entered her office drunk and verbally abusive and she called the police, who ejected him. Outraged and humiliated, he had since focused his hostilities on her, culminating in what the victim believed would be her two-month reprieve as he served a prison sentence for stalking and threats to kill. The prisoner was unrepentant and righteously indignant when embarrassed prison officials removed the contraband. The incident had enormous implications for the victim’s wellbeing, shattering her confidence and trust in the criminal justice system and her capacity to ever feel safe.
Public figures These victims are known to the stalker through their celebrity or other public profile. Examples include entertainers, sports stars, writers, models, socialites, politicians and heads of state. The psychopathology and motivations of their stalkers are discussed in Chapter 18. Just as celebrity stalkers not uncommonly target, concurrently or sequentially, a number of celebrities, high-profile victims may well have to contend with more than one stalker. Indeed, in his intriguing account of celebrity stalkers and assassins, Gavin de Becker (1997) notes that the phenomenon is now commonplace among celebrities, though only a small proportion of these are ever reported in the media. It has even become a source of black humour in celebrity circles that one hasn’t attained true fame unless one has one’s own stalker! Many place much of the blame for this malediction on the evolution of the media age: Performers, politicians, and sports figures have long been admired and even loved, but that love used to be contained and distant … It was, emotionally speaking, a one-way street, because feelings could be displayed to the public figure only as part of an acceptable function, like voting, sending letters, or seeing a show …[Fans] didn’t seek to make themselves known personally to performers … Before the advent of mass media, a young girl might have admired a performer from afar, and it
Typology of stalking victims
would have been acceptable if she pursued the performer to his home, or if she had to be restrained by police. It would not have been acceptable to skip school in order to wait for hours outside a hotel and then try to tear pieces of clothing from the passing star. (de Becker, 1997, pp. 232–3)
In his book Star Stalkers, Mair (1995) observes that many individuals who pursue celebrity figures share backgrounds which are remarkable for their lack of intimacy. Some harbour delusional beliefs that they have an intimate relationship with their victim (for example, the multiply stalked talk-show host David Letterman was harassed for a decade by a woman who insisted she was his wife), while others understand that their love for the victim is not (yet) reciprocated. Violence occurs uncommonly, its incidence, again, being disproportionately reported in the mass media. Attacks on the victim are more likely in the face of persistent rejection or other precipitants, when the stalker finally realises the hopelessness of his quest, or in those cases where the celebrity is the object of animosity rather than affection. For example, actress/ singer Olivia Newton-John was pursued at one time by a psychotic man who vowed to kill her because he believed her to be an impostor, and the 1993 knife attack on tennis player Monica Seles was intended to eliminate her from the tennis circuit so that her assailant Günter Parche could ensure the success of her opponent Steffi Graf, whom he had idolised for years. It was reported that after his arrest Parche told police, ‘Seles had no right to be the world’s top player. That was Steffi’s place. I love her’ (Who Weekly, May 1993, p. 43). The media can promote stalking of public figures by its reporting of these cases, glamorising them and fulfilling the stalker’s dreams of a relationship of sorts with their victim. The attention accorded to these individuals, especially those who ultimately become assassins, may fulfil one of the stalker’s objectives: to achieve fame, or at least notoriety, their behaviour culminating in the biggest and most important day of their life. Forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz observes, ‘In their quest for attention and identity, these individuals go to the people who have the most identity to spare: famous people’ (cited in de Becker, 1997, pp. 259–60).
Protection of celebrity victims has become an industry in its own right, especially in parts of the world such as Los Angeles where fame is concentrated. Increasingly, the famous forward inappropriate communications for professional evaluation and can be sheltered from much of the harassment. There is evidence that stalkers can be thwarted by the inaccessibility of their victim. Robert Bardo, the stalker who ultimately murdered Rebecca Schaeffer, was known to have stalked several famous people, but gave up on these because they were less accessible than the young actress. In Bardo’s view at least, if stars ‘have security and they have bodyguards, it makes you look at that celebrity different and makes a person like me stand back. It kind of stands against this hope of a romantic relationship’ (de Becker, 1997, p. 242).
Unknowns In some cases victims do not know the identity of their stalker. They may receive anonymous phone calls, correspondence or other forms of harassment that leave few clues to the stalker’s persona or even their motive. The impact of stalking by an unidentified perpetrator can be substantial. Victims feel particularly powerless when they are targeted in this manner, especially in those cases where the stalker continues to evade all efforts at detection. For these victims the entire world can take on a frightening and malevolent quality, heightening distrust and constricting their social sphere. This is depicted brilliantly in Charles Gassot’s movie A la folie pas du tout (He loves me, he loves me not), in which a cardiologist, plagued by repeated anonymous communications from an erotomanic woman, mistakes the identity of his paramour and attacks an innocent patient.
Secondary victims These victims are not the primary object of the stalker’s attention. Their victimisation may be the accidental or deliberate consequence of their proximity or relationship to the primary victim. Commonly encountered in this category are the family members, friends, work colleagues and housemates of the primary victim. We
Chapter 4: The victims of stalkers
were consulted by a woman who lost most of her possessions when her flatmate’s former boyfriend, who had been stalking and threatening the flatmate for some months, set fire to their apartment. More typically, third parties are deliberately targeted when the stalker perceives them as blocking access to the object of their affections. Romantic partners of victims pursued by former intimates and would-be suitors are particularly vulnerable, making up 3% of stalking victims in one random community survey (Dressing et al., 2005). In these situations third parties may be subjected to threats, property damage and even physical violence, the stalker reasoning, ‘If I can’t have her nobody else will’. Even casual friends who are perceived to be romantically involved with the victim are vulnerable to harassment, especially when the stalker is morbidly jealous. Threats may be directed at third parties in order to manipulate or retaliate against the primary victim. For instance, the stalker may threaten to harm the victim’s children or harangue her elderly parents unless she acquiesces to his demands. One stalker sent obscene letters to the family members of the new girlfriend of her primary victim (ex-boyfriend) and circulated staff bulletins at this woman’s workplace, alleging the woman was involved in prostitution. Children are commonly secondary victims of stalking. They may be directly threatened or used as pawns in child custody disputes between the victimised parent and the stalking parent (see Chapter 15). They may be exposed to the stalker’s threats and intrusions, and to behaviours that even to adults are bizarre and incomprehensible. Their pets may be maimed or killed. They are subjected to high levels of parental anxiety, depression and dysfunction. They may be forced to assume adult responsibilities (e.g. grocery shopping because the parent is housebound with fear) or their lifestyle may be severely constrained by the victim’s debility or overprotectiveness. In one case, the children of a woman who was being stalked by her violent ex-husband suffered increasing isolation as their mother kept them at home and other parents would not risk allowing their children to visit their flat. Others who are vulnerable to victimisation are the primary victim’s co-workers, who again may be
perceived as thwarting access to the victim (e.g. when they refuse to pass on the stalker’s phone calls or otherwise block the stalker’s intrusions in the workplace.) As noted in Chapter 16, a stalker’s repeated incursions at work can be very disruptive to staff and customers, and they may become the recipients of threats and violence.
Unusual victims The circumstances underlying the selection of some victims may be highly unusual. A woman who sought our assistance recounted a relatively brief but intense campaign of harassment, being subjected to repeated abusive phone calls, angry approaches in public and arson attacks on her property. Her stalker had a long history of fanatical pursuit of public figures, but it transpired that the victim had herself stalked a local media figure and had been threatened with a court injunction. It was when her stalking activities intruded upon his stalking that she found herself on the receiving end of merciless harassment. She subsequently abandoned her pursuit of the contested celebrity. Interestingly, this decision to abandon her obsession with the celebrity appeared to be based as much on a whole new appreciation of the impact of her unwanted contact and communications as on her fears for her personal safety should she again encroach on this man’s territory. Thus, experiencing stalking through a victim’s eyes proved to be an effective, albeit highly unusual, remedy for stalking (her stalker subsequently responded to the more conventional approach of legal sanctions). Robert Bardo experienced a similar role reversal after his incarceration for Rebecca Schaeffer’s murder: ‘All the fame that I have achieved from this [celebrity murder] results in me getting death threats and harassment. The media says things about me that aren’t even true. I have no control over them invading my privacy, bringing up my case over and over again on TV so they can make money off it’ (de Becker, 1997, p. 241). Now apparently sympathetic to the plight of the famous, he wants to be regarded as the ‘anti-assassin’, offering advice to the stars in the hope that they may avoid harassment and harm (de Becker, 1997).
The impact of stalking on victims
Though arguably a variant of famous victims (Newman & Appelbaum, 2007), notorious prisoners may also attract adoring fans whose behaviours can constitute stalking. An armed robber now detained in a maximum-security prison who received considerable media exposure as a consequence of his multiple prison escapes has been inundated with letters – some containing nude photographs – from adoring young men and infatuated women. One flashed her genitals at the prisoner during a non-contact visit and, although she has been banned from further visits, continues to write him letters and declare her love for him. The attentions are such that this inglorious victim appealed through his lawyer for the ‘hero-worship’ to stop (The Sunday Mail, 14 March 1999, p. 6). Rarely, non-celebrities may be targeted by multiple stalkers, either concurrently or (more often) sequentially. While individuals who make false allegations of being stalked may assert they have attracted multiple stalkers (see Chapter 19), there do appear to be genuine cases who, by virtue of a high-risk occupation, a proclivity to choose high-risk partners, exceptional physical attributes or sheer bad luck, may find themselves revictimised on one or more occasions. Tjaden and Thoennes (1998) found that 9% of female and 8% of male victims claimed to have been stalked by two different individuals, and 1% of female and 2% of male victims reported being pursued by three different stalkers.
The impact of stalking on victims Helen Razer, an Australian radio broadcaster, columnist and comedienne, was stalked by a man with the delusional belief that she was his wife. Over several months, Ms Razer received a stream of disturbing letters and threatening telephone calls, was followed around town by her assailant and was approached on several occasions at her workplace during her live radio broadcasts. Her stalker had to be repeatedly ejected by her co-host. Ms Razer obtained a two-year restraining order against the man, prohibiting any further contact with her, but felt so terrorised by the experience and unsupported by many with whom she worked that she
suspended her successful broadcasting career. The radio host described severe panic attacks and bouts of depression as a consequence of the stalking, and she often felt unable to leave the house or talk to others. She remarked: I never wanted to turn into one of those paranoid, homeinvasional … type of people, but I have, and it’s sad to be so paranoid. Being stalked would shake anyone. It depends on the individual’s reaction but I just felt incapable of defending myself and I don’t know why. (Forte Magazine, 1 October 1998).
The studies presented in this chapter highlight the many facets of victims’ lives that may be affected by stalking. More systematic data from larger community surveys have lent support to the earlier, largely descriptive studies that highlighted the psychological and social damage inflicted on victims and other parties as a consequence of persistent stalking. Community surveys have enabled us to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the psychological reactions of stalking victims and to explore the trauma- and individualrelated factors associated with the development of traumatic morbidity. The psychological responses of victims of stalking have much in common with victims of other traumas, both man-made and natural. For victims of single, violent crimes, an initial acute stress disorder is common; this may or may not give rise over time to the development of stress-related symptoms currently conceptualised most frequently as PTSD. These stressrelated syndromes may also be associated with conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders and psychoactive substance abuse/dependence (Bisson & Shepherd, 1995). Research on the psychological effects of violent crime has focused particularly on the sequelae of sexual assaults on females. PTSD has been found in up to 80% of rape victims (Breslau et al., 1991). Lopez and colleagues (1992) reported that 38% of their survey sample of 436 rape victims met criteria for chronic PTSD and 71% suffered depressive disorders. The threat and uncertainty following the aftermath of a nuclear accident at Three Mile Island (TMI) in the USA in 1979 provided an opportunity to evaluate the psychological impact of a protracted stress situation not
Chapter 4: The victims of stalkers
simply confined to the immediate period after the disaster itself was terminated (Baum et al., 1983). Research from the TMI disaster found that the ‘intensity and duration of stressors are necessary but insufficient to explain the persistence and dysfunction associated with stress’ (Baum et al., 1993, p. 278). Davidson and Baum (1986) noted that while the original environmental mishap at TMI ‘may not have been as intense or gruesome as natural disasters or combat, the continuation of sources of threat at TMI may have compensated by generating lasting consequences there’ (p. 306, emphasis added). This research provides evidence that adverse effects on functioning can occur if a person remains for an extended period in a situation where he or she feels under threat (Baum et al., 1983). It has been proposed by Baum and colleagues (1993) that ‘events involving loss of control and violation of expectations for control have different effects than do events that remind us of forces over which control was never expected’ (p. 279), such as earthquakes and other ungovernable natural forces. Trauma that involves loss of control further appears to generate more persistent disquiet than other stressors. Stress-resistance research has also shown a central role for social support, effective coping strategies and positive personality characteristics in stress-resistance and the maintenance of psychological health: ‘Under high stressors, adaptive personality characteristics and family support function prospectively as coping resources’ (Holahan & Moos, 1991, p. 36). Unlike many other criminal offences, stalking is distinguished by its repetition and persistence. The stalking victim is usually exposed to multiple forms of harassment, often involving threatening and traumatic incidents, the consequence of which may be chronic fear and apprehension. As evidenced in the reviewed victim studies, stalking characteristically produces in the victim hypervigilance and a pervasive sense of mistrust in others. Although in some instances this suspicion and caution are entirely appropriate, they can alienate victims from their usual and formerly valuable sources of support, leading to social isolation. Even the most robust of intimate relationships and friendships can be severely tested by the persistent intrusions of a stalker, together with the victim’s reaction to such activities.
The victim may be further isolated by virtue of the stalker’s effect on their occupational functioning, leading in some cases to the destruction of the victim’s career. Abrams and Robinson (2002) reported the case of a woman who was dismissed from her job for deficient work performance and poor attendance consequent upon stalking by a former intimate. This case demonstrated the multitude of ways in which stalking can impede a victim’s job performance, by interfering directly with the victim’s capacity to attend work (e.g. damaging the victim’s vehicle), by compromising the safety of the workplace (e.g. by the stalker phoning work repeatedly or arriving there unannounced), or through a stress-related decline in the victim’s mental and/or physical health. The study by Pathé and Mullen (1997) also noted that being stalked is time-consuming, and additional demands, such as attendances at police stations and courts and appointments with lawyers and doctors, may diminish a victim’s reliability and productivity. The constellation of symptoms that comprise the diagnosis of PTSD – avoidance, intrusive memories, numbing of responses and excessive arousal – well captures the psychological sequelae in many instances of stalking. As a diagnostic entity, PTSD also valuably emphasises the chronic nature of mental disorder or disturbance that can be produced by exposure to traumatic stressors. However, the current conceptualisation of post-traumatic stress by the American Psychiatric Association is somewhat restrictive in that it allows for psychological decompensation following only a discrete or relatively circumscribed traumatic event that threatens or actually harms one’s physical integrity. This conceptualisation fails to acknowledge the psychological distress produced by prolonged trauma and repeated victimisation, as in stalking, which, although not necessarily involving explicit threats to one’s physical being, is clearly no less damaging to the victim’s mental health. Herman (1992) coined the term complex trauma syndrome to describe a disorder that is more multifarious, severe and enduring than DSM-defined PTSD. Complex PTSD, also referred to as disorders of extreme stress (DES) or disorders of extreme stress not otherwise specified (DESNOS) (van der Kolk et al., 1996),
The impact of stalking on victims
encompasses ‘systematic and pathological changes in the victim’s affect regulation, consciousness, selfperception, identity, perception of the perpetrator, relations to others, and system of meaning’ (Ebert & Dyck, 2004). The symptoms of complex PTSD are typically encountered in the context of severe traumatic events involving coercive control. Such control may be established through physical force, or a combination of physical, psychological, social or economic means. Totalitarian control characterises many stalking situations as well as certain other types of multiple, severe, prolonged interpersonal trauma (e.g. child sexual abuse and torture). Effectively entrapped in an aversive situation as a result of human rather than natural causes, and subject to repeated intentional harm, the stalking victim experiences helplessness, powerlessness and a loss of self-determination. Their beliefs regarding personal agency and autonomy are undermined, as is their view of the world, especially in relation to safety, predictability and justice. Stalking victims face increasing alienation born of distrust and their subverted belief in social order, their dwindling selfefficacy and a mounting sense of futility. This state has been termed mental defeat (Ehlers et al., 2000) or mental exhaustion (Wenzel et al., 2000). Indeed, Ebert and Dyck have argued that a crucial factor determining whether a person develops a more severe and complex form of post-trauma stress syndrome is the extent to which the precipitating trauma causes ‘mental death’, the essence of which is ‘the loss of identity, defined as the perception of sameness and continuity of the self – and the self in relation to others – based on the relative constancy of one’s assumptions, beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviour’. Symptoms that characterise mental death, including guilt and shame, distrust and estrangement from others, loss of autonomy and constriction of initiative, the collapse of core beliefs and values, and a sense of being irreparably damaged, are all too familiar to many victims of stalking. Clearly not all stalking victims develop traumatic stress symptoms, and research has begun to consider the stressor-related and individual (vulnerability) variables that predict traumatic impact. Kamphuis and colleagues (2003) compared 131 female post-intimate stalking victims drawn from the Dutch Anti-Stalking
Foundation (see Kamphuis & Emmelkamp, 2001) with a normal control group of female undergraduate psychology students. The psychological reactions of this subgroup of stalking victims were ascertained using the Traumatic Constellation Identification Scale (TCIS: Dansky et al., 1990), which assesses a range of cognitive and affective correlates of stressful life events. The relative traumatic impact of specific stalking-related variables and individual psychological variables was also measured. Eighty-seven per cent of this post-intimate stalking victim sample met the criterion for ‘caseness’ on the Dutch adaptation of the Impact of Event Scale (Horowitz et al., 1979). Victims reported prominent affective reactions, especially fear, shame and a sense of loss, as well as reduced trust in others, a heightened sense of isolation and alienation, and attributions of self-blame. The cognitive and affective responses of these victims were markedly elevated compared to normal controls, which included ‘normals’ who had previously experienced sexual violence. About 22% of the variance in post-traumatic stress (as measured by the IES) was explained by variations in the stalking severity (using the indices of stalking duration, range of non-violent intrusions, and violence), and 8% of the variance was explained by psychological (individual vulnerability) factors (measured by personality factor and coping-style inventories). Most predictive of subsequent post-traumatic stress was repeated exposure to violence, with non-violent indices of stalking severity exerting a smaller influence on the development of symptoms. The psychosocial variable most likely to predict poorer psychological adjustment and greater post-traumatic symptomatology was a passive–avoidant coping style. Predictors were not assessed prospectively in this study, so no claims could be made regarding the direction of causality. As previously noted, there is ample anecdotal evidence that severe harassment drastically alters the victim’s assumptive world, diminishing their appraisals of their inner resources and their control over the stalking. Such appraisals lead to a perception of uncontrollability and diminished active coping. In the Mannheim survey (Dressing et al., 2005) all respondents completed a six-item psychological dependency scale. Those with a history of being stalked
Chapter 4: The victims of stalkers
had higher scores than their non-victimised counterparts, inviting similar interpretations that individuals with lower levels of independence and difficulties in setting boundaries might be more vulnerable to a stalker’s intrusions. However, the authors acknowledge that since the direction of causality could not be determined in this cross-sectional study, these scores may actually point to a greater psychological dependency in stalking victims as a consequence of the undermining effect of stalking on self-confidence and self-determination. It is evident that current nosologies are an inadequate means of conceptualising the impact of stalking-related trauma. The symptoms of exposure to coercive control tend to be treated as supplementary to the DSM- or ICD-defined post-trauma syndrome rather than a distinct post-trauma syndrome. Research that is limited to assessing DSM-defined PTSD symptoms in stalking victim populations has largely failed to distinguish noncomplex post-trauma syndromes from more severe, complex presentations of PTSD. Such distinctions are important to any consideration of the likely course and severity of post-traumatic stress symptoms in stalking victim populations. Dunmore and others (1999) have for instance noted the detrimental impact of mental defeat upon the trauma victim’s post-trauma functioning. A more sophisticated conceptualisation of post-trauma syndromes is of particular relevance to treatment approaches, as will be discussed in Chapter 22. Finally, victim studies have also emphasised the variety of coping mechanisms employed by stalking victims. One strategy in particular, acquiescing to the stalker’s demands to establish or re-establish a relationship, is frequently misinterpreted by others. Such apparent capitulation may be perceived as weakness or lack of resolve on the victim’s part, or evidence that the stalking allegations were exaggerated or unfounded. While a reunion may be prompted by the victim’s ambivalent feelings towards the stalker, it is more common in our experience for victims to yield to their stalker because they can see no other option. They hope that their compliance will assuage the stalker’s anger and diminish the threat posed to the victim and other parties, or at the very least appease the stalker as
other exit strategies are contemplated (see also Cantor & Price, 2007). While this tactic may seem illogical and even perilous, it represents a viable solution for forsaken victims when alternative measures have repeatedly failed. In other cases the dynamics underlying victim submission are more complex. As noted earlier, the repetitive infliction of severe interpersonal trauma can isolate the victim and destroy their autonomy, initiative and trust in others. Increasing constriction in their capacity for active engagement with the world leads to greater passivity and helplessness. The perpetrator becomes the most powerful person in the victim’s world, fostering a pathological attachment to the stalker (Herman, 1992). This ‘traumatic bonding’, exemplified in the relationship between captor and hostage and between battered women and their abusers (Dutton & Painter, 1981) has been described as ‘an enforced regression to “psychological infantilism” which compels victims to cling to the very person who is endangering their life’ (Symonds, 1982). The following case of ex-intimate stalking illustrates this debility and pathological dependence. CASE EXAMPLE Jane, a 45-year-old secretary, was stalked for six years by a former boyfriend. Her two-year relationship with the 40-yearold labourer was characterised by his alcohol and marijuana abuse, physical assaultiveness and jealous rages. He assumed control over most aspects of her life, progressively destroying her existing network of friends and family by denigrating them and preventing contact with them. He sabotaged the job she had held for 15 years (by destroying files in her care) and prevented her from pursuing further employment. He threatened her male acquaintances, damaging the car of one who dared to drive her home. He controlled her bank account, her wardrobe, her choice of medical practitioner and hairdresser and even her diet. Jane made multiple attempts to end the relationship but he phoned or approached her at all times of the day and night, pledging his undying devotion and begging her to reconsider. The more determined her resistance, the more dogged was his retaliation, which included dousing her car upholstery with acid, slashing her car tyres, upending the neighbourhood rubbish bins across her driveway, and collecting and shredding her dry-cleaning. Although Jane succeeded in obtaining a restraining order the harassment escalated and little Jane could say or do brought any assertive action from the police.
Jane felt isolated, helpless and forsaken. Her family and friends were critical of her poor choice of men and she perceived that the police blamed her also. She felt guilty, ashamed and depressed. She lived in a state of dread, and said that she didn’t know who she was any more, or how she should eat or dress. Often, her stalker would drop by and leave a hamburger at the front door. Although she had no appetite she felt strangely grateful and retrieved it. She became aware that he was probably camping in her garage but felt powerless to intervene. She even left some blankets and cushions there. She rationalised, ‘He had become a part of my life and I was a part of his and I really thought nothing was ever going to change that.’ When her stalker confronted her one evening with a machete, however, and attempted to drag her into his car, Jane was rescued by a neighbour. The police and courts were now persuaded of the gravity of the situation, and the perpetrator was remanded in custody. He subsequently received a three-year prison term for stalking and related offences. Although the threat had been removed, Jane’s stalker had become a part of her inner life and she remained preoccupied with him. She assumed responsibility for his imprisonment and all the suffering she imagined he would have to endure. She fretted on his birthday, and felt remorse for the loss she had inflicted on his friends and family. She claimed her life felt strangely incomplete without him, likening him to a ‘phantom limb’. Therapy is gradually helping Jane to reconstitute social ties, enhance her debased self-image and recover some initiative. Jane admits that she still frequently thinks about her stalker and wonders how he is faring, but he no longer monopolises her attention.
Conclusions Victims of stalking typically describe feelings of violation, a profound sense of loss of control over their lives and a pervasive mistrust of others. They commonly employ terms such as ‘emotional rape’ and ‘psychological terrorism’ in defining their ordeal. The effects of stalking are often experienced long after the stalker has withdrawn, the residue of ongoing fear and vulnerability characteristic of most stalking victims’ stress response. These effects may and often do impact on those affiliated with the primary victim. Given the prevalence of stalking behaviours within our community and the extent of the damage they leave in their wake, the plight of the stalking victim must be recognised as a legitimate concern for mental health practitioners and the criminal justice system. But the problem of stalking must also be acknowledged as a legitimate concern for society as a whole, not only because of the considerable cost of supporting victims who can no longer work and who may have long-term healthcare needs but because virtually every one of us is a potential victim of stalking, irrespective of our age, gender, occupation, sexual orientation, race, religion or socioeconomic status. As we have found, even stalkers can fall victim to other stalkers. In Chapter 22 we will present strategies and interventions that aim to minimise the chances of falling victim to a stalker and the personal and societal cost to those who do.
5 Stalking typologies and classifications
Introduction Classifications should not simply facilitate communication by giving names to items in a previously undistinguished landscape, but should both articulate relationships between conceptually similar groups and tell us something about what can be expected of each class. Classifications are in part creatures of convenience which emerge within particular discourses, and they reflect not only the qualities of the things being classified but also the imperatives which operate in those discourses. In medicine, for example, classifications are generally diagnostic, being constructed on the basis of cause, course, outcome and where possible treatment. Diagnosis is used as a guide to prognosis and management. Diagnostic systems are usually subservient to those ends rather than to the purely theoretical goal of establishing mutually exclusive sets where membership in a given set, or class, is absolute, with no room for vagueness or ambiguity. In any practical pursuit, such as those in which mental health professionals engage, classifications should serve the goals of the professional’s clinical activities, not just the purer theoretical aims of the sciences they mediate. Classifications of stalkers are likely to vary according to the needs of the group seeking to articulate the classification. For example, law enforcement officers, mental health professionals and advocates for the victims of domestic violence all have legitimate concerns with stalking and stalkers, and thus they have each evolved classifications which both further their ends and can be readily reconciled with the technical languages they habitually employ. Even within the mental health professions
the classification of stalkers has been subject to differing priorities arising from the particular goals and theoretical commitments of the specific professional group or individual. In the absence of any comprehensive explanatory theory of stalking, numerous typologies have flourished. To date, over 20 different stalker typologies have been proposed (see Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007, for a review). Most of these can be separated into three broad categories: those that classify according to an underlying mental disorder; those that classify according to the stalker’s prior relationship with the victim; and those that classify according to the primary motivation for stalking. This chapter will examine a number of these classifications and attempt to examine the assumptions and imperatives underlying such divisions. Finally, a typology which is primarily motivational, though acknowledging the relational and psychopathological dimensions, will be outlined.
Classifying stalking as a corollary of domestic violence Those concerned with stalking as an integral part of violence against women have constructed the phenomena specifically in those terms (Coleman, 1997; ABS, 1996). Walker and Meloy (1998) claimed that stalking was simply the name given to a combination of activities that batterers indulge in to force their female partners to remain in a relationship. In short, stalking was constructed as a strategy of intimidation and control used by men within the realm of domestic violence.
Classifying stalkers on the basis of an underlying mental disorder
The focus of any subsequent classification is on the nature and extent of intimidation and on how best to predict, and thus hopefully prevent, the risks of escalation to even more serious, or possibly murderous, violence. The focus on domestic violence as the context and corollary of stalking focuses predominantly, if not always exclusively, on women as victims and men as perpetrators (Burgess et al., 1997). Sonkin (1997) differentiates between the ex-partner who is having problems relinquishing a relationship and the angry, vindictive, controlling and potentially violent stalker. Given that the priorities in work with victims of domestic violence must be the protection of victims, it is entirely appropriate to deconstruct stalking into a series of acts of varying actual and implied threat (Sonkin, 1997). There is no question that the behaviours associated with stalking can and do emerge among cohabitating partners, often in the context of jealousy, both morbid and otherwise (White & Mullen, 1989; Buss, 1994; Mullen & Martin 1994; Silva et al., 2000). Usually this is confined to information gathering via following and surveillance, confronting the spouse/partner for alleged indiscretions, or verbal haranguing in the form of accusations or threats. But whether such behaviour in these circumstances should be deemed stalking is more dubious. Irrespective of whether the intent is malicious or benign, the aim of most stalking is to make one’s presence felt where otherwise it would not exist. It is difficult to conceive how stalking could apply in those circumstances where the protagonists continue to live together. We are aware that our distinction between stalking and domestic violence is not shared by some of our colleagues in the United States, who argue that if stalking behaviours occur between partners in the context of a current intimate relationship, then this constitutes stalking. While we understand this position, and the concern for victims that underlies it, we nonetheless believe that these situations reflect a broader pattern of domestic abuse and should be responded to as such. In our experience, the approaches to assessing and managing stalking which are discussed in Chapter 22 are simply not effective when the victim and perpetrator continue to cohabit.
Classifying stalking as a form of domestic violence – and, by extension, a women’s issue – has obvious appeal and relevance among those whose work is primarily concerned with male violence against women. However, for those concerned with stalking in all its many and varied forms, this approach is far too restrictive and runs the risk of deflecting already scant resources away from victims of non-intimate harassment, or even male victims of this crime. The results of one study conducted in the USA indicate that this may already be happening (Spence-Diehl & Potocky-Tripodi, 2001).
Classifying stalkers on the basis of an underlying mental disorder Zona, Sharma and Lane (1993) were the first to advance a classification of stalkers. They based their typology on reviews of firstly 74 and later a further 126 case files processed by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Threat Management Unit (TMU) (Zona et al., 1993, 1996, 1998). The TMU was the first unit of its kind established specifically to investigate the behaviour of people said to demonstrate what they labelled ‘an obsessional or abnormal long-term pattern of threat or harassment’. The TMU’s establishment was prompted by the high proportion of entertainment figures within the Los Angeles area attracting the unwanted attentions of stalkers. On the basis of the nature of the subject’s assumed preoccupation and prior relationship with their victim, the authors identified three groups of stalkers, which they termed the erotomanic, the love obsessional, and the simple obsessional. The erotomanic group met DSM-III-R criteria for delusional (paranoid) disorder, erotomanic type. This grouping encompassed only those subjects who were absolutely convinced that they were loved by those they were stalking. None of these subjects had a prior relationship with their victim, and as a group they almost exclusively focused their amorous attentions upon those in the entertainment industry. Those they termed the love obsessionals, like the erotomanic grouping, consisted to some extent of individuals who harboured delusions that they were loved by their victim. In contrast to the erotomanic type, however, this group’s
Chapter 5: Stalking typologies and classifications
delusions arose secondarily as part of a more extensive psychotic illness (most frequently schizophrenia or bipolar disorder), rather than manifesting as a pure or primary delusional syndrome. Also included in the love obsessional group were those who were said to show an intense infatuation with the object of their unwanted attentions but not to claim that their love was reciprocated. Unlike the erotomanic grouping, the majority of love obsessionals were male. Both the erotomanic and the love obsessional categories were reported to share a common fascination with media figures, frequently choosing young female ‘bombshells’ as the targets of their ardent affections. Like the erotomanic group, the love obsessionals had no prior relationship with their victim. It was on this basis of no prior relationship that the love obsessional grouping was separated from the final group, the simple obsessionals (n = 35). This simple obsessional group were reported to have pursued victims with whom they had had previous contact. Their victims were typically ex-intimate partners, but included neighbours, casual acquaintances, workmates and professional contacts. Males and females were equally represented among stalkers in this simple obsessional grouping, and they had usually commenced their pursuit after a relationship had ‘gone sour’. It appears, however, that this group also encompassed individuals who stalked in revenge for perceived mistreatment, and whose motivations were primarily the extraction of retribution for injustices they believed had been inflicted upon them. Zona and colleagues (1993, 1998) approached the classification of stalking from the dual perspectives of psychiatry and law enforcement. The subjects of their studies were drawn particularly from the stalkers of the rich and famous. These authors clearly recognised that stalking was not confined to the harassment of celebrities, though they had perforce to focus to a significant degree on those who stalk people with whom they have had no, or only the slightest, of relationships and who are engaged in establishing or asserting a fantasised relationship. This contrasts with the stalking subjects of those in the domestic violence field who deal with individuals, almost exclusively male, who are bent on controlling, retaining, regaining or frankly terrorising their present or prior partner. The commitments of
the researchers and the use to which they intend to put their classification inevitably, and quite properly, directs the nature of the classification produced.
Psychotic versus non-psychotic The typology of Kienlen et al. (1997) divided 25 stalkers into two groups simply on the basis of whether they were, or were not, psychotic. Several differences were noted in the patterns of pursuit employed by the psychotic and non-psychotic groups. Psychotic stalkers were more likely to visit the home of their victim, but were somewhat less inclined to send letters or keep their victims under surveillance. Non-psychotic stalkers more often verbally threatened and also were at higher risk of perpetrating an assault. One non-psychotic stalker was reported to have eventually kidnapped his ex-partner at gunpoint, at which point he melodramatically informed her that he could no longer live without her and asked her to end his misery by stabbing him in the heart with a knife. She declined the invitation. In contrast, only one psychotic stalker assaulted his victim (a parent). Nearly 50% of the non-psychotic group possessed a weapon at the time of the stalking (seven had a firearm and one a knife), compared to only one psychotic stalker, who brandished a metal pipe obtained in the course of damaging the victim’s property. The authors concluded on the basis of these findings not only that non-psychotic stalkers show a greater propensity for violence than the psychotic, but that they are more calculating and resourceful in their use of such violence. Kienlen and colleagues’ (1997) classification was developed to serve the purposes of mental health professionals preparing court evaluations, and it reflects the imperatives of those purposes. Employing a simple dichotomy between psychotic and non-psychotic is certainly parsimonious and has an appeal to both mental health professionals, where the division has potential management implications, and lawyers, where it has some relevance to issues of criminal responsibility. The problem with the classification is that it cuts across issues of stalker motivation and choice of victim which can be critical for predicting both the nature and dimension of stalking and the risks of escalation
Classifying stalkers by nature of prior relationship and/or motivation
to violence. Conversely, the psychotic/non-psychotic division can claim sufficient utility to be considered a candidate for constituting one axis in a more complex classification.
Classifying stalkers by nature of prior relationship and/or motivation The nature of the prior relationship between the stalker and victim, and the stalker’s motivation for pursuit, have been the primary dimensions for analysing stalking (see Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007, for a review). Harmon and colleagues (1995) proposed a classification which distinguished stalkers according to the nature of the attachment between the perpetrator and the object of attention, as well as the prior relationship with the victim. The authors reviewed the case files of subjects who had been referred to the Forensic Psychiatry Clinic of the Criminal and Supreme Courts of New York following charges of criminal harassment or menacing. Forty-eight subjects exhibited the type of repetitive intrusions and communications associated with stalking. The authors’ first axis related to the nature of the attachment between the subject and the object of their attention (either affectionate/amorous or persecutory/angry) and the second axis described the nature of the prior relationship (personal, professional, employment, media, acquaintance, none or unknown). The majority of stalkers in this sample exhibited what the authors describe as an affectionate/amorous attachment to their victims (n = 30). Diagnostically, these stalkers consisted predominantly of patients with erotomanic features, although subjects with narcissistic and paranoid personality traits who stalked ex-intimate partners were also represented. Those with an amorous attachment were said to not infrequently victimise third parties who had been perceived to be attempting to foil the budding relationship between the stalker and the object of their affection. In one example provided by Harmon et al. (1995) a 39-year-old woman with erotomania formed an amorous attachment to a veterinarian, believing that they had had prior sexual liaisons. She flooded the unsuspecting vet with more than 500 telephone calls and threatening letters, later harassing
his staff and family, whom she perceived as obstructing their imagined love. This woman was particularly aggrieved by the veterinarian’s secretary, who she believed was having an affair with the object of her disordered love. She approached the surgery on one occasion and lunged at the vet and his secretary with a knife, though fortunately failed to inflict any serious harm. She had been arrested five times for this ongoing harassment, which had persisted for over eight years. Though all subjects within the affectionate/amorous division commenced their pursuit with romantic if not frankly sexual intentions, their emotions were described as on occasion turning to anger and persecution when rejection occurred. This was illustrated in another case history provided of a man who had been referred to the clinic on 11 occasions. For over 10 years this 47-year-old had stalked and harassed a well-known singer. He claimed that she was once a passenger in his taxi, that they had had sex, and that the woman had put a hex on him which forced him to pursue her (Harmon et al., 1995). Stalking among those in the persecutory/angry category was reported as typically emerging following a real or imagined mistreatment or injury, and often occurred in the context of a business or professional relationship. The objects of attention for these subjects were not only individuals, but frequently large institutions, which placed multiple victims at risk of harassment or violence. One example provided was of a 59-year-old man who had indiscriminately stalked various solicitors and associated staff from a law firm that had unsuccessfully represented him nearly two decades earlier. The stalkers in the persecutory/angry grouping covered a more diverse spectrum in terms of their psychiatric diagnoses than the amorous group, encompassing not only those with delusional illnesses, but also mood or adjustment disorders and personality disorders. One particular stalker, a former professional basketball player, reported as characteristic of this group, was described as narcissistic. He had harassed and intimidated his former girlfriend through repeated offensive telephone calls. Referred to the court clinic, he claimed that he did not need psychiatric evaluation or treatment, nor could he understand why making such telephone calls was inappropriate, let alone criminal.
Chapter 5: Stalking typologies and classifications
The classification of Harmon and colleagues (1995) provides a meaningful framework from which to approach the motivations of stalkers and the nature of their attachment to their victim. Unfortunately it did not provide an adequate means of distinguishing the pursuit characteristics of subjects. Though the subjects in the affectionate/amorous category were more likely to be single, the groups did not differ according to age, gender, ethnicity, education, criminal charges or psychiatric diagnoses. Furthermore, subjects in both groups showed the same propensity for seeking physical contact with their victims and making threats of violence, although there was a greater association between threats and actual assault in the amorous group. It is also limited in that, not infrequently, stalkers fluctuate between angry, vengeful intentions and largely benign intentions. Harmon et al. (1995) recognise that an initially amorous attachment may evolve into anger as a result of what is regarded as betrayal or rejection. This does not, however, deal with the fundamental ambivalence which can characterise stalkers’ intentions and feelings from the very outset. More recently, Mohandie and colleagues (2006) advanced a typology of stalking they termed RECON. The authors specified from the outset key criteria that guided the design and conceptualisation of their classification. They argued that any useful typology of stalkers needed to be parsimonious (in order to avoid unnecessary confusion or overlap between groupings) and reliable (in order to ensure consistency in the assignment of a stalker to a particular grouping), and that it must have high temporal validity and be applicable to a variety of audiences, including mental health, law enforcement and criminal justice professionals, as well as ‘victims’ rights activists’, although curiously the authors did not consider stalking victims themselves as a potential audience for their typology. The acronym RECON refers to the two axes on which the classification is based, namely the nature of the relationship with the victim (or lack thereof), and the private- versus public-figure context of the stalking. This classification specifically excluded motivation and mental disorder, on the basis that these factors are mutable and dynamic, and therefore compromise the criteria of stability and reliability.
The RECON typology broadly identifies two ‘types’ of stalking, which yield four stalker categories. Type I denotes a previous relationship between the stalker and victim, which is sub-categorised as either intimate (casual or established sexual or romantic relationship) or acquaintance (which includes friends, co-workers etc). Type II indicates no – or very limited – contact with the victim, and is sub-categorised on the basis of the victim being either a public figure or a private stranger. To assess the interrater reliability and discriminant validity of the typology, Mohandie et al. (2006) assembled 1005 stalking or domestic violence cases from multiple sources. Roughly a third were derived from the files of a US entertainment firm’s security department, a third from the files of a Canadian police agency, and a third from Californian prosecutors’ offices. The remainder were the authors’ own cases. Stalking was defined as two or more unwanted contacts that created reasonable fear in the target. The interrater reliability of assignment to the four RECON categories was 0.95, although assignment simply to two categories of mental illness among stalkers – ‘suspected diagnosis’ or ‘no mental health issues apparent’ – was 0.85. On the basis of the RECON typology, half the 1005 cases were classed as intimate (50%), 13% as acquaintance, 27% as public figure and 10% as private stranger. The rates of stalking involving intimates and public figures are considerably higher than those observed in other studies (e.g. Harmon et al., 1995, 1998; Meloy & Gothard, 1995; Pathé & Mullen, 1997), although this reflects the sampling frame, since domestic violence and celebrity protection files were utilised as primary data sources. Consistent with earlier studies, intimate stalkers in the sample used by Mohandie et al. were more likely than all other groups to seek frequent, direct contact with the victim, and to threaten and assault the victim (including assaults with weapons). In contrast, those who pursued public figures were the most likely of all groups to engage in indirect methods of contact with the target, and to be psychotic, and the least likely to utter threats or commit violence. Mohandie and colleagues (2006) constructed their typology to appeal to mental health as well as law enforcement professionals. In this regard, management
approaches discussed for their stalker types is, in most instances, a combination of psychiatric treatment and criminal justice sanctions. The exception is the management of intimate stalkers, for whom the authors curiously recommend only the use of intensive probation or parole conditions. Indeed they state that ‘risk management should emphasize … the minimal effectiveness of psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy’ (p. 153) with the intimate group, despite commenting that depression likely contributes to this form of stalking, along with ‘insecure attachment and … diagnosable personality disorder’ (p. 153). The RECON typology meets the stated purpose of being a relatively uncomplicated method of classification with adequate discriminant validity. However, as the authors acknowledge, the results are generalisable only to stalkers who come into contact with law enforcement or private security companies. The applicability to mental health professionals and victims’ rights activists is more questionable. The major limitation of the RECON is the decision to exclude any consideration of the stalker’s motivation for the pursuit, on the basis that this is too dynamic a factor to usefully inform any typology. Pinals (2007), for example, insists that a stalker’s initial motivation for pursuit (e.g. resentment, romantic attachment) should determine classification, regardless of any shift in the nature of the context. The nature of the prior relationship has now been shown to be a critical aspect of any classification, even if in isolation it is insufficient. Consider for example an employee who harasses a manager. Under RECON, this would be categorised as acquaintance stalking. This type of stalking is associated with a number of outcomes, perhaps most notably a relatively low rate of assault (Mohandie et al., 2006). Knowing the nature of the prior relationship in this case can provide practical information that may ease some of the victim’s concerns, but it offers little in the way of specific strategies to effectively end the harassment. Any comprehensive classification of stalkers should not only assist in the assessment of risk, but should also inform the development of optimal clinical treatment and/or management plans for that type of stalker. Taking this example of the employee and manager further, consider the following scenarios. In the first,
the employee holds a delusional belief of an intimate relationship with the manager. Psychotropic medication and cognitive behavioural therapy would be warranted to manage the delusions, although law enforcement intervention without such mental health treatment would be unlikely to stop the stalking (see Chapter 7). In the second scenario, the employee stalks out of resentment, based on the belief that the manager unjustifiably failed to support an application for promotion. In this instance, the resentment may be impervious to many forms of mental health treatment, but the perpetrator is likely to cease the behaviour when confronted with police intervention (see Chapter 6). In both scenarios, the stalker can be classified as an acquaintance, but the motivation for the behaviour is vastly different and requires a different management response. Unfortunately, in aiming for parsimony, the RECON typology is perhaps too narrow in focus to effectively assist the needs of the various audiences for which it was putatively designed.
Behaviour-based models Canter and Ioannou (2004) attempted to derive a multivariate model of stalking behaviours. They examined the records of 50 cases from the LAPD’s Threat Management Unit, though how the cases were selected is not revealed. The sample contained 10 celebrities (20%), 24 ex-intimates, 12 acquaintances and only four strangers. Though the nature of the sample reflects the work of this particular threat management unit, which serves in part the Hollywood elites, nevertheless the approach is sufficiently novel to justify careful consideration. The authors’ focus is on the interpersonal behaviours which make up stalking. They note 24 behavioural variables, which are worth reproducing, because few publications itemise such behaviours. The behavioural variables, with the frequencies found in brackets, were: 1. Phone calls (76%) 2. Sending letters (46%) 3. Public defamation through posting notices, graffiti etc (28%) 4. Sending gifts (28%)
Chapter 5: Stalking typologies and classifications
5. Initiating obscene or sexually explicit communications (32%) 6. Threats and abuse (80%) 7. Asking personal details (16%) 8. Soliciting contact (42%) 9. Revealing knowledge about the victim acquired from enquiry or surveillance (12%) 10. Stealing personal property (24%) 11. Destroying personal property (32%) 12. Confrontations involving threats (52%) 13. Threats to commit suicide (18%) 14. Following or visiting the victim at their home or place of work (78%) 15. Keeping under surveillance (44%) 16. Gaining illicit access to the victim’s home (46%) 17. Making threats or abusing the victim’s family members, colleagues or friends (10%) 18. Violence (physical) to the victim (42%) 19. Breaking a restraining order (50%) 20. Contact after intervention (52%) 21. Threats to others (40%) 22. Driving by the victim’s home or workplace repeatedly (14%) 23. Contacting those connected to the victim (40%) 24. Researching the victim via accessing records and public archives (16%) The list makes clear that this is a particularly busy, intrusive, troublesome and violent sample of stalkers. The authors use these behaviours to explore possible patterns of behaviour, suggesting that they can be organised into four offender–victim modes of interaction: the sexual, the intimate, the possessive, and the aggressive destructive. They suggest there are no totally distinct types of stalker but that ‘stalking seems to have common roots in a mixture of psychological processes that include frustration, aggression and the desire to control the target.’ Perhaps the special nature of their sample and its small size may have contributed to the failure to identify any separable patterns.
Law enforcement perspectives Several classifications of stalkers have been advanced primarily to assist law enforcement and investigation,
including the prediction of future violence. For example, Schwartz-Watts and colleagues (1997, 1998) conducted studies comparing stalkers to other violent offenders. Their initial study (1997) compared the records of 18 males charged with stalking in the State of South Carolina, who had been evaluated pre-trial, with a group of offenders randomly matched for age, sex and whether violence accompanied the crime. In their second study the authors compared the medical records of 42 pre-trial detainees charged with stalking, who were divided on the basis of whether their stalking involved violence (n = 20) or not (n = 22). The groups did not differ significantly on age, sex, marital status, education, substance abuse history, Axis I diagnosis or organicity. Violent stalkers were reported to be more likely to have had a prior intimate relationship with the victim. The attempt to distinguish stalkers on the basis of their risks of future violence is important, but it may be that it is better regarded as a measure of the adequacy of any proposed classification rather than constituting a classification in and of itself. Wright and colleagues (1996), who are affiliated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), advanced a preliminary classification of stalkers on the basis of 30 reports which were provided, in the main, by victims. On the basis of their responses, the authors formulated a typology of stalkers related to the nature of the relationship between the victim and the stalker (domestic or non-domestic), the content of the communications (non-delusional or delusional), the level of risk to the victim in terms of aggression (low, medium, high), the motive of the stalker (infatuation, possession, anger/retaliation, other) and the outcome of the case for the stalker (legal, suicide, psychiatric, other). Under this classification, 14 subjects were classed as nondomestic stalkers (predominantly non-delusional/ organised) and 16 as domestic stalkers (all but one non-delusional). Domestic stalkers were not only intimate partners and family members, but could include workmates. Twelve stalkers were deemed to be motivated by anger or the desire for retaliation, 10 were motivated by possessiveness, six by infatuation, and for two the motivation was not specified. Seven committed suicide (an extraordinary mortality rate of over 20%) and only four were given psychiatric help (mostly
Law enforcement perspectives
committed under mental health legislation on the grounds of insanity). This was a highly selected group, as evidenced not only by the high rate of suicide but also by six of the 30 instances of stalking culminating in murder (it is not clear in these cases when or by whom the victim survey was completed). The elements of the classification have face validity, but the small size and peculiar nature of the sample make generalisation to more representative groups of stalkers problematic. Gavin de Becker, a US specialist in private security often called upon to assist celebrities and corporations, also approaches stalking from a law enforcement perspective. De Becker has proposed four types of stalkers based primarily on their presumed motivation: attachment-seekers, identity-seekers, rejection-based and delusion-based (cited in Orion, 1997). Stalkers in the attachment group are seeking to attain a relationship with the victim, while recognising that none exists (the example offered being that of John Hinckley, who persistently pursued the actress Jodie Foster). Identityseekers reportedly pursue the object of their attention as a means to achieve some other end, in most instances attention (an example being Mark Chapman, who unfortunately achieved tremendous fame and notoriety by murdering John Lennon). The rejection-based stalker is driven by the desire to seek revenge for having been spurned by his or her target, who may be an exintimate partner or an estranged workmate or friend. Finally, the delusion-based group in all instances are said to have a major mental illness in which delusions, or other erroneous beliefs, drive their pursuits. This classification also has considerable face validity and appeal, although to date it has not been elaborated to any extent in the available literature. Boon & Sheridan (2002; see also Sheridan & Boon, 2002) proffered a classification for the purpose of assisting the investigation and the management of stalkers. The authors based their typology on a database of 124 stalking cases, the bulk of the information again derived from victim reports. Four groups were proposed: expartner harassment/stalking, infatuation harassment, delusional-fixation stalking and sadistic stalking. The first type, ex-partner harassment/stalking, encompassed hostile, impulsive individuals who were prone to threatening and physically assaulting their victims,
and who often possessed a ‘lack of concern’ regarding both their behaviour and the likelihood of attracting police attention. The infatuation-harassment group consisted of individuals who yearned for a relationship with a ‘beloved’ who had captured their attention. This type of pursuit was reportedly characterised by nonmalicious methods of communication (e.g. letters, notes or gifts) and ‘low levels of danger’. The delusionalfixation stalking group involved mentally disordered individuals who fixed their attentions on strangers and known acquaintances. Within this category, subdivisions of ‘non-dangerous’ and ‘dangerous’ perpetrators were proposed, the latter being more likely to have a history of prior offending (often of a sexual nature) and comorbid personality disturbance. The final group, termed sadistic stalkers, were said to be driven by a desire to control, ‘spoil’ or otherwise unnerve their victims, their behaviour being sustained by the gratifying sense of power they derived from their intimidation. These stalkers pursued both known acquaintances and strangers and, not surprisingly given their title, were prone to threatening and violent outbursts. This typology usefully attempts to elucidate the aims and behavioural patterns of stalkers, which is certainly likely to have particular resonance within law enforcement, their target audience. The degree of overlap between the groupings is a potential limitation, however (e.g. there being little material difference between the characteristics and motivations of vengeful expartners and ‘sadistic’ stalkers, or between the infatuated suitor and the non-dangerous delusional group), with the absence of information regarding the specific management of these groups (even from a policing perspective) the most obvious shortcoming. Douglas and colleagues (2006), in their Crime Classification Manual, which attempts to generate a standardised system for investigating and classifying violent crimes, suggested a tripartite division: 1. Domestic stalkers, including ex-partners, relatives and ‘household members’. They suggest that domestic stalking ‘often culminates in a violent attack’. The attack is usually impetuous, may ‘culminate in the target’s death’, and the stalker ‘may commit suicide’ at the scene of an attack on the victim. Victims ‘often’ describe a history of domestic violence.
Chapter 5: Stalking typologies and classifications
2. Non-domestic stalkers, where the stalker is a stranger. The stalking is ‘an ongoing, usually long-term crime’. 3. Erotomanic stalkers, who are motivated by ‘fixation’ expressed commonly in fantasies of ‘fusion (a blending of his personality in the target’s) or of a romantic love, or even of a religious and spiritual nature’. The target ‘often has high media visibility’. It is suggested that over time the stalker’s attitude shifts to one of ‘if I can’t have her no one can’, which may culminate in an attack or even killing. This approach to stalking only makes sense in terms of the most extreme and violent manifestations of the problem behaviour which have forced themselves on the attention of the law enforcement agencies. It fits ill with the realities of the vast majority of stalking situations.
Classification employed in this book Elsewhere (Mullen et al., 1999, 2000) we have proposed a classification which emerged from our experience with stalkers who have been personally assessed in a clinic which has a known interest in stalkers (Warren et al., 2005). The courts referred the majority of cases, though there were also significant numbers referred from other health professionals and a handful who self-referred, contacting the clinic after learning of its existence in the media. In most cases the clinic is charged initially with providing reports to the courts for the purposes of sentence and disposal. In both those referred from health professionals and a number of those initially referred for court reports, however, the clinic has become involved in the longer-term management of the case. The clinic also initially provided services for stalking victims, and this further influenced the approach to classification. In common with forensic mental health services in the UK, northern Europe and Canada, but in contrast to those in much of the USA, the clinic provides both assessment and treatment facilities. The classification has therefore to serve both forensic and mental health purposes, and it has been generated by direct experience with stalkers both in the role of providing court-mandated assessments and as treating clinicians.
The primary types proposed were the rejected, the resentful, the intimacy seeker, the incompetent suitor and the predatory. This typology attempts to capture the function of the behaviour for the stalker. What are the stalker’s purposes in pursuing this particular course of action, and what needs and desires are being satisfied? The stalking behaviours have a meaning for the stalker which relates in some way to their goals. Equally, for the stalker to persist in such apparently destructive behaviours there must be results from their actions which are sufficiently rewarding to maintain the behaviour. The context in which the stalking arises is also of relevance, given its relationship to the stalker’s likely aims and their manner of advancing those aims. These variables are relevant whether or not they reflect judgements which are distorted or even delusional. The intimacy seekers are responding to loneliness by attempting to establish a close relationship. The rejected are responding to an unwelcome end to a close relationship by actions intended to lead to reconciliation or extract reparation, or both. The resentful are responding to a perceived insult or injury by actions aimed not just at revenge but at vindication. The predatory are pursuing their desires for sexual gratification and control both in and through the stalking. The incompetents are would-be suitors seeking a partner by methods which are likely to be at best counterproductive and at worst terrifying for their target. The second axis relates to the relationship to the victim, which is separated into prior intimate partners, professional contacts, work-related contacts, casual acquaintances and friends, the famous and strangers who had had no contact prior to the onset of the stalking. The clinic is situated in Melbourne, Australia, and unlike in California, or even New York, stars of stage, screen or radio are few and far between. In fact, four of the 10 victims with a claim to be celebrities were radio chat-show hosts. In passing it is worth noting that radio personalities may be peculiarly vulnerable to stalking. This could be because they tend to directly engage with audiences via phone-ins and many seem to cultivate a style intended to give an appearance of direct, personal and in some ways intimate communication with the audience. The trials and tribulations of the seductive
Classification employed in this book
radio disc jockey who attracts an erotomanic stalker are brilliantly portrayed in the film Play Misty for Me, in which Clint Eastwood both starred and directed. The final axis relates to psychiatric status, with a simplified division into a psychotic group, incorporating schizophrenia, delusional disorders, affective psychosis and organic psychosis, and a non-psychotic grouping, being predominantly personality disorders with a lesser number of depressive and anxiety disorders. Substance abuse is usually a qualifier of the diagnosis, being a primary diagnosis in only a handful of cases. Nobody failed to acquire at least a diagnosis of personality disorder or substance abuse, not because of a low threshold for the recognition of mental disorders, but because of the high level of manifest psychopathology in this population. On its own, the typology enables predictions to be made about the duration of the stalking, the nature of the stalking behaviours, the risks of threatening and violent behaviour, and to some extent the response to management strategies (Mullen et al., 1999). Table 5.1 sets out a number of the variables significantly associated with the typology of stalking type in 250 stalkers. This expands substantially on the data already published in Mullen et al. (1999, 2000). The rejected grouping use the widest range of stalking behaviours, often following, repeatedly approaching, telephoning, letter writing and leaving notes. In contrast, the predatory stalkers concentrate almost
exclusively on furtively following and maintaining surveillance, never sending letters and rarely phoning or openly approaching the victim. Intimacy seekers are the most prolific of letter writers, and they also surpass all other groups in the sending of unsolicited gifts and other forms of material. The duration of stalking is by far the longest in the rejected and intimacy seekers and shortest in the predatory, who along with the incompetent are the most likely in our experience to attract prompt police action and referral to our service. The diagnostic variables were collapsed into a psychotic group (schizophrenia, delusional disorders, affective psychosis and organic psychosis) and a nonpsychotic group (predominantly personality disorders). The psychotic subjects are particularly likely to send unsolicited materials and the non-psychotic to follow and maintain surveillance. The psychotic and nonpsychotic are equally likely to threaten, but the nonpsychotic are twice as likely as the psychotic to proceed to assault. The best predictor of stalking duration is the typology. Assaultiveness is also predicted best by typology, which when combined with substance abuse and a history of prior convictions (irrespective of their nature) accounts for most of the explained variance (see Chapter 20). The typology is also of value in determining management strategies (see Chapter 21). This typology, which was advanced in the first edition of this book (Mullen et al., 2000), has been
Table 5.1 Characteristics of stalkers and stalking behaviour according to typology (n = 250) Stalking typology
Variable Male (%) Age (mean/SD) Currently partnered Currently employed Stalking duration in months (mean/SD) Number of harassment methods (Mean/SD) Substance abuse (%) Prior criminal convictions (%)
Rejected (n = 74)
Intimacy seekers (n = 78)
Incompetent suitors (n = 46)
Resentful (n = 41)
Predatory (n = 11)
85% 36.7 (10.8) 11% 71% 32.0 (44.7) 4.8 (1.6)
77% 38.6 (11.2) 8% 39% 36.8 (44.2) 3.9 (1.4)
91% 34.0 (9.3) 14% 52% 9.7 (13.4) 2.7 (1.4)
80% 38.6 (10.6) 15% 61% 13.7 (13.6) 3.4 (1.7)
100% 31.0 (8.1) 22% 50% 7.8 (10.5) 3.0 (0.9)
0.14 0.06 0.09 0.09