The word ‘‘stalking’’ denotes and has long been associated with hunting animals; only in recent years has the word’s definition been expanded to include people as prey and the actions making up stalking as criminal. That is not to say that stalking, in its more recently defined form, is a new phenomenon. Cases of stalking can be found throughout history and literature. For example, in 1704, a case was prosecuted in England against a Dr. Lane, a physician who ‘‘persistently pursued Miss Dennis, a young heiress, against the wishes of her mother’’ (Mullen, Pathe, and Purcell 2000, p. 251). Another example, from the following century, occurred in 1897, when an erstwhile actor named Richard Archer stabbed William Terris, a well-known actor, after yet another rejection by the theater’s casting decision makers (Gallagher 2001).
II. The Laws
III. Types of Stalkers
IV. Stalking Victims
In literature, Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s (1847/ 1975) Wuthering Heights is a tormented soul as he suffers for the love he feels for Cathy that is not returned in terms of commitment and marriage. In William Shakespeare’s (1594/1942) ‘‘The Rape of Lucrece,’’ Sextus Tarquinius is ‘‘inflamed with Lucrece’s beauty’’ and later ‘‘treacherously stealeth into her chamber, violently ravished her, and early in the morning speedeth away’’ (p. 1025).
Today, movie plots often focus on the scenarios of girl meets boy, girl resists boy, boy follows girl, and then, as a result, girl falls for boy or realizes she loved him all the time. Popular movies built around this theme include The Graduate, Tootsie, Fever Pitch, and old classics such as Gone with the Wind. Also in the movies, if the male pursues the female, the pursuit is entertaining and generally successful, but if the female pursues the male, she is generally portrayed as pitiable, at best, and demented, at worst. Think of Play Misty for Me or Single White Female (deBecker 2002). However, in reality, most stalking perpetrators are male, and most victims are female.
Meloy and Gothard (1995) define stalking as ‘‘the willful, malicious, and repeated following and harassing of another person that threatens his or her safety’’ (p. 258). This definition is in line with stalking statutes that usually require that a victim be in ‘‘reasonable fear’’ of death or serious bodily injury (18 U.S.C. §2261A). Another definition, offered by Pathe and Mullen (1997), is ‘‘a constellation of behaviors in which one individual inflicts on another repeated unwanted intrusions and communications’’ (p. 12). Behaviors associated with stalking include:
- Following victims
- Loitering near victims’ homes and workplaces
- Giving gifts
- Sending letters
- Transmitting e-mails
- Making phone calls
- Vandalizing property (car or home, for example)
- Photographing the victims or their families
- Making threats
- Approaching or confronting the victims in public places or near the victims’ homes or workplaces
- Physical and/or sexual assaults
Many of the stalking behaviors are not illegal and are even innocuous, but the pattern and the purpose of the actions distinguish them as stalking.
II. The Laws
All fifty states and the District of Columbia have statutes concerning the crime of stalking. In addition there are federal and tribal stalking statutes. The first state to pass anti-stalking legislation was California in 1990 (Snow 1998). There were several tragic cases in California that led to this legislation. The best-known of these cases is that of Rebecca Schaeffer, a young actress who was murdered at her door by a stalker in 1989. In the following year, four more women were killed by stalkers in Orange County in California. Several years before these murders, another actress, Theresa Saldana, had been stabbed and slashed several times by a stalker but survived because her screams were heard by a delivery man. Other states followed California, and by 1993 all the states had passed legislation making stalking a crime.
Many of these statutes (including that of California) were later revised in response to perceived holes in the laws and court challenges on the bases that the statutes were vague and/or overbroad. The challenge to laws on the basis of being vague refers to whether they are sufficiently clear and concise so that a person of ordinary intelligence could understand the behavior prohibited or required by the laws. A law can be seen as overbroad if it infringes on a constitutionally protected right, such as the freedomof speech (Snow 1998). The first state statute that was challenged was that of Massachusetts, and the court determined that the phrase in the law ‘‘repeatedly harasses’’ was vague. The court further decided that to fulfill this phrase, ‘‘the defendant must perform at least two series of acts (i.e., at least four separate acts)’’ (Mullen et al. 2000, p. 265). Other state statutes on stalking were also declared vague, such as those in Kansas, Oregon, and Texas. In order to help states rewrite these statutes to conform to constitutional requirements, the U.S. Department of Justice developed a model anti-stalking law in 1993 (Snow 1998). However, states do not have to adopt the model antistalking law, and therefore there are still problems with many state statutes and a ‘‘lack of uniformity’’ (p. 268).
Other criticisms of stalking statutes have focused on the perception that there were already laws on the books that covered stalking behaviors, and the new statutes were a response to the public concern about rare incidences of stalking leading to murder, and that some of the behaviors delineated in the statutes are legal in other contexts (Morewitz 2003).
However, proponents of these statutes counter that even though laws against stalking behaviors were on the books, they were not used to any great extent, and therefore statutes specifically on stalking were needed. Supporters of these statutes feel that enactment of these laws should result in more arrests, prosecutions, and greater satisfaction for victims and cause police to intervene before violence occurs. Also, arrests of stalkers may be a deterrent and provide them with treatment they need. Finally, laws against stalking give victims a forum and method to exert some control over their disrupted lives (Morewitz 2003).
Even though state and federal statutes on stalking vary, there are some commonalities. One commonality is that most statutes require that there be a pattern of behavior and often use the term ‘‘repeatedly.’’ For example, the California statute reads, ‘‘Any person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows’’ (California Penal Code §646.9), and the Alaska statute requires a ‘‘course of conduct,’’ which is further defined as ‘‘repeated acts of nonconsensual contact’’ (Alaska Penal Code §11.41.260 and §11.41.270). The New York statute also calls for a ‘‘course of conduct’’ (New York Penal Code §120.45), and in West Virginia the state law reads, ‘‘Any person who willfully and repeatedly follows’’ (West Virginia Penal Code §61-2-9).
A second commonality among state and federal statutes is that most require ‘‘a credible threat against the victim,’’ in those or similar terms (Morewitz 2003, p. 61). The term ‘‘credible threat’’ has been somewhat controversial, as threats are generally assumed to be communicated via verbal or written means. However, a pattern of harassing behavior without a specific threat can constitute stalking. For example, behaviors such as sending someone dead flowers, calling incessantly, or sending unwanted romantically worded notes do not include specific verbal or written threats, but to the recipient, these behaviors may indicate a threat because of the pattern of the activities and/or past encounters with the sender. Therefore, some statutes do not include the term ‘‘credible threat’’ or include provision for the crime of stalking without this requirement. For example, the Alaska code does not use the term ‘‘credible threat’’ but states that a person commits the crime of stalking ‘‘if the person knowingly engages in a course of conduct that recklessly places another person in fear of death or physical injury or the death or physical injury of a family member’’ (Alaska Penal Code §11.41.270). The West Virginia statute on stalking and harassment allows for repeated harassment without credible threats, or credible threats, or a combination of the two to establish a crime (West Virginia Penal Code §61-2-9). The New York statute also does not use the term ‘‘credible threat’’ but does require that the ‘‘course of conduct’’ be ‘‘likely to cause reasonable fear of material harm to the physical health, safety, or property of such person’’ (New York Penal Code §120.45). However, the California statute reads that a person is guilty of the crime of stalking if he/she ‘‘makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family’’ (California Penal Code §646.9). The majority of state statutes on stalking do have the threat requirement (Wells 2001).
The third common feature of these statutes is that the intent of the perpetrator must be to place the victim in reasonable fear. As noted above, the California and Alaska statutes, respectively, require that the perpetrator intend to ‘‘place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety’’ (California Penal Code §646.9) and ‘‘in fear of death or physical injury’’ (Alaska Penal Code §11.41.270). The New York law states that the perpetrator also must ‘‘cause reasonable fear of material harm’’ (New York Penal Code §120.45). In West Virginia, the law states that the intent of the perpetrator must be to instill ‘‘reasonable apprehension that he or she or a member of his or her immediate family will suffer death, sexual assault, kidnapping, bodily injury or battery’’ (West Virginia Penal Code §61-2-9).
Another commonality among the state statutes is that the crime of stalking is generally a misdemeanor, and therefore punishments for this crime usually involve at the most a few months in jail and/or fines. However, many states allow felony charges and enhanced sentences if the crime of stalking is combined with other crimes, such as violating an order of protection, possessing or threatening with a weapon, or having a prior conviction for stalking. Also, interstate stalking is a felony, 18 U.S.C. §2261 (b). For example, in California, the crime of stalking by itself is a misdemeanor but may be combined with other offenses, such as breaking and entering or violating a restraining order, which will together warrant a sentence to a prison of more than one year rather than to a jail for a maximum of one year (California Penal Code §646.9). In Alaska, stalking in the second degree and harassment are misdemeanors, while stalking in the first degree is a class C felony, but to achieve the first-degree charge, the stalking has to be included with other charges, such as violating a court order or possession of a weapon ‘‘during the course of conduct constituting the offense’’ (Alaska Penal Code §11.41.260). New York laws also have degrees of stalking. Stalking in the third and fourth degrees are misdemeanors. To be charged with stalking in the second degree, which is a felony, the perpetrator has to have a record of prior convictions of stalking, has to be an adult stalking a person under the age of fourteen, or has to be someone who ‘‘displays, or possesses, or threatens the use of a firearm, pistol, revolver,’’ etc. (New York Penal Code §120.55). The charge of first-degree stalking, also a felony, is reserved for one who ‘‘intentionally or recklessly causes physical injury to the victim’’ or who has a specific history of past stalking convictions (NewYork Penal Code §120.60). In West Virginia, the crime of stalking is a misdemeanor, but a subsequent conviction is a felony if it occurs within five years of the first conviction (West Virginia Penal Code §61-2-9).
States are also enacting laws that prohibit cyberstalking. For example, the Michigan statutes on stalking include a section on ‘‘posting [a] message through [an] electronic medium’’ (Michigan Penal Code §750.411s). In West Virginia, the stalking law prohibits ‘‘obscene, anonymous, harassing and threatening communications by computer’’ (West Virginia Penal Code §61-3C-14a).
Even though the statutes on stalking vary across the country, there are commonalities involving the elements of the offense, the type of offense, and the punishments available. As with the prosecution of any crime, all involved, from the victim to the police officer to the prosecutor and judge, must work together. Laws are just words if they are not enforced; police officers will be reluctant to build cases that will not be prosecuted, and prosecutors will not want to waste time on cases in which perpetrators will receive light sentences that will place them back in the vicinity of their victims. Victims will become discouraged if their cases are not taken seriously and do not result in harsh sanctions and recognition of stalking as a crime. The entire criminal justice system has to work together if these criminals are to be deterred.
III. Types of Stalkers
In an effort to understand stalkers, researchers have developed typologies based mainly on stalkers’ behaviors and motives for stalking. These typologies are designed to assist criminal justice or mental health professionals as they attempt to build a case against, arrest, or treat stalkers. The typologies are also useful to researchers as they design studies to assess the purposes of stalking and thereby make recommendations for combating this crime and managing and treating offenders.
One of the well-known typologies includes three categories of stalkers: simple obsessional, love obsessional, and erotomanic (Zona, Sharma, and Lane 1993). These categories are based on the relationship between the stalker and the victim, whether real or imaginary.
Stalkers typed as simple obsessional are the most common. This stalker has had a prior relationship with the victim. The relationship in most cases was intimate. On the other hand, stalker and victim may at one time have simply dated for a brief duration or been neighbors, roommates, friends, or professional acquaintances, such as teacher and student or physician and patient. According to victims of stalking, the primary reason they were being stalked was so the stalkers could have some degree of control over their lives (Tjaden and Thoennes 1998). These efforts to control other people would be particularly apparent in prior intimate relationships where domestic violence occurred, as one of the main characteristics of batterers is the tendency to try to control victims. Because of the behaviors of most types of stalkers, it is apparent that they are angry with and feel hostility toward their victims (Meloy 1996).
The second category is love obsessional. In these cases, stalkers and victims do not usually know each other. The victim may be a local or widely known celebrity or just someone upon whom the stalker has fixated. The stalker believes that if he/ she is persistent, the victim will come to realize that he/she really cares for this person. Many of these stalkers suffer from mental illnesses.
The third category is erotomanic. In these cases, the stalker truly believes that the victim loves him/ her, although they have not had a prior relationship, and indeed have never met. Erotomanic stalkers also have mental health problems, as they have developed delusions or delusional systems based on the fantasy relationship they hope to have or believe they have with their victims.
The most dangerous stalkers are those classified as simple obsessional, and the least dangerous are those in the erotomanic category.
A more detailed typology, offered by Mullen and colleagues (1999) focuses on the ‘‘stalker’s predominant motivation and the context in which the stalking emerged’’ (Mullen et al. 2000, p. 75). This typology also takes into account the prior relationship, if any, between the stalker and the victim, and any psychiatric diagnoses. The categories in this typology include the rejected stalker, the resentful stalker, the predatory stalker, the intimacy seeker, and the incompetent suitor.
Rejected stalkers want reconciliation, revenge, or both from a former intimate partner, family member, friend, or professional contact who no longer desires to see them. These stalkers are usually male and generally are overly dependent on others but have ‘‘poor social skills and a resulting impoverished social network’’ (Mullen et al. 2000, p. 82). They tend to be jealous and possessive of others in their lives. Of the categories in this typology, the rejected stalkers are those who are most likely to threaten and assault their victims. If the victim was an intimate partner, assaults are likely to have occurred during the relationship as well. The likelihood of violence increases if the victim and stalker have contact, and the stalking behavior is difficult to stop because the stalker believes that he/she has a right to have contact with this person. These stalkers also are likely to have knowledge of the day-to-day routines of the victims and therefore can easily reach them by mail or phone or through confrontation at their places of work or their homes.
Resentful stalkers have a grudge against the victims for real or imagined slights. It is they who are the victims, ‘‘who, in the process of defending themselves, [are] striking back at their oppressors’’ (p. 90). One of the purposes of these stalkers is to frighten their victims. The resentful attitude of these stalkers is not reserved for a particular person but is often a general attitude toward life and others.
Predatory stalkers generally follow and watch their victims with the purpose of attacking them, usually sexually. The stalking process provides excitement for these stalkers, and they generally have some type of sexual deviance, such as exhibitionism, pedophilia, or voyeurism. These stalkers are usually men, and their victims may be adults or children. They generally lead a ‘‘lonely and socially inept existence with a paucity of meaningful adult relationships’’ (p. 115). Their behavior tends to be of short duration and ends after they have assaulted their victims or have been arrested.
Intimacy seekers believe that they have found their ideal match and are obsessed with their victims. They generally believe that the other person is in love with them, and they fantasize about how their lives will be once this idealistic relationship begins. These stalkers have few or no friends and have had few or no relationships in the past. They are persistent and will stalk for long periods of time. They use various means to pursue their victims, including finding out as much as they can about them, calling them, and sending them gifts and letters. Generally, they suffer from a mental disorder ‘‘that underlies the stalking’’ (p. 123) and are not affected by actions of the criminal justice system.
Incompetent suitors are ‘‘impaired in their social skills and most particularly in their courting skills’’ (p. 123). They approach their victims as though they were entitled to their attention and affection. Their efforts to entice their victims are often punctuated by crude and offensive remarks, and they do not understand the effects they have on others. Their pursuits are usually only for short periods of time, as they quickly move on to someone else. These stalkers do not understand their victims’ concerns and are also unlikely to be deterred long by court appearances and sanctions.
The categorization proposed by Mullen et al. (2000) also includes a second axis, ‘‘related to the relationship to the victims’’ (p. 76), and a third axis, ‘‘related to psychiatric status’’ (p. 76). When these three axes are combined, a more adequate assessment can be made of (1) the relative danger the stalkers represent, (2) the behaviors of the stalkers, including the length of the stalking, and (3) how to manage the stalkers through the criminal justice system and/or treatment. For example, ‘‘the rejected grouping used the widest range of stalking behaviors, often repeatedly approaching, telephoning, letter writing, and leaving notes’’ (p. 76), while the predatory stalkers used the fewest types of behaviors, mainly focusing on surveillance. Intimacy seekers sent the most gifts and also rivaled the rejected group in terms of having the longest durations of stalking.
In terms of mental illnesses, those who could be diagnosed with a type of psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia or delusional disorders, were more likely to send gifts and letters than those with a mental disorder that did not involve psychosis. However, the nonpsychotics were more likely to ‘‘follow and maintain surveillance’’ (p. 77). Stalkers with psychotic or nonpsychotic mental disorders are as likely to issue threats, but those with nonpsychotic diagnoses are more likely to carry out those threats than those with a type of psychosis.
A third typology has been designed to assist police officers as they determine how to build a case and arrest stalkers (Sheridan and Boon 2002). The types in this typology are based on characteristics of the stalkers, their behaviors, and the best management approaches. The first type, ex-partners, are the most common type of stalker. These stalkers are motivated by bitterness, anger, and hostility and are likely to have assaulted their victims prior to separation. Their behaviors will tend to be aggressive and may include threats, assaults, and destruction of property. They are not concerned about being reported to the police, as they feel they are not doing anything wrong but only trying to retain what they believe is theirs. Law enforcement officers should be aware of the danger these stalkers represent to their victims and those in the victims’ families. They should help victims seek assistance as they would in domestic violence cases.
The second type are infatuation harassers. There are two subtypes of infatuation harassment— young love and midlife love, and therefore the stalkers’ ages tend to be either teenage or midlife. These stalkers are acquainted with their victims and have determined that they are the objects of their affections. They have built a fantasy around their victims and so their approaches are generally not threatening but include gifts, chance encounters, and love notes. Generally with these cases, legal intervention is not necessary, and police officers may deter future behavior by explaining to the stalkers that they have frightened their victims and how arrests and criminal charges could negatively affect their lives.
The third type are delusional fixation stalkers— dangerous. These stalkers generally have a mental illness and a history of sexual deviance and arrests. The victims tend to be well-known celebrities or professionals who do not know their stalkers. The stalking behaviors tend to be diverse and numerous, such as telephone calls, letters, and attempts to confront the victims near their homes or in their workplaces. They may also make threats, particularly sexually oriented ones, and often act on these threats with attempted assaults. Law enforcement officers should be aware of the potential danger of these stalkers toward their victims and realize that arrest without psychiatric intervention will have little effect on future behavior.
The fourth type are delusional fixation stalkers— less dangerous. In this type of stalking, the perpetrators may or may not know their victims, but they believe that their victims love them. They have constructed fantasy lives based on that belief. They are generally not dangerous toward their victims but may look on other people in their victims’ lives as the real reason why their victims do not acknowledge love for them. Therefore, people who represent this impediment to the fancied relationships may be in danger. Stalking behaviors usually do not include threats but focus on letters, gifts, phone calls, and perhaps planned confrontations. Law enforcement officers should be aware that arrest will deter the behavior only briefly and that these offenders are ‘‘not responsive to reason or rejection’’ (p. 76). Therefore, psychiatric intervention is needed to deter the stalking behavior significantly.
The last category in this typology comprises sadistic stalkers. These stalkers are very dangerous and seek to control their victims’ lives as much as possible. Thus their behaviors can include breaking into the victims’ homes and leaving something or disturbing possessions so that the victims will know they have been there; following the victims; damaging property; communicating in a threatening or sexual nature; physically assaulting their victims; or placing their victims in danger by such acts as ‘‘disabling brake cables, disarming safety equipment, cutting power off’’ (p. 77). These stalkers may or may not know their victims but usually choose victims who have stable, good lives that the stalkers set out to disrupt as much as possible. Law enforcement officers should realize that these stalkers are potentially violent, and should tell victims about the possibility of assaults and that this type of stalker is often very difficult to deter. These stalkers may even continue their harassing behaviors from jail if they are arrested and may attempt to find the victims as soon as they are released. If they cannot find their former victims, they are likely to move on to others.
These typologies indicate that stalkers are diverse. Some are only lonely and socially isolated, while others have serious mental illnesses. Their behaviors include a wide variety of actions, from sending gifts to confrontations and assaults. Intervention by the criminal justice system may be meaningful to some types of stalkers who have much to lose from being charged with this crime and may be sufficient to deter future stalking, while others may not even be deterred by incarceration. Counseling in addition to criminal justice sanctions for any of these types of stalkers would be beneficial and may increase the chances that they will find other uses for their time. This is particularly the case with those who have delusions that are either part of an underlying mental illness or the primary symptom of the illness. It is important for mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, and others in the criminal justice system to understand these types of stalkers so that they can be given appropriate sanctions and treatment focusing on deterrence.
IV. Stalking Victims
Victims of stalking are likely to be at least acquainted with their stalkers. The most common stalker is someone who has had an intimate relationship with the victim (Mullen et al. 2000). Stalking victims, however, can be chosen because of their prominence in the community, country, or entertainment industry and have never even met their stalkers.
Stalking behaviors are generally not by themselves illegal, but the pattern and purposes of the behaviors are designed to gain the attention of the victim and exert some control over that person’s life. The pattern and response of the victims will lead to a determination that the crime of stalking is being committed. The average stalker persists for almost two years (Tjaden and Thoennes 1998). Less intrusive behaviors are more common, such as gathering information about the victim and then using it to send letters, gifts, and e-mails and make phone calls.
As behaviors become more intrusive, they are also less common (Mullen et al. 2000). Some of these behaviors include following victims or conducting surveillance on their workplaces or homes, trying to influence family and friends by giving faulty information about the victims, confronting the victims, vandalizing property, issuing threats, and making assaults.
Cyberstalking is another form of stalking behavior that is becoming more common and has potentially serious consequences. The Internet provides a medium for stalkers to send unwanted messages and can also aid stalkers by giving them information about their victims, such as addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, employers, birth dates, and other types of personal and professional information.
Stalkers can use e-mails to try to meet victims online, manipulate them into meetings, and proceed to use further e-mails for harassment and threats. Stalkers can also commit a variety of other actions via computer to harass, frighten, and cause negative consequences to victims. They can try to disable victims’ computers by downloading viruses, spread false information about victims, post private photographs on the Web, and even pretend to be the victim online in chat rooms, for example, and ask for messages from deviant sexual partners (Spitzberg and Hoobler 2002).
In terms of violence, about 50 percent of stalking victims will be threatened by perpetrators, but in most cases those threats will not be carried out (Meloy and Gothard 1995; Zona et al. 1993). Meloy (2002), in a review of stalking and violence, states that he found that ‘‘[i]n most studies of violence [. . .], base rates do not usually exceed 30% per year, even in the most violent groups’’ (p. 106). However, Meloy also notes that in some newer studies, the rate of violence is higher and states that ‘‘this may be an artifact of data gathering, or it may be a true finding’’ (Meloy 2002). Another significant finding of this review is that the chances of violence increase substantially if the stalkers and victims have had prior intimate relationships (usually over 50 percent). In terms of homicide, Meloy reports that this is a rare occurrence among stalkers and at the most occurs ‘‘in one in four hundred individuals who are stalked by prior intimates’’ (p. 112).
The most common victims of stalking are those who have had intimate relationships with their stalkers; most of these victims are female, and most of the perpetrators are male (Mullen et al. 2000). Other victims include casual acquaintances and friends. According to Hall (1998), male victims probably fall most often into this category, and the most common perpetrators would be neighbors who feel resentment toward the victims and retaliate by acts such as damaging property, making unwarranted complaints to authorities, and closely watching the victims. Other victims of stalking may be at workplaces or in professional capacities, such as physicians, counselors, and lawyers. In these cases, the purpose of the stalking may be because the stalkers have romantic feelings toward the victims, but they can also be because the stalkers feel that they have not been treated fairly by the victims or others in the same environment. For example, in the workplace, if someone receives a promotion that the stalker believes was rightfully his/hers, this could cause resentment and make the chances of threats or physical assault more likely than if the basis of the stalking were infatuation, even though the chances of such cases resulting in violence are extremely low (Mullen et al. 2000). The least common types of stalking involve victims who are strangers. These strangers may be people the stalkers admire from afar who live in their communities or go to the same school. They may also be people whom the stalkers will probably never meet, who are prominent in the community, national affairs, or the entertainment business.
The effects of this crime on victims can range from mere annoyance to fear and terror to severe physical injuries and even death. Most victims report that they are emotionally affected (Pathe and Mullen 1997). Victims may also feel anger toward the stalkers and want to retaliate against them for interfering so dramatically in their lives. Victims will often go to great lengths to avoid and discourage stalkers, particularly if the stalking has continued for some time and/or involves someone who has abused them previously. They will often feel a lack of control over their lives as the stalkers’ behaviors invade their personal and professional environments (Pathe and Mullen 2002). Stalkers do not behave in ways that are logical and generally do not respond to efforts to reason with them. Therefore, victims will feel frustrated as their prior methods of dealing with people, even those they want to avoid, do not succeed.
They will also be affected by the response of law enforcement officers if they report the stalking. If the response is positive and the police work with them, this will give victims a reason to feel that there is some hope that the stalkers can be stopped, and that they are truly victims of a crime.
Victims of stalking may change their lives significantly as they try to cope with being stalked. These changes may result in further isolation and loss of support when such contact is most needed. Besides feelings of frustration, anger, and loss of control, victims may also feel guilty and search for how their behavior may have encouraged the stalking. This may be particularly true if the victims had prior dating or intimate relationships with the stalkers, and they may ask themselves if they could have been more firm when they had told the stalkers that they did not want to see them again (de Becker 2002). Other emotions experienced by victims of stalking can include a high level of anxiety as they wonder how the stalkers will contact them the next time, if they will be waiting for them outside their homes or workplaces, and if they will be threatened or physically attacked. This anxiety may affect the victims physically as they lose sleep or weight or experience increases in headaches, nausea, and weakness (Pathe and Mullen 1997). The range of symptoms experienced by victims of stalking may constitute a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as they feel a lack of control over their lives, high levels of anxiety and stress, and profound weariness and make extraordinary and elaborate attempts to avoid the stalkers (Mullen et al. 2000).
Victims often have to change their lives in response to the actions of their stalkers. For example, if stalkers follow their victims to work or conduct surveillance outside the workplace, this can affect the quality of victims’ work and work attendance. If the victims do not have employers who understand stalking and the underlying reasons for the changes in their behaviors, they could lose their jobs. On the other hand, victims may be so frightened that they leave jobs.
Victims may also feel threatened in their homes. If they have families, the stalkers can affect these secondary victims of their crimes (Pathe and Mullen 2002). Spouses and children may feel that their lives are being directed by the actions of stalkers; they may have some of the same anxieties as the victims and worry about the safety of the victims as well as of themselves. In severe cases, victims may move in an effort to get away from their stalkers. Other dramatic actions by victims may include changing their names and/or appearances. However, the stalkers usually find their victims again (Pathe and Mullen 1997).
All of these activities increase the isolation of victims and affect them further emotionally as their efforts to be rid of their stalkers do not succeed. As victims give up their places of employment and their homes, they lose friends at work and in their communities. They may fear for the safety of their families and send their children to stay elsewhere or decrease contact with family members. The high levels of stress may also affect relationships with their spouses or significant others. Victims may even consider or attempt suicide as they begin to believe that the stalking will never end and they see the destruction of their lives (Pathe and Mullen 1997).
Advice to victims of stalking is different depending on the circumstances. Victims who have had prior intimate relationships with their stalkers will, in all probability, take different actions than would celebrities who have never met their stalkers. Victims of former intimate partners should also be aware that they are more likely to be physically assaulted than any other type of victim.
Victims are urged to trust their instincts and respond to the first warning signs (Spence-Diehl 1999). Whether the stalker is a past intimate partner, date, friend, or stranger, there will, in all likelihood, be some initial indications that there is a potential for stalking. People who had intimate relationships in the past with their stalkers probably at the time experienced efforts by them to control their lives, such as surveillance, confrontation, and physical assaults. In dating relationships, potential stalkers may exhibit extreme possessiveness and jealousy and make efforts to keep track of the other persons’ whereabouts and otherwise exert control over their lives. Once the dating relationship ends, other signs are further contacts by phone, e-mails, letters, the sending of gifts, or attempts at manipulation by asking for one last meeting.
If people are ending relationships with others they feel have the potential to stalk them, they should be firm about the decision they have made to end them. This is not a time for negotiation (deBecker 2002). If the spurned others then do exhibit stalking behaviors, depending on the circumstances, the victims may want to make a ‘‘no-contact statement’’ (Spence-Diehl 1999, p. 16) the next time they see them. If they know the stalkers, victims should tell them in no uncertain terms that they do not want to have any further contact with them (Spence-Diehl 1999). This should, of course, not be done in circumstances where victims feel threatened or where stalkers have asked to meet victims alone.
If the stalking continues, victims should report the behavior to the police and help them build a case. Victims should consider who else may have witnessed the stalking behaviors, the physical evidence they have, how they are going to gather evidence in the future, and the legal requirements for the crime of stalking. They should keep a record of every occurrence of stalking. Victims also should consider whether they need to file for an order of protection (Spence-Diehl 1999). About half of stalking victims report these crimes to the police (Tjaden and Thoennes 1998), and only about 25 percent of these cases result in arrest. Of these, about 20 percent are prosecuted, and about half of those prosecuted result in conviction.
Once victims report the stalking behaviors to the police, they should continue to file police reports based on the facts of what occurs and keep contact with the police about what is happening in the case. Victims should inquire whether there are victim advocates in the police department or prosecutor’s office or other types of support groups. By so doing, victims will help the police build their cases, will feel more in control of the situation, and will understand that they are not alone as victims of stalking.
In terms of safety, victims should consider installing an alarm system in their homes, letting their neighbors know about the stalking, and making sure that they have an escape route in case their homes are invaded. Victims should also tell their families, friends, employers, and coworkers that they are being stalked. If the stalking includes excessive phone calls, victims should consider installing another line for their use while leaving the first line attached to an answering machine to keep a record of the stalkers’ calls (Spence-Diehl 1999).
Victims may also be stalked while they are outside their homes, while they are in their cars, at work, or in social situations. In the car, victims should travel different routes to work and other places they frequently go, consider increasing the security measures on their cars, and make sure all doors are locked. They should be aware of cars around them and try to have escape routes if they are being followed.
In the workplace, victims should let their employers know about the stalking and work with security so that stalkers cannot gain access to the workplace. They should have someone escort them to their cars. Other actions victims can take in the workplace include having someone else’s voice on their voice mail, varying work schedules, or transferring to other offices.
In public while at social events, victims should tell others about the stalking, and if stalkers are seen or attempt to approach them, victims should avoid them and seek assistance from the police. If victims find that they are alone with the stalkers, they should try to get to places where there are others and even enlist the aid of strangers (Spence-Diehl 1999).
If the stalking continues and becomes more intrusive, victims may want to consider further actions, such as having mail sent to a post office box, changing residences, trading cars, not using credit cards, and not giving information about themselves or their whereabouts to others unless necessary (Spence-Diehl 1999).
In terms of helping themselves emotionally, victims of stalking should reach out to others in their social environments, their families, and support organizations (Mullen et al. 2000). Victims need to feel as though they still have control over their lives, and they can do this by working with the police, speaking out about the stalking, filing for restraining orders, and taking actions which make them feel safer, such as installing alarm systems, getting a dog, or taking self-defense classes.
The murder of a stalking victim is a rare occurrence (Pathe 2002), and most victims of stalking will not be physically or sexually assaulted. However, estimates of the percentage of victims who are assaulted vary from a very small percentage (Zona et al. 1993) to around 30 percent (Meloy and Gothard 1995; Mullen et al. 1999). One thing that seems clear is that the likelihood of physical and/or sexual assaults by stalkers increases dramatically if there was a prior intimate relationship (Mullen et al. 1999) and increases even further when there had been violence in that relationship (Tjaden and Thoennes 1998).
About 50 percent of stalkers threaten their victims, but most of these threats are not acted upon. However, ‘‘the risk of violence likely increases when there is an articulated threat’’ (Meloy 1998, p. 5). Therefore, threats should be taken seriously. Besides a prior intimate relationship and threats, there are some other risk factors related to assaults and homicides among stalking victims. Substance abuse is a risk factor in terms of threats, assaults, and property damage to stalking victims, as is a criminal history (Mullen et al. 1999).
In terms of mental illness, those with mental disorders involving psychosis or not involving psychosis are as likely to issue threats to stalking victims, but those with disorders not involving psychosis are more likely to assault victims, particularly when the diagnosis involves paraphilias or personality disorders (Mullen et al. 1999). However, stalkers diagnosed with a psychosis who are also categorized as predatory stalkers, although rare, can be particularly dangerous.
As with any crime, victims will feel that their lives have been interrupted and changed. The difference between most crimes and stalking is that the victimization can continue over a long period of time (as with domestic violence) and therefore wear down the outer and inner supports of the victims. Therefore, recognizing the crime and responding to it effectively is crucial to reduce the emotional damage to victims.
Stalking can be a dangerous crime that affects every aspect of victims’ lives. Stalkers vary in terms of why they stalk, whom they stalk, and the danger they represent to their victims. They will use different methods to stalk, and most will not be deterred by attempts at intervention, even by the criminal justice system. Therefore, those in the criminal justice system, as well as mental health professionals, need to understand these criminals and the effect they can have on their victims.
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- Alaska Penal Code §11.41.260 and §11.41.270.
- California Penal Code §646.9.
- Michigan Penal Code §750.411h, §750.411i, and §750.411s.
- New York Penal Code §120.45, §120.50, §120.55, and §120.60.
- United States Code 18 U.S.C. §2261A.
- West Virginia Penal Code §61-2-9a and §61-3C-14a.