ISV Ambassador Sarah Naji Alyasiri explains exactly what stalking is and how you can protect yourself.
“There was a time when our desire for each other would have landed us in an asylum or prison, had it not been sanctioned by mutual assent. True or false,” Lawrence Krauser, Lemon
If you have such problems as someone constantly following you; turning up unexpectedly in numerous places; sending copious email, unwanted texts messages and calls; sending offensive or worrying items; leaving threatening and/or abusive phone messages; etc., then you may well have an issue with a person stalking you, for whatever reason.
What is Stalking?
Stalking is unwanted or obsessive attention by an individual or group toward another person. Stalking behaviors are related to harassment and intimidation and may include following the victim in person or monitoring him/her. The word stalking is used, in some legal jurisdictions, as a term of criminal offense. The relentless neurotic nature of stalkers can take the form of harassing their targets, calling them repeatedly, as well as sending letters and gifts. If these are ineffective, the individuals may escalate to more intrusive behaviors, such as spying on and confronting their victims.
Research tends to focus on how violating it is to bear the brunt of stalkers’ obsessions. According to Lamber Royakkers:
“Stalking is a form of mental assault, in which the perpetrator repeatedly, unwantedly, and disruptively breaks into the life-world of the victim, which whom they have no relationship (or no longer have). Moreover, the separated acts that make up the intrusion cannot by themselves cause the mental abuse, but do taken together (cumulative effect).”
To survive such assault, the so- called victims need to be informed, confident, courageous, determined. According to one study in regard gender of stalking, women often target other women, whereas men generally stalk women only. However, a January 2009 report from the United States Department of Justice reports:
- Males were likely to report being stalked by a male as a female offender.
- 43% of male stalking victims stated that the offender was female, while 41% of male victims stated that the offender was another male.
- Female victims of stalking were significantly more likely to be stalked by a male(67%) rather than a female (24%) offender.
This report provides considerable data by gender and race about both stalking and harassment. Though stalking is an universal issue, it does exist in many cultures and countries around the world. Every year, for example a recent American study by the Justice Department disclosed that an estimated one million women and 400,000 men are plagued by unrelenting pursuers who harass, terrorize and in some cases kill the victims or anyone else deemed to be in the way of a stalker’s desired goal.
Who are the Stalkers?
Possible stalkers are often ex-partners or obsessed crushes who do not take no for an answer. They may be a co-worker, neighbor, a fellow student. Or it may be a complete stranger, someone unknown and of whom the victim was completely unaware until strange things start happening. By definition, a stalker is somebody who is obsessed. This means that the person will not be rational.
Stalker profiles and their motivations
Psychologically stalking is a crime of control. Psychologists often group individuals who stalk into two categories: psychotic and nonpsychotic. Stalkers may have pre-existing psychotic disorders such as delusional disorder, schizoaffective disorder, or schizophrenia. Most stalkers are deemed nonpsychotic, however, may exhibit disorders or neuroses, such as major depression, adjustment disorder, or substance dependence, as well as a variety of personality disorders, such as antisocial, borderline, dependent, narcissistic, or paranoid. Some of the symptoms of “obsessing” over a person may be characteristic of obsessive compulsive personality disorder. Stalkers see their victims as possessions who are rightfully theirs, and stalking behavior is frequently activated by a breakup or an ex-partner’s new relationship.
The nonpsychotic stalkers’ pursuit of victims can be influenced by various psychological factors, including anger, hostility, projection of blame, obsession, dependency, minimization, denial, and jealousy. Conversely, as is more commonly the case, the stalkers have no antipathic feelings towards their victims, but simply a longing that cannot be fulfilled due to deficiencies either in their personalities or their societies norms.
In 1993, Australian stalking expert Paul Mullen, clinical director and chief psychiatric at Victoria’s Forensic, proposed five stalker subtypes by analyzing the behavior of 145 diagnosed stalkers. These subtypes are currently the most extensively used categorization in classifying stalker behavior.
1. Rejected stalkers: individuals who pursue their victims in order to reverse, correct, or avenge a rejection (e.g. divorce, separation, termination).
2. Resentful stalkers: individuals who pursue a vendetta because of a sense of grievance against the victims – motivated mainly by the desire to frighten and distress the victim.
3. Intimacy seekers: individuals who seek to establish an intimate, loving relationship with their victims. Such stalkers often believe that the victim is a long-sought-after soul mate, and they were ‘meant’ to be together.
4. Incompetent suitors: despite poor social or courting skills, these individuals have a fixation, or in some cases, a sense of entitlement to an intimate relationship with those who have attracted their amorous interest. Their victims are most often already in a dating relationship with someone else.
5. Predatory stalkers: individual who spy on the victim in order to prepare and plan an attack – often sexual – on the victim. (Mullen, et al.,2000).
The 2002 National Victim Association Academy defines an additional form of stalking: the vengeance/ terrorist stalker. Both the vengeance stalker and terrorist stalker (the latter sometimes called the “political” stalker) do not, in contrast with some of the aforementioned types of stalkers, seek a personal relationship with their victims, but rather force them to emit a certain response. While the vengeance stalker’s motive is “to get even” with the other person whom he/she perceives has done some wrong to them (e.g., an employee who believes has been fired without justification from his/her job by a superior), the political stalker intends to accomplish a political agenda, also using threats and intimidations to force his/her target to refrain and/or become involved in some particular activity, regardless of the victim’s consent. For example, most prosecutions in this stalking category have been against anti-abortionists who stalk doctors in an attempt to discourage the performance of abortions.
In our information age, the ability of stalkers to find and harass their victims has been aided in recent years by computers, E-mail and the Internet, which has spawned a new psychiatric legal term: cyber stalking. Physical stalking will be accompanied by cyber stalking, which can be defined as the use of the internet or other electronic means to stalk or harass an individual, a group, or an organization. It may include false accusations, defamation, slander, and libel. It may also include monitoring, identity theft, threats, vandalism, solicitation for sex, or gathering information that may be used to threaten or harass. Cyber stalking is often accompanied by real time or offline stalking. Both are criminal offenses. Both are motivated by a desire to control, intimidate, or influence a victim. A stalker may be an online stranger or a person whom the target knows. He or she may be anonymous and solicit involvement of other people online who do not even know the target. Cyber stalking is a criminal offense under various state anti-stalking, slander and harassment laws. A conviction can result in a restraining order, probation, or criminal penalties against the assailant, including jail.
Stalkers simply do not fade away. Although only 2 percent of stalkers commit homicide, half of them threaten their victims with violence or say they are going to damage property or injure pets, according to studies. Even when no physical harm results, the repeated harassment commonly results in acute emotional distress and can seriously disrupt the way victims live. Some lose their jobs when stalkers plague them at work, and some are forced to move and change their identity and appearance. Stalking is a very controversial crime because a conviction requires no physical harm. And virtually anyone can become a victim. Although celebrities like Madonna and David Letterman who are stalked by crazed strangers are most likely to make the news, the vast majority of victims are ordinary people who knew their stalkers, usually as lovers or spouses.
How Do You Protect Yourself?
If this happens to you, how would you handle it? How would you get rid of stalkers? And how would you protect yourself? Below are some social strategies for handling stalking.
1. Clarify your position. Always state romantic or social rejections clearly. Responding with comments such as, “I’m not interested in a relationship/being friends with you at this time,” or “I’m dating someone else,” can lead a person to believe that you would date or be friends with them, if the timing were right or if they keep pressing the issue.
2. Warn the offender clearly. Tell the stalker in as few words as possible that he or she is not welcome to contact you. Do not engage in lengthy dialogue with the stalker. Never respond to any of the stalker’s contact again. Your goal is to inform the stalker that his or her actions are harassment and warn him or her never to make contact with you from that point on.
3. Ignore and do not respond to further attempted interactions. Your stalker may try to deliberately rile you by making provocative comments if he or she gets close enough to you or uses messages to do so. Any response, even a negative one only, feeds into the stalker’s belief that he/she is getting to you.
4. Never attempt to reason with or appease a stalker. This only reinforces his/her belief that his or her tactics are working.
5. Keep a record of incidents. This may include letters, phone messages, emails, lurking, or any contact the stalker has attempted to make. Record the date when each contact occurred, and keep this record in a safe place. This can be used as evidence if you need to consult the police. Always keep a cell phone on you, if possible. A phone that can record images and conversations is a plus.
6. Notify everyone about your situation and the identity of your stalker, if known. Stalkers thrive on secrecy and privacy. Notify your family, friends, neighbors, and employers to not give out your personal information, regardless of the innocuousness of the request or the identity of the questioner. Notify everyone to be cautious of any individual loitering around your neighborhood or place of employment or attempting to gain access to your workplace.
7. Another option is to get a new phone number and email address. Only give it to trusted individuals, and allow your current phone and email account to record messages from your stalker. The ability to leave messages may make a nonviolent stalker content not to attempt any real life interactions.
8. Move out temporarily. If you feel that your home is being watched, stay somewhere else, such as your parents’ home, the home of other relatives, or with friends. If you are living away from family and have not yet made solid friendships in your new town, seek advice from a campus counselor or from the local police.
9. Try to avoid being alone, if you can. A stalker is more likely to lose interest if he or she sees that you always have company.
10. Avoid adhering to a general schedule as much as possible. Do not go to the same gas station, restaurant, or grocery store, and do not go at the same times.
11. Seek help. Discuss with police and counselors the possibility of obtaining a temporary restraining order or protective order. Keep in mind that either one is to initiate and assist the legal process. It cannot physically protect you from a stalker who is inclined towards violence. You must be responsible for your safety. Nonviolent and violent stalkers react differently to these protection orders, as do those stalkers who have had romantic/sexual involvement with their victims.
Based on your history with the stalker and the pattern of behavior he/she has been demonstrating towards you, research these orders to decide whether it will assist you in your situation or not. The counselors or victim’s advocate may better assist you in determining what the best options for your situation are. You also may wish to consider going straight to the police and reporting the incidents and having a report drawn up. It will at least allow you to explore your legal options and obtain some advice on how to act next.
Report all stalking incidents to the police when you have enough evidence. Reports may lead to an arrest or an informal intervention (such as a warning) that sometimes helps stop the harassment. If you are reluctant to file a complaint because you have been intimidated or do not believe law enforcement can or will assist you, talk to a trained victim assistance professional. Be confident. This means maintaining an air of self-assurance, holding your head high, and walking tall and with purpose. Stalkers are more likely to continue when they see fear reflected in your body language, keep your body reactions slow, measured, and calm. Victims should always trust their instincts and never minimize the stalker’s behavior. If you feel unsafe, you are unsafe and seek assistance without delay. Investigate whether a civil action for damages might be an option for you. Stalking is a serious crime. It can inflict severe emotional damage and may lead to physical and sexual violence. Be aware to this offence and work on handling it wisely.
Sarah Naji Alyasiri
ISV Ambassador and Correspondent