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Stalking

  • The term ‘stalking’ as defined in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act is “engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to (A) fear for his or her safety or the safety of others, or (B) suffer substantial emotional distress.” (Stalking Resource Center, n.d., p. 9).
    • Course of conduct can be defined as a pattern of behavior of two or more acts over a period of time, however short, that evidence a continuity of purpose (Stalking Resource Center, n.d.).
    • Reasonable person standard asks if “if a reasonable person in similar circumstances would be made afraid by the perpetrator’s behavior” (National Stalking Resource Center, n.d., p. 9).
  • Stalking is a violation that is different in nature given victimization does not require the perpetrator to come in contact with the victim (Baum, Catalano, Rand and Rose, 2009). Stalking is “an extraordinary crime in that it may often consist of no more than the targeted repetition of an ostensibly ordinary or routine behavior” (Sheridan, Blaauw, and Davies, 2003, p. 150). Indeed, as the Bureau of Justice cited by Sinwelski and Vinton (2001) noted, the individual actions that make up stalking are often legal, however the collective behaviors together causes victims to feel threatened.
  • Looking at stalking with specifically within the college student population, Phillips, Quirk, Rosenfeld and O’Connor (2004) noted multiple studies have found rates of stalking occurrence in college students far exceed prevalence rates found in the general population.

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey[1]:

  • One in six women (16.2%) and one in 19 men (5.2%) have experienced stalking victimization at some point during their lifetime in which they felt fearful or believed something close to them would be harmed or killed.
  • Two-thirds of female victims of stalking (66.2%) were stalked by a current or former intimate partner; men were primarily stalked by an intimate partner (41.4%) or an acquaintance (40%).
  • Repeatedly receiving unwanted phone calls, voice, or text messages, or hang-ups was the most commonly experienced stalking tactic for both male and female victims of stalking (78.8% for women and 75.9% for men)
  • More than half of female victims (57.6%) reported being approached, such as at their home or work, and more than one-third (38.6%) were watched, followed or tracked with a listening device.
  • Just under half of male victims (43.5%) reported being approached by the perpetrator. Nearly one-third of male victims (31.0%) reporting being watched, followed or tracked.
  • More than half of female victims and more than one-third of male victims of stalking indicated they were stalked before the age of 25; about one in five female and one in 14 male victims experienced stalking between the ages of 11 and 17.
  • Nearly one-quarter of women (24.0%) and 40.0% of men indicated they had been stalked by an acquaintance.
  • About one in eight female victims (13.2%) and nearly-one fifth of male victims (19%) reported being stalked by a stranger.

The research of Baum et. al (2009) includes information on trends in stalking victimization:

  • Females at higher risk for stalking victimization than males
  • Persons age 18 to 19 and 20 to 24 experienced highest rates of stalking victimization
  • Individuals were more likely to be stalked by offenders of similar age.
  • Stalking is primarily intraracial– 83% of white stalking victims thought stalker was white compared to 66% of black stalking victims who thought stalker was black.
  • Males were as likely to report being stalked by a male as a female offender.
  • Female victims of stalking were more likely to be stalked by a male than a female.
  • Six in ten stalking victims report that the perpetrator was a single offender

In seeking to understand stalking behavior, it is also important to note that stalking is a unique crime. There are several differences that are important to be mindful of in working with stalking cases outlined in resources provided by the Kansas Academy for Victim Assistance (2014):

  • Stalking is not a one-time crime. It is ongoing, and it can last for years.
  • Stalking is a crime that does not have time limitations. It can occur at all hours. It is continuous, and there is both a perceived and real possibility that the stalker could always be near/engaging in stalking behavior.
  • Stalking can begin at a variety of times. It can be a continuance of an abusive relationship the victim has left, when a stalker has a desire to pursue a relationship, and/or the victim may not know when or why this behavior has begun.
  • The end of the stalking behavior is an unknown variable.
  • Many of the reasons for stalking relate to the emotional needs and/or wants of the stalker, not the victim’s vulnerability.
Stalking Behaviors & Typologies

In understanding stalking behaviors, it is also important to understand there are different types of stalkers. These typologies relate to the stalker’s actual or desired relationship (or lack thereof) with the victim. These typologies are often indicative of how the stalker engages with the victim with regard to behavior and timing. Speaking generally, the largest prevalence of relationship between stalkers and victims is previous partners.

  • The relationship between stalker and victim provides the best lens to understand stalker motivations (Zona, Palarea, and Lane, 1998).
  • In looking at relationship connections (or lack thereof), stalkers can be divided into two categories – prior relationship and no prior relationship with prior relationship being further divided into acquaintance, customer, neighbor, professional relationship, dating and sexual intimates (Zona et al., 1993).
  • Looking specifically within the college environment, relationships can be divided into four categorizations – friend, casual date, serious date and stranger (Fremouw, Westrup and Pennypacker, 1997).
  • With regard to prevalence, the largest relational category is ex-partners (Spitzberg, 2002). “The ending of their prior relationship with the stalker causes the onset of stalking in many cases” (Sheridan et al., 2003, p. 154).
  • Additionally, there have been several typologies developed to categorize types of stalkers that detail stalker characteristics, motives and common behaviors.
    • One of the earliest classifications was provided by Zona, Sharma and Lane (1993) in which they divided stalkers into simple obsessional, love obsessional and erotomatic.
      • Simple obsessional stalkers were the largest subtype. These were stalkers who knew their victims previously and were motivated by anger or revenge. They showed the highest likelihood of being physically violent.
      • Love obsessional were the next next largest subtypes. This group tends to stalk strangers with whom they are obsessed.
      • The final subtype is erotomatic. This is a group who stalks strangers. They are motivated by a belief, often delusional in nature that their victims are in love with them. These stalkers tend to be females who stalk celebrity or well-known figures. This group is least likely to make threats or exhibit violent behavior
    • Mullen, Pathe, Purcell and Stuart (2000) developed a typology based on psychiatric diagnoses, underlying motivations, and the relationship with the victim. From this, they classified stalkers into five categories: rejected stalkers, intimacy-seekers, incompetent stalkers, resentful stalkers, and predatory stalkers.
      • Rejected stalkers are seeking a restored relationship and/or revenge for a lost relationship. This group represents one-third of all stalkers. This group is primarily male and tend to engage in the most “intrusive and persistent” of all the sub-groups.
      • Intimacy-seeking stalkers are those driven by feelings of loneliness and a desire for companionship. This group represents one-third of all stalkers. This group tends to be long-term stalkers, which means they have stalked a victim for over a year.
      • Incompetent stalkers are those who are unable to form appropriate intimate relationships and who have a desire to win victims’ love. The behaviors of these stalkers are often described as more of an annoyance than anything and can be very short-term in nature.
      • Resentful stalkers are those who act in response to insults or humiliation.
      • Predatory stalkers are those who are in search of control of their victim and are focused on enacting violent behavior (i.e. physical or sexual assault).
    • One of the more recent categorizations is the RECON Typology (Relationship and Context-Based) created by Mohandie, Meloy and McGowan and Williams (2003). This categorization places stalkers in one of four categories – intimate, acquaintance, public figure and private stranger.
      • Intimate stalkers tend to “insult, interfere, threaten and are violent” (p. 153). They have a high frequency of contact with their victim, and behavior tends to escalate in frequency and intensity.
      • Acquaintance stalkers are not as violent as those in the intimate stalkers group. This group relies heavily on threats, although their threats are not regimented, rather they are relentless in nature. Their threats can endure for years, and they are characterized by their insatiable desire to establish a relationship with the victim.
      • Public figure stalkers are those who quest after celebrity victims. Looking at the gender breakdown, this group has a greater proportion of female stalkers than any other. This group tends to have the lowest threat of violence, although they often show evidence of a major mental disorder. Physical contact with their victim is low, and some of this may be due to security measures utilized by public figures and/or impacted by their mental health. If violence does occur, it is often tied to a perceived rejection from the public figure.
      • Private stranger stalkers are those who have no prior relationship to their victim. They are direct in their behaviors, utilize proximity to the victim and follow frequently wanting to have contact with their victim. Despite the lack of relationship, these stalkers do make threats and pose a threat of violence which can be connected to mental illness, something that is common in this type of stalker.
      • This study also found that across all types, two-thirds of stalkers engage in at least one unwanted and fear-evoking behavior per week, and 78% use more than one method of stalking or approach to their victim.
  • Looking at gender, there are some notable differences. Meloy and Boyd (2003) noted female stalkers were driven by a desire to establish intimacy while men were often seeking to restore an intimate relationship. If a male and female stalker engag5e in an identical behavior, male stalkers tend to generate more fear than females (Nguyen, Spitzberg, and Lee, 2012; Sinclair and Frieze, 2000).
  • There have been several studies that have examined commonalities with stalking behavior, as well as the frequency and length of the stalking.
    • In the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, Baum et. al (2011) detailed study findings, including:
      • The most common type of stalking behavior experienced was unwanted phone calls and/or messages.
      • Stalking victims were most likely to be stalked once or twice a week with no set pattern of frequency or behavior. Mohandie et. al (2006) supported these findings  noting two-thirds of victims were stalked at least one a week.
      • Almost 17% of victims reported being stalked almost daily, and 5% reported daily stalking.
      • Stalkers made one or more threats to 43% of victims. The most common threats were hitting, slapping or other physical harm (13.6%) or killing victim (12.1%). Stalkers threatened to kill themselves to 9.2% of victims. Roberts (2005) cited several studies noting the minority of stalkers did not actually carry out threats made.
    • Mohandie et. al (2006) detailed frequency of stalking. The mode of time where stalking occurred was one month with the average time being 1.3 years. Stalkers also tended to use multiple means of approach with the most common location being home, school and work.
Motives for Stalking Behavior
  • In addition to understanding stalking behaviors, it is important to understand motives for stalking behaviors, as well as why stalking behaviors persist.
    • Mohandie et. al (2006) found that in most case there is a triggering event, often a perceived rejection. This rejection could be solely perception and not reality, regardless, it is enough to begin stalking behavior. Sinclair and Frieze (2000) found that perceived rejection was more influencing of stalking behavior than perceived reaction to advances.
    • Stalkers often are simultaneously yearning for affection and intense anger. Others may only desire a relationship, while other stalkers focus on insulting and intimidating. It is even common for different emotions to vary in one staker, and this can be influenced by feelings of unreturned affections or rejected advances (Mohandie et. al, 2003).
    • Stalkers often feel or present their actions as being positive or in good will. Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Palarea, Cohen and Rohling (2000) found pursuers would minimize the negative impact of their actions, and a study by Davis, Ace and Andra (2000) found stalkers described their actions of being ones done out of love to maintain an established relationship.
    • One of the reasons and dangers of stalking is that if a stalker does not believe his actions are causing harm to their victim, there is no reason for them to cease (
    • If a pursuer does not perceive that their actions have negative effects and is oblivious to a love interest, reportedly, explicit reactions s/he has no reason to stop.
    • In examining victim perceptions to understand reason for stalking behaviors, the most common reasons victims perceived for the stalking were retaliation, anger, spite (37%), or desire to control the victim (33%).One in six victims believed that the stalking started to keep them in the relationship. One in ten victims did not know while stalking had begun (Baum et. al, 2009).
    • As a final piece to understand motivation, intervention did not help in most cases. The most common behavior after intervention was to recontact the victim with recidivism happening almost half the time. This finding is a testament to the intensity of emotions driving stalking behaviors (Mohandie et. al, 2003).
Predictors of Stalking

Roberts (2005) provided summaries of several studies detailing trends in stalkers and relationships that were predictors of the occurrence of stalking violence:

  • Stalking does not have a connection to mental disorders; however it is connected to personality disorders.
  • Nonprescription drug abuse is predictive of future stalking.
  • There is an association between domestic/dating violence in a relationship, and stalking that follows the end of the relationship. However, while emotional abuse was commonly reported as a component of the previous relationship with the stalker, it was not predictive of later stalking.  While not a predictor, the stalking could be categorized as a continuation of having a negative emotional impact on the victim.
  • There is an association between jealousy and stalking. Those who were victims of stalking were more likely to report jealousy with regard to relationships with others had been a component of their previous relationship.
The Use of Technology to Stalk

With the continual growth and expansion of technology, there are a variety of techniques related to technology that stalkers use. Many in the field encourage those working with cases involving technology to suspend their notions of reality, as the lengths that stalkers often go to related to technology are often such that it does not seem possible this could happen. Note: This form of stalking was formerly referred to as cyberstalking. Given the expanded technology utilized (e.g. GPS, cellular phones), this term has become antiquated, and “technology” has become a more appropriate umbrella term.

  • An ever-emerging and growing subset of stalking violence is the use of technology to stalk. This type of stalking is a unique form of violence given the absence of physical contact and even presence in the same location. However, the victim is still emotionally affected by the behavior (Fullerton, 2003). Baum et. al (2009) found one in four stalking victims reported technology being used to stalk. Given the timing of this study and increased presence of online and electronic communication, it could be inferred this number may not be higher.
  • Baughman (2009) defined the use of technology to stalk[2] as:
    • Monitoring email communication or messages either directly or through spyware or other software
    • Sending email, messages (either as public statuses or private messages) that threaten or harass
    • Disrupting online communication by flooding a victims email box or social media with unwanted mail/messages or by sending a virus to limit ability to utilize technology
    • Using the victim’s email or social media identity to send false messages to others or to make unauthorized purchases
    • Using information on the internet/social media to gain personal information about the victim and learn about their current location, relationships and/or activities
  • In understanding the use of technology to stalk, it is also important to understand how teens utilize technology and what perceived communication norms might be. A study by Picard (2007) looking at teens between the ages of 11 and 18 reported these statistics:
    • From midnight to 5:00 AM, 24% of teens in a relationship communicated with their partner hourly via phone or text message.
    • 17% of teens admitted they had communicated 10 or more times per hour between midnight and 5:00 PM.
    • From 10 PM to midnight, 30% of teens in relationships reported communicating with their partner via phone or text message 10 to 30 times or more per hour.
    • Almost one in three teens (30%) who were currently in previously in a relationship reported being texted messaged 10, 20 or 30 times per hour by a partner who wanted to know their location, who they were with and what they were doing.
    • 78% of teens reporting harassment and/or embarrassment on social networking sites did not report this to their parents.
    • 72% of teens who reported being checked on at least ten times per hour via computer or phone did not tell their parents.
  • The research provided on the use of technology to stalk is limited by the newness of technology. Given the rapid development of social media, there are few studies available that discuss current applications and how they are used in stalking. While the intent remains the same, there are few studies that provide data on the impact and tactics utilized.
  • For more current information on techniques being used related to technology and stalking, the webinar from the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center entitled The Use of Technology to Stalk is helpful. Slides and an audio recording are available online.
Stalking Victimization & Responses

There are many factors at play when looking at why victims do (or do not) choose to report. Given many victims have a previous relationship with the stalker, they often do not immediately feel the stalker’s actions are severe enough. Looking at individual behaviors of a stalker, these behaviors are often “normal” in nature, but when put together as patterns of behavior, they are unhealthy and inappropriate. There are also a variety of coping mechanisms that victims might utilize that are outlined. Many of these strategies involve using their own resources (i.e. not law enforcement or a reporting agency) to find a perceived remedy to the situation.

  • In reviewing and understanding stalking behaviors and relationships, it is also important to know about reporting tendencies.
    • The most common reason for not reporting was feelings it was a personal matter or the stalking was not seen as severe (Baum et. al, 2009).
    • Hidden Marks - A Study of Women Students' Experiences of Harassment, Stalking, Violence and Sexual Assault was a report commissioned by the National Union of Students in the United Kingdom. In their studies about reporting, they found the most common reason for not reporting is that students did not feel what had happened was severe enough to report. In looking at who students share information with, the study found that women were most likely to report or discuss what had happened to them with friends or family – 80% of stalking victims had done this.
    • Amar and Alexy (2010) found about 20% of students reported stalking, and just over half actually sought help. 90% of the help sought was family and friends, and only 7.3% reported seeking aid from law enforcement.
    • Students were even more likely to report concerns if stalking had persisted for more than three months (National Union of Students, 2010).
  • In looking at how victims respond to stalking, Gross (1994) suggested that victims go through the five stages of grief as outlined by Kubler-Ross.
    • Initially, the victim may deny the behavior’s severity and not label it as stalking.
    • Secondly, the victim may bargain with the stalker to stop if they have a previous or current relationship with the stalker.
    • Thirdly, the victim may begin to feel guilty, particularly women victims, and assume they have some fault in the stalkers’ behavior.
    • Fourthly, the victim may feel angry at the stalker given the fear they have evoked and how they have negatively impacted or altered their life.
    • Finally, the victim may accept the responsibility to protect themselves from the stalker and will take action accordingly.
  • Economic & Financial Impact
    • “With regard to economical matters, stalking victims have reported suffering financial losses due to a decrease of work hours (23 – 53%), spending money on increasing security at home, at work, or in their vehicle (22 – 73%), replacing broken or stolen property or so forth.” (Sheridan, Blaauw and Davies, 2003, p. 153).
    • Baum et. al (2009) reported 30% of victims spent money on addressing stalking behavior, including legal fees, damage to personal property (16%), and charges for moving or changing contact information.
    • More than half of stalking victims lost 5 or more days from work (Baum et. al, 2009). This study did not talk about missing school, but it can be assumed that stalking also has an impact on class attendance.
    • Baum et. al (2009) indicated there was identify theft in 204,000 stalking cases. Over half of these thefts involved unauthorized financial accounts being opened and money being taken. Approximately 30% of these victims reported having  unauthorized credit card charges.
  • Fear & Safety
    • Baum et. al (2009) found 46% of stalking victims felt fear of not knowing what would happen next. The most common fear cited was the fear of not knowing what was next,and in fact, 29% reported concern that the stalking would never stop.
    • Sheridan et. al (2009) summarized several studies about feelings of fear and safety, “With regard to psychological complaints, victims reported on increased distrust (44%), increased paranoia (36 -39%), confusion (28%), fear (21 – 57%); fear is more common among female victims than male victims, nervousness (31%), anger or aggression (10 – 27%), depression (21 – 28%) and chronic sleep disturbance (74%), excessive tiredness or weakness (55%), appetite disturbance (48%), frequent headaches (47%), and persistent nausea (30%)” (p. 153).
  • Health
    • Citing a study completed by K.E. Davis et al. (2002), Sheridan et. al (2003) note “stalking victims are more likely to report poor current health status, to develop a chronic disease, and to report depression.” (p. 153).
    • Gross (2006) cited studies where the rates of depression and anxiety where between 56% to 83%. Baum et. al (2009) found that with continued stalking behavior, 15% of victims felt depressed or sick and 1% reported suicidal ideations.
    • Looking at the health effects of stalking, Roberts (2005) referenced previous findings and said, “Despite the limited evidence for serious violence again stalking victims, the fear of violence has been shown to seriously affect the psychological and physical health of stalking victims (p. 93).
Coping Strategies
  • Baum et. al (2009) looked at common actions victims took to attempt stop stalking:
    • Most commonly, victims changed their usual activities, stayed with family, and/or monitored or blocked calls.
    • 40% of victims, however, did not take any actions in changing routine activities, do any protective measures, or change any personal information.
    • Least frequently reported activities were changing appearance, getting a weapon (e.g. pepper spray or gun).
  • Amar and Alexy (2010) completed a study to look at common coping strategies used by college students noting there was little research on the topic:
    • Using a typology from Cupach and Spitzberg, Amar and Alexy (2010) looked at coping strategies within five categories: moving inward, moving outward, moving away, moving toward or with, and moving against. Definitions of these categories were provided by Nguyen, Spitzberg and Lee (2012):
      • Moving inward is a strategy to downplay the severity of the threat. This may help with stress management in the immediate, but does not likely cease the behavior.
      • Moving outward is a strategy using external individuals outside of the relationship such as friends, family and law enforcement.
      • Moving away is a strategy where a the victim is working to create distance from the stalker. This strategy can cause additional stress in that it does require lifestyle changes for the victim.
      • Moving with is working with the stalker to come to an agreement about how the relationship might proceed. This can be successful initially, but given the volatility of a stalking relationship, this is not the most successful.
      • Moving against is an aggressive strategy where threats and fear tactics are used by the victim to get the stalker to stop. This can create more of an issue given increased emotional interaction.
    • The most common coping strategies were within the moving inward category. Common strategies were to ignore the problem, minimize the problem and/or deny the problem. Developmentally, these strategies are common reactions to problems for college students.
    • Many of the strategies in the moving away category involved avoidance or escape. Within this category, students may utilize active strategies that might lessen their likelihood for contact with the stalker by attending events and even attempting to end a relationship.
    • Students often utilize multiple strategies in multiple categories.
    • If a student finds the demands of strategies used to manage the stressor exceed their abilities and/or what they have been doing is no longer effective, additional stress can occur as this stress is coupled with the original stress from the stalking (Amar and Alexy, 2010; Nguyen et. al, 2010).
 

[1] National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence survey was administered for the first time in 2010 and published in 2011 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

[2] Information on how this might connect with social media that was not in the original research article. Given the date of the original piece, this was not a medium that could be utilized for the definition. This has been added to provide a relevant and comprehensive definition of cyberstalking.


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