Stalking is a pattern of behaviors which includes repeated annoyance and harassment through unwanted contact with another person. Stalking is a form of violence and occurs in a wide variety of ways, including threatening or unwanted phone calls, following the victim home or to public places, damaging property, or constantly surveilling activities and whereabouts. Some stalkers may seek out members of the victim’s family and attempt to either intimidate or use the family to gain information about their victim. Stalking is not limited to threats or anger. A stalker may also profess great love and affection for his/her victim, and may even appear desperate and vulnerable. All 50 states currently have antistalking laws, and there is a federal antistalking law as well. Women are frequently stalking victims: A 1998 study by the National Institute of Justice found that 78% of stalking victims are women.
There are three basic types of stalkers: delusional or “obsession” stalkers, intimate partner stalkers, and vengeful stalkers. Delusional stalkers are those who have not had any substantial relationship with the victim. The stalker incorrectly believes he/she has a relationship with the victim, or can form a relationship through the stalking activities. Celebrity stalking is a form of delusional stalking. Two particularly well-known stalking cases involved actresses. Jodie Foster was stalked by John Hinckley, Jr. Mr. Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan in an effort to impress the actress. Rebecca Schaeffer, a teen actress, was shot and killed by her stalker in 1989. Noncelebrities can also be the victim of delusional stalkers. A stalker may become obsessed with someone he/she sees in a public setting, such as on the bus or in a restaurant. As in the case of celebrities, this type of stalking can escalate from adoration to violence against the victim or others.
Intimate partner stalkers are those who have had a romantic relationship with their victim. Intimate partner stalking accounts for more than 60% of the stalking cases in the United States and Canada. Forty-two percent of intimate partner stalking is committed by a spouse or partner. In many cases, the stalker was abusive during the relationship. When the victim leaves the abuser, he/she uses stalking to continue to control the former partner. Intimate partner stalking may take the form of repeated, unwanted requests for a reconciliation attempt. The stalker may interpret any interaction with the victim as an indication that the relationship will continue. Interfering with the victim’s social life is a common tactic of intimate partner stalkers. The stalker may confront the victim in a public place, hoping she/he will talk with him/her in order to avoid “making a scene.” Intimate partner stalking is the most dangerous form of stalking: there is a 75% greater chance of being killed by this type of stalker than any other type.
Vengeful stalkers are those seeking to “get even” with their victim for some real or imagined misdeed. The stalker may be a former co-worker, student, or even, as in the cases involving abortion providers, a protester. Unlike other stalkers, the vengeful stalker does not have any positive feelings toward his/her victim. They are very likely to be psychopathic and physically violent.
Regardless of the particular category they fall into, most stalkers share some common characteristics: low self-esteem, refusal to take no for an answer, obsessive personality, “moody,” above-average intelligence, manipulative, and violent tendencies. While many stalkers have similar personality traits, stalkers do not come from any one socioeconomic group. Stalking can (and does) occur in all segments of society.
Regardless of the stalker or the victim, stalking creates apprehension and fear. Stalkers may or may not physically harm their victims. However, any type of stalking is dangerous and must be handled seriously because there is no reliable way to predict a stalker’s future violent behavior. The first step in dealing with a stalker (or potential stalker) is to clearly communicate that ANY contact is unwanted and if there is any more contact, you will call the police. This is sometimes referred to as a “no-contact statement.” A no-contact statement can be done in person, on the phone, or in a letter or email. As soon as a victim begins to feel uncomfortable with the stalker’s behavior, she/he should issue a no-contact statement. A “wait and see” approach can be dangerous when it comes to stalking.
If the harassment continues after the no-contact statement, the victim will need to contact the police in order to file a report of stalking. Victims should keep a log of the stalker’s behavior that includes dates, times, places, and witnesses to stalking behavior. The log will facilitate building a case against the stalker. After reporting a stalking, the victim should obtain a copy of the police report. In addition to reporting all instances of harassment, the victim should keep all evidence: threats, cards, notes, emails, gifts, and the like.
Stalking victims may want to obtain a restraining order against their stalker. Restraining orders provide no protection in and of themselves, but give the police the ability to arrest stalkers in situations where they otherwise could not. There are community resources available to help the victims of stalkers. These resources may provide help with restraining orders and a variety of information on prosecuting stalkers.
See Also: Divorce mediation, Domestic violence, Homicide, Restraining orders
- Dunn, J. (2002). Courting disaster: Intimate stalking, culture, and criminal justice. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
- Gedatus, G. (2000). Perspectives on violence—Stalking. Mankato, MN: Capstone Press.
- Snow, R. (1998). Stopping a stalker: A cop’s guide to making the system work for you. New York: Plenum Press.
- Spence-Diel, E. (1999). Stalking: A handbook for victims. Holmes Beach, FL: Learning.