With it being National Stalking Awareness Week here is an extract of Chapter 1 from 'Our Encounters with Stalking' by Sam Taylor, Alec Grant and Helen Leigh-Phippard.
The extract includes the effects of stalking, characteristics of stalkers and aspects of risk management.
Psychological effects of stalking - Emma Short and Jim Barnes
Stalking is defined as conduct that constitutes a pattern of intrusions and harassment on a person in a manner that would cause any reasonable person serious alarm, distress or fear of violence (Crown Prosecution Service, undated). Cyberstalking is the ongoing and persistent use of online and digital technology to pursue or intimidate people or groups. In the UK, between 12% and 32% of women report that they have been stalked; for men, the figure is between four per cent and 17% (Weller, Hope & Sheridan, 2013). Figures for cyberstalking are harder to establish, but it is estimated that 39.9% of people who experience stalking are also victims of cyberstalking (Suzy Lamplugh Trust, 2016a). Arguably, the anonymity, ease of access and the disinhibition generally encouraged by online communication are likely to increase the pool of potential victims. Stalking is perpetrated by men and women. However, the overwhelming majority of stalkers are male. The most common scenario is a male perpetrator and female victim, and an estimated 70% of stalkers are male and 80% of victims are female (Suzy Lamplugh Trust, 2016b; Ostermeyer et al, 2016). Half of perpetrators, possibly more, are current or former partners, and only around 10–13% are unknown to the victim (Sheridan & Boon, 2002). It is not known if this also applies to cyberstalking, as this activity is different and much less well researched.
Characteristics and categories of stalkers and stalking
Most stalkers are motivated by a desire to force another into some form of unwanted relationship using insistent demands and attempts to create a level of intimacy that cause fear and distress in the victim (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2014). Perpetrators can be friends or loved ones. Former lovers are more likely to physically stalk their victim (Mullen, Pathé & Purcell, 2009). That said, use of electronic surveillance techniques by former partners to monitor, bully or victimise their victim is becoming increasingly common (All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence/Women’s Aid, 2017). Perpetrators who have no previous history of any relationship with their victim are common users of electronic surveillance. Forensic behavioural scientists have established several categories of stalking behaviour.
• ex-partner harassment/stalking
• infatuation harassment
• delusional fixation stalking
• sadistic stalking (Sheridan & Boon, 2002).
As many as 50% of stalkers have a mental health condition, such as personality disorder, schizophrenia or other psychotic disorder, depression or substance use disorders (McEwan, Mullen & MacKenzie, 2009; Mohandie et al, 2006; Rosenfeld, 2004). People who stalk strangers (including others they know only casually and celebrities) are more likely to have a mood, delusional or other psychiatric disorder, but less likely to pose a physical threat (Mullen et al, 2006). Those who stalk former partners are less likely to have a psychiatric disorder, but are more likely to be narcissistic or to have a personality disorder or drug or alcohol problems (Meloy, Davis & Lovette, 2001). This group is also more prone to envy and anger, and to have weak personal boundaries. This, in combination with the associated increased sensitivity to rejection, may trigger psychotic behaviour such as the obsessive pursuit of the target (from this point on the terms ‘target’ and ‘victim’ will be used interchangeably and should be regarded as synonymous), and the unshakeable belief that the relationship is continuing or will resume. Less than 10% of stalkers are classified as having an antisocial personality disorder, which is surprising, given its over-representation in other criminal behaviour (Meloy, Davis & Lovette, 2001). However, given their profile, people with an antisocial personality disorder are more likely to be enraged when either a relationship is ended with them or their advances are rejected. However, they are also less likely to pursue a victim over an extended length of time. They are much more likely to follow a pattern of immediate angry response directly following the break-up, with a rapid de-escalation as time passes.
Stalkers who know their victim pose a much greater danger (Palarea et al, 1999). It is common for the stalker to have been in an intimate relationship with their victim, although it is not unknown for colleagues, neighbours and others who may have some form of professional relationship with the stalker (for example, health practitioners or public servants) to become targets. In the rarer scenario where the stalker stalks someone not known to them, the targets are often famous people. In these instances, the stalker may believe the target has romantic feelings for them, despite their never having met (erotomania). Mullen, Pathé and Purcell (2009) have formulated a classification system that is commonly used to define all forms of stalking. Their categorisation considers the stalkers’ motivations, personality, typical behaviours and the duration and type of behaviour, as well as victim characteristics, and separates them into:
• predatory stalker
• intimacy seeker
• incompetent suitor
• rejected stalker
• resentful stalker
• stalkers with erotomania and morbid infatuation.
The ‘predatory stalker’ is motivated by the enjoyment, often sexual, of having power over the victim. These people often have low selfesteem, are typically of lower-than-average IQ and often unsuccessful in social or romantic attempts. The victims of such stalkers may be known or unknown to the perpetrator, and it is common for this kind of stalker to communicate with the target through unsolicited calls, spying, fetishism, exhibitionism or scopophilia (when someone derives sexual pleasure from looking at erotic objects, erotic photographs, pornography or naked bodies). This type of stalking is likely to last only a short time, although the stalker is more likely to resort to physical violence than other stalker groups.
The ‘intimacy seeker’ typically tries to forge some romantic links with their victim. This often results in obsessive behaviours through which the stalker idolises the victim and thinks of them as the only person who can really understand them or satisfy their needs. They may often even believe the target reciprocates their feelings. They may ignore the victim’s rejection of their advances, even when it is made clear that their feelings are not reciprocated. The intimacy seeker may believe that the target ought to feel the same for them because of the commitment they are showing by stalking them. These intractable beliefs may mean the stalking continues for longer than other types because the stalker is more obsessive. They are likely to regard anything the victim does to deter them as ‘tests’ whereby they can prove their strength of emotion, so attempts to stop them are unlikely to be effective. Typically, these stalkers are introverted and are not in any intimate relationship. As with predatory stalkers, their victims may be known or unknown to them. Methods include posting items or presents to the victim, writing them letters and making phone calls. If the victim tries to persuade the stalker that their feelings are not reciprocated, they may become angry or violent, and they are likely to be extremely jealous of any close relationships the victim may have.
The ‘incompetent suitor’ often desires a romantic relationship with someone but is unable to achieve this because of their poor social skills. The incompetent suitor is likely to think they are inherently attractive and be unable to comprehend that the target does not think so. Typically, they stalk people known to them, but occasionally the target may be a stranger. The incompetent suitor may constantly invite their victim to go out with them, in spite of their negative responses, telephone repeatedly, or show inappropriate intimacy towards them, such as touching or hugging. This means the incompetent suitor does not stalk for as long as others, and may be convinced to stop their behaviour if encouraged to have counselling or threatened with legal action.
The ‘rejected stalker’ is generally triggered by the breakdown of an intimate relationship. These stalkers are characterised by their attempts to either regain the lost partner or take revenge on the person that rejected them. As a result, they typically stalk former partners, although this may extend to other family members, friends or others who have had a relationship with the stalker. Almost all domestic violence cases involving stalking come under this category, so a history of violence in the relationship with the partner is not uncommon. In terms of personality, these stalkers have high levels of narcissism and jealousy. Rejected stalkers present as ambivalent about the victim and sometimes appear to want the relationship to start again. Equally, they can be angry and want revenge on the victim. They may also sometimes feel ashamed of their behaviour and show over-dependence. They may also have poor social skills, and therefore a limited social network. Their stalking is commonly a means of retaining contact or control over the victim, to increase their feelings of self-worth. Typically, rejected stalkers will strongly resist attempts to stop their stalking.
The ‘resentful stalker’ aims to unsettle their victim, and may choose someone who has been involved with them in some previous, negative interaction, or a stranger who is related in some way to someone they think has upset them. They typically manifest irrational paranoia, and their behaviour is characterised by repeated obsessive behaviours, more often verbal than physical. If the behaviour is identified at an early stage, and legal action is taken, it may prevent further stalking, although if it continues for some time, this may have less effect.
The final category is stalkers with erotomania and morbid infatuation. They tend to fixate on celebrities and public figures, and are irrationally convinced that the target is in love with them, despite no evidence for this, and even when it is explicitly denied by their target. All actions or communication from the target are regarded as a demonstration of that love, which is hugely important to the stalker. Stalkers of this type are typically paranoid or delusional, and tend to choose as their victims people who are out of their reach in social terms. They will repeatedly try to see, speak or contact the target, and legal deterrents, such as imprisonment or restraining orders, rarely change their behaviours. However, psychological treatment is sometimes effective in stopping them.
Risk management and prevention
Given the diverse range of motivations and behaviour displayed by different stalker types, it is hard to devise an effective response to protect victims and manage the stalkers. A commonly used risk management tool is the DASH (Richards, 2009) – the domestic abuse, stalking and honour-based violence risk identification, assessment and management model, with further development with respect specifically to questions about stalking (Sheridan & Roberts, 2011). However, tools such as this are not consistently used across all police forces, and do not always include an assessment of online risk. There is a need to develop consistent, evidence-based risk assessment. A better system of classification is needed to differentiate between types of stalking so the stalker can then be referred to the most appropriate form of treatment, whether educational or therapeutic (see MacKenzie & James, 2011). In addition, the escalation of cyberstalking is likely to require other ways of classifying motivations and characteristics of stalking behaviour (McFarlane & Bocij, 2003). Strategies to reduce stalking, whether therapeutic, legal or physical, do exist, but more research is needed into further approaches and methods (see Mullen, Pathé & Purcell, 2009; Pinals, 2007). Some stalkers may require medical input and others may need detention. Stalking behaviours vary so much that curtailing it requires a range of approaches (MacKenzie & James, 2011). Co-ordination between medical and law enforcement agencies and education is likely to achieve the best possible results and prevent the stalker from re-offending or lapsing. However, there are no clear referral pathways, due to a lack of research, and further work is needed on the management and treatment of stalkers, which should ultimately result in better frameworks of understanding.
The lived experience of cyberstalking victims Research (Short et al, 2014) has identified five overarching themes in victims’ accounts of their cyberstalking experiences:
• control and intimidation
• the determined offender
• escalation of the harassment
• negative consequences
• lack of support.
These themes are explored below using the words of victims themselves about their own encounters with cyberstalkers. The theme of ‘control and intimidation’ emerges in accounts where the stalking took place solely online or in combined methods that intruded into the victim’s life and privacy. The most obvious form of direct harassment includes making threats: ‘Eventually the chat threads started becoming threatening, to me personally and to my family. In one instance, someone anonymously wrote they wanted to kill me.’ People also report that cyberstalkers make false accusations against them: ‘The person would make up channels saying I was a paedophile, woman abuser, dog molester, drug addict.’ Other intrusions include hacking email accounts, sending viruses and posting intimate photographs: ‘Setting up a Facebook account of me with intimate photos he’d refused to delete.’ There are accounts of passwords being changed remotely by cyberstalkers, who then operate their victims’ accounts. Methods of control and intimidation include complex behaviours and social manipulation such as tricking the victim into talking to the offender by creating alternative aliases and identities online: ‘He created a fake journal and tried to become my friend’; or threatening suicide: ‘Sent text messages indicating that he would commit suicide if I did not respond to him’, and accusing the victim of being the perpetrator: ‘She set me up to look like I’d stalked her by posting her email to the bulletin board.’ Indirect tactics can also be used, such as conversing online with the family or friends of the victim: ‘Through her Facebook site… she contacted my daughter three times. Some of the things said to my daughter were both vile and completely untrue’; imitating the target: ‘Impersonated me online sending out emails’; harassing their contacts via email or via online forums, and persuading others to pursue the victim: ‘My address being posted in chat rooms’, and watching the victim’s online activity and gathering information to use against the victim: ‘My stalker and her friends compiled information on where I worked, who my friends were, any new relationships.’
Many people also experience physical harassment, such as being followed in person, confrontation, letters, damage to property, and assault. Offline behaviours are often used either as a precursor to cyberstalking or in combination with cyberstalking: ‘He started calling at all hours on the landline… the mobile… pay phones… He [then] overpowered and raped me, and continued calling and [instant messaging] me after that’; or, following cyberstalking: ‘He posted aggressive and insulting messages on my Myspace profile. It escalated pretty quickly until one night he followed me home and tried to get into my house.’ The ‘determined offender’ accounts highlight a number of common features. Most of these victims describe harassment as constant, relentless cyberstalking on a daily and ongoing basis: ‘The texts and calls were relentless. At every work breaktime she’d phone over and over again and send text after text of nonsense. These could amount to over 30 a day’; ‘Went on for three to five years from the same person.’ The offender is often relentless, creating new ways to maliciously attack the victim if a method is blocked: ‘Each time I shut down a means of communication from her she would find another way to harass me’. As previously discussed, the motivations of ‘determined offenders’ are very diverse. In this study, they ranged from intimacy seeking to anger and resentment to revenge: ‘He kept calling and calling... trying to get me to go out with him’; ‘He declared his love for me’; ‘She was very angry and the harassment has continued ever since’; ‘A friend’s ex-wife blamed me for their divorce so started stalking my husband and myself’; ‘I… stood up to them, they then embarked on a long campaign of harassment.’ However, motivation can also be unclear: ‘I started by getting a friend request on Facebook from someone I didn’t know. Then they started sending me Facebook messages and it spiralled from there.’
The negative consequences of being cyberstalked are psychological, physical and social. Psychological responses include fear: ‘My whole life stopped because I was in so much fear’; paranoia: ‘I get paranoid very easily and reluctant to trust indirect communications’, and anger: ‘I am not so much scared by this, just really angry. Fear plays little part in it for me.’ Almost 50% of women in the research felt they had to turn off their phone if they were not using it. Psychological symptoms can include panic attacks, flashbacks and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Victims report: ‘I still have flashbacks and experience anxiety when going to my inbox. My health has not been the same since’; ‘I became very ill… and now suffer complex PTSD/depression as a result of the harassment and abuse’; ‘All the trauma and stress suffered from the stalking resulted in me miscarrying our child.’ Social effects can include damaged reputation, damaged family relations and loss of work, either directly or indirectly as a result of the harassment and a damaged reputation; ‘[The cyberstalker] impersonated me online, sending out emails and status updates that ruined my reputation’; ‘I have been unable to work properly, as I have felt sullied, damaged, and abused’; ‘The stalking behaviour caused irrevocable damage to family relations.’ Victims of stalking express helplessness and a feeling that there is nothing they can do: ‘He will follow me for the rest of my life and I can do nothing’; ‘... impotence at how little I can do is the main emotion I feel.’ It seems that, as the offender increases control, the victim’s perceived ability to do anything about it decreases: ‘You are made to feel with less control of your life.’ The sense of powerlessness may be exacerbated when the victim does not know the identity of the perpetrator. Unknown stalkers account for nearly half of all cyberstalkers and not knowing the identity of their stalker is reported by victims as particularly troubling (Maple, Short & Brown, 2011). Some feel the level of harassment is influenced by how they respond: ‘Ignoring him was probably the best response as any response from me appeared to either inflame him or make him happy’; ‘It took a period of about two years for this to work, but it did work in the end.’ The opposite effect occurred after responding to the offender: ‘It is worse because I responded’; ‘Contacting these attackers directly made the attacks worse – they seemed to enjoy knowing that they were getting to me’; ‘Responding did not help. He just learned that the price for talking to me was calling 30+ times in a row.’ Many victims in this research highlighted the absence of support. Many reported that they got little help and that few people took them seriously: ‘I completely despair at times of finding someone who will take this seriously’; ‘My mother did not take this seriously at first, suggested I go out with him, and gave him my e-mail address.’ There was even less support if the victim was blamed for the harassment: ‘The police said it was my fault for putting the information online in the first place’; ‘The police made us feel like we were almost to blame or that it was trivial.’
Effects of stalking and cyberstalking
Being the target of a prolonged campaign of stalking has long-lasting effects, whether it has taken place solely online or in a combination of physical and cyberstalking. People can be changed by their experience, and develop thoughts and beliefs about the world, themselves and their own responsibility for bad things happening around them. People who have been stalked and appear to have symptomatic PTSD (Weathers et al, 1994) feel more negatively about themselves, often describing themselves as useless and deserving the abuse. In line with PTSD symptomatology, they are less likely to trust others and are likely to blame themselves for negative experiences they have had (APA, 2013). Traumatic experiences in general cause most people to feel very anxious and distressed around the time of the event or events and for a short time afterwards. In conjunction with the emotional and mental impact, stalking can influence the victim’s life in numerous other ways. Indeed, 90% of people who discussed their experiences in a National Centre for Cyberstalking survey reported life-changing effects (Short et al, 2015). Nearly a third of victims report that stalking has negatively affected their ability to do their job (Maple, Short & Brown, 2011; Short et al, 2015). As the ECHO survey indicates (Maple, Short & Brown, 2011), this largely affects males, who are more likely to report changes in their employment circumstances due to being stalked and, more significantly, more likely to be demoted or lose their jobs completely Stalking and cyberstalking can impact on relationships, particularly if the victim gives up social activities, or cause the breakdown of an existing or new intimate relationship. Women are particularly likely to report negative impacts on their families, children and friends – often saying they have become more socially isolated as a result. The majority of the people surveyed by the National Centre for Cyberstalking said they had little support: ‘I completely despair at times of finding someone who will take this seriously’ (Short et al, 2014). All types of stalking can result in social isolation, which can negatively affect the likelihood of the victims getting help. It can also intrude on a victim’s work life. Often, this occurs when the offender includes people the victim knows in their harassment and attempts to isolate the victim from them. The victim can isolate themselves from others out of humiliation and embarrassment. Victims may become lonely, and may use drink and drugs to cope with the stress and trauma, which in turn can lead to long-term ill health. Stress and trauma can also lead to long-term physical ill health, through the body being in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’. In situations of danger and threat, neuro-hormonal changes, in the form of the release of cortisol and insulin, increase the heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Where the threat is immediate, this mechanism is useful as it powers the body to respond quickly to danger. However, where it persists in the long term, without resolution, it can lead to major health problems (Selye, 1956), ranging from tension and migraine headaches to severe cerebrovascular incidents, such as heart attack and stroke. Gastrointestinal problems, disruption in menstruation, erectile dysfunction and reduced immunity and increased vulnerability to infection are also common among people exposed to severe and unremitting stress (Cohen, Janicki-Deverts & Miller, 2007).
Stalking has major effects on victims’ mental and physical health, on their social lives, work and other relationships, and on their wider family and friends. Cyberstalking is no less harmful in its effects. If you are being stalked, it is essential to report it to the police, as soon as possible. Every victim of a crime should expect to receive an appropriate response. There is guidance on what to expect when reporting a case of cyberstalking (Gilbert & Cobley, 2015) and the national Victim’s Code (Ministry of Justice, 2015) sets out the minimum response people should expect from all criminal justice agencies and the minimum timeframes in which that should be done. If someone tells you they are being stalked, take their concerns seriously and encourage them to report it to the police, as it is essential that a risk assessment is done as soon as someone becomes aware that they are the object of someone else’s fixation and this person has begun to intrude threateningly in their lives. Educate yourself about the psychological consequences of stalking and what you can do to support someone who is being targeted with stalking behaviours. Finally, check that the person you are supporting knows where they can get professional and practical assistance in order to stay as safe as possible.
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