Stalking has been called a crime of the 1990s. The crime was legally created in 1990, when California passed the first state antistalking law. This legislation was drafted in the wake of five unrelated murders of women who were previously stalked. One of the victims was television actress Rebecca Schaeffer, who was shot and killed, on 18 July 1989, by Robert Bardo, a fan who claimed he had been obsessed with her for 2 years. Media coverage, and pressure from the Screen of Actors’ guild, was influential in helping to convince California’s legislature to enact a criminal antistalking law. In the following 3 years every state in the country had produced similar legislation. Stalking was defined thus:
Any person who wilfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows or harasses another person, and who makes credible threats with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury, or to place that person in reasonable fear of the death or great bodily injury of his or her immediate family is guilty of the crime of stalking … 12022.7 (Cal. Penal Code 646.9)
The law was amended in 1994: now ‘credible threat’ need only place the victim ‘in reasonable fear for his or her safety’.
In Britain, stalking was legally recognized by the introduction of the Protection from Harassment Act, 1997.

Legal Issues Arising From Legislation

Three key elements of stalking, arising from legislation, surfaced to define contextually the circumstances in which behaviors would amount to stalking: repeated pattern; threats made or implied; and intent and effect.

Repeated pattern

For a person to be charged with stalking, he or she must engage in a course of conduct where specific acts of harassment, or following, occur on more than one distinct occasion. A pattern of behaviour is looked for to establish continuity of purpose. The crime is not an isolated incident, but rather a series of acts taken together. In its broadest sense, legislation aimed to cover a host of activities that might fall under the umbrella of ‘unconsented contact’. Uncon-sented contact, according to one writer, refers to ‘any contact with another individual without that individual’s consent, or in disregard that the contact be avoided or discontinued’. This definition of unconsented contact makes legally enforceable the traditional idea of privacy as ‘the right to be let alone’. Typically, the activities that constitute a course of conduct must occur within a specified time period.

Threats made or implied

Antistalking law requires, at a minimum, that the target feel threatened by the actions of the stalker. Such threats do not have to be explicit, as long as the stalker’s other actions create a threatening climate for the target. Since stalking criminalizes what might otherwise be considered legitimate behavior, based upon the fact that the behavior induces fear, the level of fear induced in a stalking victim is a crucial element of the stalking offense. Acts that involve annoyance or emotional distress fall below the fear of bodily injury or death that is necessary to found an offense.

Intent and effect

Most legislation requires that the stalker has the criminal intent to cause fear in the victim. The course of conduct must be ‘willful’ and ‘purposeful’, ‘intentional’ or ‘knowing’. In addition to requiring that a defendant had an intent to bring about a certain result, most states require that the stalker intended to cause fear or emotional distress in the victim.
Stalking offenders often suffer under a delusion that the victim actually loves them. Or they believe that all they need do is demonstrate determination in their pursuit of the target for the target to love them. The stalker may not actually intend to cause fear; none the less, as long as the defendants know, or should know, that their actions cause fear and distress, the alleged behavior amounts to stalking.

Stalking: A Paradoxical and Indeterminate Offense

Specification of ‘stalking’ as a recognized crime did not happen all at once. The manner in which it evolved has resulted in an offense that is diverse, in respect of the behaviors it seeks to prohibit and in the characteristics of those likely to offend. The difficulty has arisen because antistalking legislation was drafted to combat the stalking of ‘celebrities’. It was drafted in broad form to encompass the many differing ways by which ‘fans’ make contact with their victim. The wording was such that it has subsequently been used as a source of legal redress for two other classes of complainant: those enduring ‘obsessional harassment’ (sometimes referred to as psychological rape), and those experiencing ‘domestic violence’.
It has been suggested that the amalgamation of behaviors associated with obsessional harassment and domestic violence with those of celebrity stalking has led to domain expansion with regard to four aspects of the criminal offense of stalking:
1. the motivation of the offender;
2. the nature of the prior relationship between the offender and the target;
3. the types of behaviors associated with stalking;
4. the potential risk to the target.

Variability of offense and offender characteristics

Stalking has been called ‘a paradoxical crime of the nineties’ and ‘an uncanny phenomenon’. The following aspects of stalking demonstrate the paradoxical and indeterminate nature of the offence:
• Motivation for the offender include such things as obsessional attraction of a media figure, love sickness, rejection rage and separation anxiety.
• The prior relationship between the offender and victim varies along a continuum of familiarity from that of stranger to acquaintance and ex-intimate partner or lover.
• Behaviors are varied and include many noncriminal activities. It is the repetitive and nonconsensual nature of the behaviors that mark them out as stalking. The effect of the behavior upon the victim is also material in elevating noncriminal behavior to the status of stalking.
• The mode of communication varies from physically close, face-to-face encounters, to remote, physically avoiding contacts.
• The tone of communications ranges, emotionally, from nominally affectionate to overtly aggressive.
• Potential risk to the target is unclear. Offense behavior has been described as essentially nonviolent, and as random violence; as potentially dangerous
and likely to deteriorate; and possibly as a precursor to murder and rape.
• It has been noted that stalking has no fixed crime scene. The offender operates in and around the personal life space of the target, entering and leaving the target’s personal domain at will.
• Unlike most other offenses, stalking has no time locus. Typically, there is no clearly definable beginning or end. Offense behaviors may be transitory or they may persist for years. Unwanted attention may be continuous or punctuated by periods of quiescence.
• The mental health of stalkers is also a variable factor. Some offenders have recognizable mental illness, such as erotomania (delusional), borderline erotomania (nondelusional), schizophrenia or personality disorder.
• The offence of stalking is gender neutral. However, most studies and surveys have concluded that the perpetrators of stalking are predominantly male, and the victim is typically female.

Stalking Behavior

Stalking comprises a broad range of behaviors. These range from proximal, face-to-face contact, to distal communications by mail or telephone. The stalker may make repeated phone calls; mail a stream of unsolicited letters or send unwanted taxis or pizzas. Pursuit may be on foot or by car. The perpetrator may send gifts, cards, letters and sinister objects. Actions may include trespass and burglary and involve the theft of trophies, diaries, address topics and valuables. The offender may camp outside the home or workplace of the victim and mount surveillance. The tone of communications range from nominally affectionate to threatening and abusive. The perpetrator may threaten violence and may go on to carry out the threats. Actions are generally directed at the victim but they may also be directed at the friends and relatives of the victim. Whatever form the behavior takes, offenders ceaselessly, persistently and monotonously attempt to insinuate themselves into the personal life of the victim. Stalking is an offence in which the rules governing social interaction are continuously broken. In all cases, stalking and unwanted pursuit demonstrate a disregard of interpersonal boundaries.

Prevalence of stalking

The first ever national survey of stalking and its impact, was undertaken by the National Institute of Justice Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (NIJCDC) (Stalking in America: findings from the national violence against women survey, 1998). This body, part of the US Justice Department, reported the results of a nationally representative telephone survey of 8000 women and 8000 men in April 1998. Prior to this, there had been little empirical data on such things as the prevalence of stalking, and who stalked whom. The survey defined stalking as ‘a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written or implied threats, or combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear’. (‘Repeated’ meant two or more occasions.)
The survey found that 8% of women and 2% of men in the USA had been stalked at some time in their lives. Using the US census they estimated that 1 out of every 12 American women (8.2 million), and 1 in every 45 American men (2 million), has been stalked at some time. The survey also found that 1% of all women and 0.4% of all men had been victims of stalking in the preceding 12 months, giving an indication of the estimated number of persons stalked annually.

Age of victims when stalking started

The NIJCDC survey found that persons between the ages of 18 and 39 years were most at risk of being stalked. Seventy-four percent of stalking victims were in this age band and they represented nearly half of the population sampled. Similar results have been found by other researchers. Recently, in a forensic sample of 131 offenders, the age of 97 targets was known. Of these 97, 63% were between 20 and 39 years.
In the NIJCDC survey, the primary targets of stalkers were young adults aged 18-29 years. These accounted for 52% of the victims. In the 30-39 year age group, 22% were victims. In the above forensic sample, it was also found that young adults were more at risk, with 34% of targets falling between 20 and 29 years.

Who stalks whom?

Most victims of stalking in the NIJCDC survey were known to their stalker, confirming previous reports signifying that intimate and acquaintance stalking is a greater problem than the stalking of celebrities. The survey found only 23% of female victims (n = 650) and 36% of male victims (n = 179) were stalked by complete strangers. Fifty-nine percent of female victims, compared with 30% of male victims, were stalked by an intimate partner. In the forensic sample above, 77% (n = 131) of targets were stalked by someone they knew. Sixty-eight targets (51%) were stalked by ex-intimate partners who were husbands, cohabitees or noncohabitees. A further 25% were stalked by acquaintances. The remaining 30% of targets were stalked by complete strangers.
The NIJCDC survey reported that in intimate relationships there is a strong link between stalking and other forms of violence. Of women who were stalked by their current or former husband or cohabitee, 81% were physically assaulted. Of these, 31% were also sexually assaulted by their partner.
Ninety percent of stalking victims in the survey were stalked by one person. This concurs with other studies. Although stalking is a gender-neutral crime, women were found to be the primary victims of stalking and men the primary perpetrators. Seventy-eight percent of the surveyed victims were women and 22% were men, whereas 87% of the stalkers identified by victims were male.
In most cases of stalking, the target is of opposite gender to the perpetrator; however, cases of female homosexual erotomania have been reported. Cases of male homosexual erotomania have also been reported.

Motivation for Stalking

Many motives have been ascribed to stalkers. Perpetrators may be seeking justice or pardon. They may be motivated by a need for acknowledgment, respect or affection. Retaliation, revenge and punishment may be also be included. Offenders may be fixed and resolute in what drives them to pursue the target, but more often, the motivating forces will ebb and flow and change as stalking progresses. Motivational forces may be subject to the myriad mixture of often contradictory emotions being experienced by the offender. Initial feelings of love may be followed by jealousy, anger or separation anxiety. Stalking is embedded paradoxically in a range of contradictory emotions, such as love and hate, acknowledgment and denial, acceptance and rejection, attraction and repulsion. Motivation for stalking is often bound up in the prior relationship between the stalker and the target. Some individuals stalk to attain, or maintain, control of the victim. In other cases the stalking behavior is a result of inept attempts to initiate a new relationship. In some cases stalking is concerned with a realigning of the power in an existing relationship, and arises directly from a power shift in that relationship.
It has been said that stalking ‘typically occurs where there is perceived to be an extraordinary, fundamental (potential or materialized) bonding between two people. . . It is an attempt to rescue the relationship from change or termination which are experienced as insufferable.’
A situational classification of stalkers has also been suggested; this includes obsessional fans, divorced or separated spouses, ex-lovers, rejected suitors, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, gang members, former employees, disgruntled defendants, as well as complete strangers.

Domestic violence

It has been reported that when women are stalked by intimate partners, the stalking often occurs after the woman leaves the relationship. The NIJCDC survey observed that stalking occurred after the relationship ended in the case of 43% of respondents. They noted, however, that in 36% of cases stalking had occurred both before and after the relationship ended. Accordingly, it has been said that former intimate stalkers often ‘have an emotional history of emotional dependence upon their partner that is severed when the relationship is terminated’. This leads to a jealous need to control the former partner. Also that in many cases ‘he is so dependent on her that he would kill her rather than let her go and not be able to live without her’.
One writer has defined three stalking motivations of former intimates: the jealous lover, the violent husband, or the vengeful ex-husband. Stalking is, according to this definition, ‘a type of domestic violence, which takes place once a battered woman breaks the abusive relationship and attempts to leave’. From this perspective it has been suggested that stalking should be viewed as an additional phase in the cycle of wife-battering. Stalking would be phase four. Three phases in wife-battering have been identified: the tension-building phase; the acute phase; and, finally, the tranquil, nonviolent, loving stage. The fourth, stalking, phase would begin ‘when a battered women finally attempts to break the cycle of violence by terminating the abusive relationship’. It is at this time that ‘her decision to leave is often met with escalated violence, in the form of stalking’. From this perspective ‘marital separation cases which have been identified as stalking incidents merely constitute another phase in the domestic violence cycle . . . phase four.’
Most writers do not accept, however, that stalking is merely an additional phase in the battered wife syndrome.

Celebrity stalking

In celebrity stalking, the victim is a famous person: a television performer, film star or other public figure. It has been noted that media reports typify the gender of the offender as male or female and the relationship between the stalker and victim as that of stranger. Motivation has been defined as that of obsessional attraction to a famous person. Actions include the sending of letters and gifts, attempted contact by telephone, visits to appearance venues, surveillance and stalking. The behavior of the offender has been linked in some cases to erotomania, a ‘delusional (paranoid) disorder eroto type’ (DSM-III-RY, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd edn, revised). The stalkers’ behavior has been characterized as unpredictable, potentially dangerous and likely to deteriorate over time. Research into celebrity stalking has focused on the characteristics of threatening and inappropriate letters to high-profile victims such as Hollywood celebrities, and members of Congress. The aim was to identify potential risk factors, or psychological indicators, associated with subsequent approach behaviors; however, the results have limited applicability to the stalking of noncelebrities.

Sociopathic stalking

According to one writer, ‘two groups of criminals that are notably absent from the ”stalking” literature are serial murderers and serial rapists, an absence that is all the more remarkable given that the behavioral activities proscribed by most stalking laws are familiar characteristics of such individuals’.
There are many accounts of serial murderers who reputedly stalked their victims before killing them. One such offender is serial murderer Ted Bundy, who started his serial raping and murdering when the woman he loved terminated their relationship. One writer has commented that this ‘pattern of behavior is similar to those of former intimate stalkers except that his victim was not the former intimate herself’. The writer concluded from this that ‘Ted Bundy’s killings are an excellent example of the outcome of a sociopathic stalker’s displacement.’ The life histories of serial murderers have been likened to those of borderline erotomanics and former intimate stalkers.

Classification Systems and Typologies

The indeterminate nature of stalking legislation has resulted in constitutional difficulty. No single definition of stalking has emerged that satisfactorily accounts for the many differing behaviors observed. A wide range of classification systems have been employed to explain the phenomenon of stalking. The literature supports classification of stalker characteristics, target characteristics, prior relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, and location of stalking. More recently, research from one center has focused on classification of stalking actions.

Identifying the stalker

A number of classification systems have been proposed for stalkers. Mental health professionals identify three main categories of disorder that are generally attributed to stalkers of celebrities. These are: (1) delusional mental illness, such as erotomania and/or schizophrenia; (2) borderline erotomania, where no delusion is present but where there is an extreme attachment disorder; and (3) personality disorder.
Erotomania The stalker may suffer from de Clerambault’s syndrome (erotomania). This is a delusional disorder, erotomanic subtype (American Psychiatric Association). Erotomania is the delusional belief that one is passionately loved by another. These individuals make great efforts to contact the object of their obsession, who is usually a person of higher socioeconomic class or status or an unattainable celebrity figure. It has been said that the erotomanic ‘seeks to establish an intimate, even permanent, relationship with the object of fantasy.’ Moreover, that ‘this delusion usually focuses on idealized romance or spiritual union rather than sexual attraction’.
The term ‘borderline erotomania’ was used in a small group study to describe a sample of individuals who stalked their object but who did not show obvious signs of delusion. These individuals developed intense feelings for individuals who they knew did not reciprocate their feelings.
This definition of borderline erotomania does not seem to have been accepted by the psychiatric community – one influential opinion being that the term for this syndrome (nondelusional or borderline erotomania) is confusing and should not come into general use because ‘nondelusional erotomania is a contradiction in terms, as erotomania’s delusionary nature has, for the last 100 years, been considered its very essence. In addition, the word ”borderline” has at least two meanings . . .. ‘
This term was seemingly rejected in a study comparing erotomanic to nonerotomanic stalkers. The study focused on behavioral patterns, potential risk to victims and means of intervention. Three distinct types of subject were identified, based on the quality of their obsessions: erotomanics, love obsessionals and simple obsessionals. Love obsessionals, like ero-tomanics, usually do not know the victim, except perhaps through the media. In this group, many hold the delusion of being loved by the object of pursuit, but this is only one of several delusions and psychiatric symptoms. With simple obsessionals, a prior relationship between the offender and the victim has existed. The relationships in this group varied in degree from customer, acquaintance, neighbor, professional, dating and lover.
It has been suggested that psychiatric classification of stalkers favors one point of view, that of the psychiatrist. From this perspective, ‘stalking’ is labeled the product of a sick mind and ‘the value system that is reflected and reinforced is the psychiatric ideology’. However, in recent studies a number of mental health clinicians appear to have eschewed the term ‘stalking’ altogether, for clinical populations. Instead ‘patients’ are referred to as ‘obsessional followers’. One of the reasons given for avoiding the term ‘stalking’ was ‘to avoid mimicking its sensation-alistic use by the popular media, and to reserve its proper use for the description of a defined criminal act . . .. ‘ The term ‘obsessional following’ has been defined as ‘a stalking behavior in which a person engages in an abnormal or long-term pattern of threat and harassment directed toward a specific individual’.
It has been suggested that, by defining the criminal offence of stalking as conduct of certain types of people, this establishes ‘psychiatric soundness’ as the social value protected by the criminal law of stalking. When an offence is determined by the doers rather than by its effect on a social value, law becomes psychiatry, defining people for what they are rather than for what they did. But unlike psychiatry, the law should be designed to evaluate people’s actions and not their personalities.
Importantly, the NIJCDC survey reported that ‘only 7% of the victims said they were stalked because their stalkers were mentally ill or abusing drugs or alcohol’. They went on to say that these ‘results dispel the myth that most stalkers are psychotic or delusional’.

Identifying the victim

There have also been various attempts to classify the victims of stalkers. One classification system proposed the following categories of victim: television and film stars; those within the entertainment industry who are less recognized; executive level and supervisory personnel; and ordinary citizens with no distinguishing history.
Many studies have defined victims in terms of their relationship with the perpetrator. Most studies have categorized two groups, based on the level of intimacy prior to stalking. Classification in one study divided victims into strangers and former intimates; the latter included those victims who had had any sexual intimacy with the perpetrator prior to the stalking. The two classes of relationship proposed by another study was domestic and nondomestic relationships: domestic included former boy/girl friend, family or household member, common-law relations and long-term acquaintances; nondomestic included those with no relationship with the victim and unknown stalkers. These two relationship classes were further divided into two types based primarily on the presence or absence of delusion. A recent forensic study has identified four types of relationship between the offender and the target: stranger, acquaintance, noncohabitee and cohabitee. A further study divided victims into seven groups: personal, professional, employment, media, acquaintance, no relationship and unknown. These groupings formed one axis of their classification system.
Having classified stalkers and victims, a number of studies have attempted to identify types of actions or behaviors that seem to be associated with these classes of offender. A reading of these studies suggests there is much overlap of behaviors across categories of stalkers.
The various classification systems and typologies make it difficult to compare the results of the various studies of stalking. It has been suggested that ‘until reasonably clear classification of stalking actions can be derived, it is difficult to see how our understanding of stalking can progress’.

Identifying stalking actions

It can be seen from the above that previous studies have focused primarily on the classification of stalkers and stalking victims. Prior relationship between the stalker and target has been seen primarily as a demographic feature of the victim. Classification of stalking actions, on the other hand, has been confined to the distant contact behaviors of celebrity stalkers.
The most recent empirical analysis of stalking actions comprised 2636 stalking events in a forensic sample of 27 offenders. The results suggest that there were core actions commonly present in many stalking events. However, some stalking actions were found regularly to co-occur in particular stalking events. These behaviors were linked thematically according to the manner in which offenders interacted with the targets, and the way in which they used knowledge and information about the targets. This study identified four variations in stalking style based on: (1) the detached or attached interpersonal style of the offender; and (2) whether or not the offender’s goal was exploring or exploiting knowledge and information about the target. This resulted in a fourfold classification of stalking actions: hunting, manipulating, oppressing and invading.
Interaction between stalking actions and prior relationship The relationship between the stalker and the target has been seen primarily as a demographic feature of the target. However, a recent study hypothesized variation in stalking actions based on the prior relationship between the stalker and the target. The researchers’ sample comprised four relationship groups: strangers who had had no known contact with the target prior to stalking; acquaintances, comprising customers, friends and coworkers; noncohabitees, comprising former sexual intimates; and cohabitees (former sexual intimates who had shared a home). The study reported that prior relationship between the stalker and the target had a significant effect upon the style of stalking adopted by the offender.

Threats Made by the Stalker

The relationship between threats and subsequent violence is controversial. Clinical research has found that 3% of perpetrators who threaten homicide carried it out, while 4% committed suicide. Other research has found no relationship between approach behavior and threatening letters to Hollywood celebrities.
In the NIJCDC survey, less than half of all male and female victims were overtly threatened by their stalker. In spite of this, stalking victims reported that they were very frightened by the stalker’s behavior or very fearful that the perpetrator would seriously harm or kill them. Fear was generated by the threatening climate created by the stalker’s course of conduct, whether or not it was accompanied by direct threat.

When and Why Does Stalking Stop?

Ninety-two percent of respondents in the NIJCDC survey said that they were no longer being stalked. Approximately two-thirds of all stalking cases lasted a year or less, a quarter between 2 and 5 years, and around a tenth went on for more than 5 years. The average stalking case lasted for 1.8 years. Cases of stalking involving former intimates lasted twice as long (2.2 years) as nonintimate stalking, which lasted approximately 1.1 years.
Nineteen percent of respondents believed stalking had stopped because they had moved away. The stalker becoming involved in a new relationship was the reason stalking stopped in 19% of cases. A police warning was effective in stopping stalking in 15% of cases. The arrest of the stalker was less effective, resulting in cessation of stalking in only 9% of cases.

Next post:

Previous post: