“I think the very word stalking implies that you’re not supposed to like it. Otherwise, it would be called ‘fluffy harmless observation time’.” – Molly Harper, Author
Victims who leave an abusive relationship can have another nightmare to deal with referred to as ‘stalking.’ This is a criminal activity where a series of actions considered individually could be considered to be legal, for example sending flowers, love notes or waiting outside someone’s place of work are not in themselves are not criminal offences. However, when these are activities are unwanted and designed to cause worry or fear then it can be considered as stalking. The laws that cover stalking are gender neutral but according to research and a variety of studies the vast majority of stalkers are men while most victims are women. There is a myth it is usually famous people and celebrities who are stalked but the vast majority of stalking cases involve ordinary people. Stalking often begins as a result of rejection and abandonment rage which motivates the stalker to seek revenge through a predictable pattern of stalking behavior. The stalker becomes obsessed with their target and bombards them with messages, emails, gifts, or abuse; stalking behavior can last for years and the intensity of the abuse often increases over time. The abuse, initially consisting of psychological violence often escalates and results physical violence with 90% of women who are murdered being previously stalked by their ex-partner.
Stalkers behave in many different ways including:
- Repeatedly, phoning, texting or emailing you
- Repeatedly watching or spying on you
- Repeatedly following or waiting for you
- Repeatedly going to your home or place of work
- Repeatedly sending unwanted letters or gifts
- Repeatedly ordering or cancelling goods in your name
- Repeatedly damaging your possessions
- Repeatedly stealing your personal property
- Persistently trying to find out personal information about you
- Threatening to hurt you
- Threatening to hurt your children
- Making threats to hurt those close to you
- Contacting your friends and people close to you
- Contacting your workplace and colleagues
- Sending obscene or sexually explicit messages
- Threatening to commit suicide
- Repeatedly pretending to be you on the Internet and posting information
- Repeatedly monitoring you online activity
- Repeatedly using the internet to publish false information about you
Stalking can seem trivial at first but if someone’s behaviour patterns are upsetting or frightening you, take it seriously. You may find it difficult to tell other people about what is happening. Perhaps you’re worried about what they will say? Whether they will believe you? Think you are making a fuss about nothing? Even make fun of you?
Australian stalking expert Paul Mullen analysed the behaviour of 145 diagnosed stalkers. Based on their analyses, Mullen and fellow colleagues proposed five stalker subtypes; these are used extensively in classifying stalking behaviour.
- Predatory Stalkers: Will attempt to spy on the target victim in order to prepare and plan an attack (often sexual) on the victim.
- Resentful Stalkers: Pursues a vendetta due to a sense of grievance motivated mainly by a desire to frighten and distress the victim.
- Rejected Stalkers: Stalks their victims in order to correct, reverse or avenge a rejection (e.g. a divorce, separation, termination).
- Intimacy seekers: Seeks to establish an intimate, loving relationship with their victim. This type of stalker often believes the victim is their soul mate, and the victim and stalker are ‘meant’ to be together.
- Incompetent Suitors: Tend to have poor social or courting skills with a fixation or a sense of entitlement regarding the victim. Often the target is either dating or in a relationship with someone else.
The motivations for stalking are various including the desire for contact, control, obsession, anger or jealousy with a real or imagined relationship between the victim and the stalker who may feel intense feelings of attraction or extreme hatred. Stalking is a form of mental assault where the perpetrator decides to repeatedly contact the victim with who they have no relationship with or is a ex-partner. Separated acts that make up the intrusions cannot be considered by themselves to cause fear or mental abuse but the cumulative effect can be considered an act of stalking.
‘It was clear when people fixate and stalk they are psychologically unstable with a significant minority who are psychotic while some may suffer from undiagnosed personality disorders. A significant minority of stalkers have a serious mental illness underlying their behaviour.’ – Laura Richards, CEO of Paladin, National Stalking Advocacy Service, 2015
While Ms Richards stated not every stalker has a serious mental health issue she also said the longer a stalking episode continues and the more intrusive it is, the greater the likelihood a mental disorder is contributing to the behaviour.
Effects of Stalking
“What are you going to do? Are you going to live in the dark, locked in here? Afraid to look out, answer the door, leave? Yes, he’s out there, and he’s clearly not going to leave you alone until one of three things happens: he hurts you and gets arrested, or he makes a mistake and gets arrested, or you stop him.” – Rachel Caine, Fall of Night
Stalking is unwanted, repeated, obsessive and controlling behaviors that cause the person targeted to feel distressed and fearful. The impact of stalking can vary according to the victim’s personality, past experience, current circumstances and how much they know about the stalker. How others respond to the victim’s situation, including how the stalking is managed by authorities, can influence the overall effect the stalking has on the victim. Despite the many factors regarding an individual’s experience and reaction to being stalked, research shows a consistent pattern of responses. Female victims usually report greater levels of fear but studies have found men who have been victims of stalking experience similar symptoms.
To obtain a Restraining Order the applicant must have evidence that someone is stalking or harassing them.
Stalking can consists of:
- Interfering with any property in the possession of a person
- Contacting or attempting to contact a person by any means
- Publishing any statement or other material relating or purporting to relate to the target or pretending to originate from a person
- Monitoring the use of a person on the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication
- Loitering or spying in any place the target frequents
Harassment that includes one or more of the above will not automatically be considered as stalking and the acts or behaviour of the alleged stalker will be taken into account by the court. The maximum penalty for breaching a restraining order is an unlimited fine or a maximum of five years in prison.
Please remember, if you are being stalked by an ex-partner any legal action such as a restraining order may infuriate the stalker and refusing to respond to him (or her) may be considered to be an insult. The stalker may believe they can force you to respond which feeds their need to have power and control over you. The most dangerous time for the abused victim is after they leave the abuser who will often feel rage at being discarded and this is when stalking behaviour can be triggered. One of the things that can make it difficult for police and others to deal with harassment and stalking is the continuous, repetitive nature of what may seem like small incidents. Helping the police and courts to see what is really happening can make it much easier to deal with the perpetrators behaviour.