Stalking in Relationships
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Stalking in Relationships
A far cry from the popular media image of stalking being exclusive to crazed fans pursuing Hollywood celebrities, most stalking occur in connection to romantic relationships.
Many states in the US as well as countries in Europe, Australia and Asia have passed anti-stalking laws to protect women against harassment from ex-partners.
Why should I care?
The biggest survey to date, the American National Violence Against Women Survey of 1998 asked 8,000 men and 8,000 women about their experiences about being stalked. It showed that more than 8% of all women had experienced stalking during their lifetime. Far less men were at risk, with only 2% having experienced it.
To date, every study shows that women are at greater risk to become victims of stalking than men. When it comes to relationships, an interesting finding is that women tend to be stalked by ex-partners, while men tend to be stalked by strangers or acquaintances. More concerning, women are ten times more likely to be physically assaulted by their stalker than men.
Advice on dealing with stalkers
What is stalking?
There is great disagreement on where to draw the line between mere annoying behaviour and stalking but most researchers agree that stalking refers to a group of behaviours that:
Although there are no single behaviour that can be considered to be 'stalking', the three most common behaviours are 1) Phone calls, 2) Surveillance, 3) Unwanted contact. The possibilities for a partner or ex-partner to harass you are endless. The good news is that from a legal point of view, if the behaviour seen in context would make a reasonable person feel fearful, it is good enough for the judge. Just to give you and example: Your work desk covered with flowers might not seem scary. Your work desk covered with DEAD flowers might. The mere intensity of the behaviour can be fear-inducing enough, like receiving endless streams of love letters.
- Are repeatedly directed at a person
- That are unwanted and intrusive
- That it induces fear and discomfort in the person, that the behaviour is directed at
Other instances the stalker goes after persons or things you love just to hurt you, like your new partner, your kids or your pet-this is called triangulation. Probably the most frightening of all experiences is getting threatened. Some laws actually require that a threat has been made before they will prosecute. But stalkers are not dumb, they will avoid written or verbal threats. More often, they will do things that will cause you to feel fearful, like sending a wreath or placing a dead animal at your doorstep. Threats should ALWAYS be taken seriously. My own analysis, about half threaten with some sort of violence and about 35% actually carry out the threat afterwards. Stalking can last for very short time, such as 1 month up to as much as 40 years.
Stalking in relationships
There are all kinds of stalking; workplace stalking, acquaintance stalking, stranger stalking-but what stands out is the fact that stalking by partners and ex-partners is by far the most dangerous and destructive form of stalking there is. Generally, stalking in relationships are known to involve more types of harassing behaviours, to last significantly longer than any other form of stalking and that partners and ex-partners are the most violent category of stalkers. There is a very strong link between physical abuse and stalking. One study found that between 50 and 60% of the women that were physically abused were stalked by their partners following the break-up of the relationship.
Generally speaking, most stalking already begins BEFORE the dissolution of the relationship. The surveillance, following, harassment and controlling behaviour of you draws a pattern of emotional and physical abuse that are strong predictors for the onset of stalking in the case of a break-up. These behaviours, especially violence are danger signs. One study on female ex-partners found that 76% of female homicides includes at least one incident of previous stalking, while 85% of attempted homicides involved at least on incident of stalking. So recognizing the behaviour as stalking can be life-saving.
So, how do you avoid running into a stalker?
Well, they don't run around with a big sign on their forehead saying 'I'm a potential stalker, don't date me.' But a typical stalker is male, out of work, 35-40 (usually a bit older than his victim), medium to highly intelligent and has a previous history of substance/drug abuse.
Personality wise, stalkers have problems maintaining normal and stable relationships with others. They lack social skills and empathy-the ability to relate to other peoples feelings. They have a low tolerance for frustration. They have mood swings between deep devotion and angry rejection. Often they are jealous and suffer from low self esteem. When tested, convicted stalkers show to suffer from personality disorders like, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Histrionic, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Schizophrenia and Depression.
If one were to extract two main warning signs to look out for it would be: difficulty handling ANY interpersonal relationship (also work, neighbour and friends) and the need for control. This might show up extremely subtle and even in a positive light, like not taking no for an answer when you need to hang up the phone because you need to get up early in the morning 'because he just loves to hear your voice'.
The stalker gets to his victim with the help of age-old depictions of the heroic romantic pursuit against all odds. Even today, popular fiction tells tales of women being wooed and won over after an appropriate period of resistance. Women are told to be flattered (and many are) when a man persists to pursue her, despite protests.
The point here is to recognize that when a man does not accept a 'no' or a personal boundary set (however small you might think it is)-its not 'love'. It is about control and it might be the first warning sign that you have a stalker on your hands.
Stalking has of course wide ranging social effects on the women it happens to. Almost everyone makes lifestyle changes, like stop going to the gym, shopping certain places, being less sociable etc. Many have large financial expenses for legal fees, moving, security equipment and so on. Others face relationship and family problems. Finally, many are faced with job loss either due to sick leave, because the stalker becomes a general menace to the workplace or makes it impossible for the victim to perform her job.
Women who are the victims of stalking suffer from a long list of psychosomatic problems such as:
Psychologically, most stalking victims are found to be suffering from anxiety. The ongoing harassment, sometimes for years, makes the victims susceptible for depression, which is exactly the case. A Dutch study of 246 victims of stalking found their level of depression to be closer to psychiatric out-patients than the general Dutch population. Even more disturbing, an Australian study found that 37% percent of their subjects showed symptoms that qualified them to the diagnosis Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in appetite
- Unwanted memories and flashbacks
- Problems concentrating
Overall, the research shows that the more stalking tactics used and the higher stalking frequency-the more severe psychopathology in the victims.
So why does stalking stop?
The National Violence Against Women Survey took a look at why stalking stopped. The results were quite disconcerting. It does indicate that the stalker does not stop by his free will alone. The number one reason was the victim moving and changing her telephone number. Second biggest reason was that the ex-partner got a new partner and therefore lost interest in stalking the victim. Third reason, about 15% of the incidents stopped due to a warning from the police, 9% due to an arrest made by the police. Only 1% of the reported stalking incidents stopped because of a criminal conviction and less than 1% because of a restraining order.
According to the survey, though, more than half of the victims never go to the police so the numbers are not clear.
Basic advice to handle stalking
Written by Tine J'rgensen, Psych. BA.
- End the relationship in clear terms: 'I do not want a relationship with you'. There is no such thing as 'letting down easy' a potential stalker. Any other way that leaves the message open to interpretation will keep him hanging on. 'Im not ready' 'I have a boyfriend' or using a go-between will only make him think that there is a possibility.
- Gather all evidence, but do not tamper with it. Save voice mails, letters, notes, gifts etc for the police. Have a camera and/or a VCR with you. Keep a record of all incidences.
- No contact. Contact to the stalker translates into his mind into a relationship.
- No response. Do NOT return gifts, letters or goods sent to you. This will infer a relationship in his head. Legal claims that can go unanswered should do so. Never answer the phone. If you answer the 31th time, he knows it will pay off to persist.
- Leave a photo and description of your stalker to co-workers, neighbours, kindergarten employees-anyone he can think of contacting. Warn them not to give out information about you and report back to you if he has been around.
- Get as much personal information about you removed from public records.
- Do a safety check on your house.
- Wear mace or a personal attack alarm at all time.
- Do NOT attack your stalker, neither physically, nor verbally as he then might get the justification for his pursuit or even a legal dispute.
WomanSavers.com Contributing Writer and Representative
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