Mind Help

Stalking

Stalking is a type of behavior which involves persistent and unwanted surveillance, attention, harassment or any other type of conduct which is directed towards a specific person, and causes them considerable fear or anxiety.


What Is Stalking?

Stalking can arise in the form of harassment, misconduct or intimidation towards any person by an individual or a group of people. It can take the form of the person who is engaging in this behaviour, also known as the stalker, to follow their victim or monitor them closely. A 2000 study 1 defines being stalked as the “repeated targeting of a specific victim with harassment or following”. Although the line between stalking and legitimately pursuing another individual for a romantic or friendly courtship is different, the study defines it as a behavior which is unwanted and intrusive. The stalker must also be intensely preoccupied with the victim.

Stalking is a crime 2 which is frequently reported and brought to the attention of the law. It can have strong impacts on the mental health and life of the victim. A 2002 report stated that it can be considered when virtually any kind of unwanted contact between two or more people takes place, which indirectly or directly communicates a type of threat to the victim, and places him/her in a state of fear. Another 2006 study explains it as a behavior which is often perpetrated by people who are suffering from mental health disorders.

Stalking is illegal in most parts of the world. However, some acts of it like calling someone on their phone, gathering information about someone, sending gifts or other items can be legal and hard to identify as stalking. These acts become illegal when they start breaching the legal definition of harassment in those places.

Features Of Stalking

Stalking can involve a variety of intrusive and unwanted behaviors which are repeatedly targeted towards a person. Some activities of it may include:

  • Making unwanted phone calls to the victim.
  • Sending unwanted text messages, instant messages, emails, voice, picture and video messages.
  • Personally approaching the victim in person or showing up unwanted in places like the victim’s house, work or even school or college.
  • Leaving potentially threatening, injury or harm causing objects or strange items for the victim.
  • Following the victim, watching or tracking them constantly or periodically.
  • Engaging in acts to intimidate the victim by scaring them, threatening them or using any other means which makes them scared, anxious or depressed.

Psychology Of Stalking

People who are characterized as stalkers may have developed an obsessive feeling or a mistaken belief that their victim loves them, also known as erotomania 3 , and they need rescuing or they want to communicate with them. A stalker tries to engage or communicate with their victims with a series of actions that can be considered legal like sending gifts, calling them, texting or emailing them or even visiting them in person as stated in a 2000 study 4 . Stalkers upon developing an obsession for their victim, expect them to reach out which does not happen as they have no personal relationship with them. When they do not respond as the stalker hopes, they may try to force the victim into complying by intimidating them or by use of force. Although most clinical psychologists have put forward their ideas where stalking might hint the presence of mental disorders in the stalker, there is no solid psychological theory which can be established as a clear or single reason for this behavior. However, this brings us to our next part, which is why people stalk.

Causes Of Stalking

There can be several reasons why someone stalks another person. A study 5 mentions that most cases of stalking tend to focus on victims who are usually well known or celebrities. The study mentions that a survey carried out on stalkers who were arrested by the Los Angeles police found that most stalkers and their victims had a prior relationship. This was followed by obsessive love and erotomania. Some of the reasons why people might engage in this behaviour are:

1. Rejection and a desire for control

When a person gets rejected romantically, they might find it hard to get over it. This can lead to a point where they stalk their victim in order to win them back. However, this might not always be in a positive light and in some situations they might also try to take revenge from the person who rejected or turned them down and stalk them with hopes of hurting them or scaring them as payback.

2. Ignorance or poor social skills

Sometimes, the person who stalks may be surprised to learn that their behavior might be categorized as stalking. It can occur because they might have difficulties understanding societal norms and cues. When someone informs them, they usually get surprised and saddened with their actions and feel a sense of shame.

3. Fantasy

This is one of the most common types of stalking, which is most prevalent among celebrities or other well-known people. Here the stalker has usually never met their victim in person and may be trying to get to meet them and validate their beliefs about them and also hoping that the person might reciprocate their feelings. The stalker here may also experience delusional 6 feelings about their victim.

4. Mental illness

Although not all stalkers are mentally ill, people with mental disorders 7 are most likely to engage in this act. Some people 8 tend to have false beliefs or deluded notions about a person due to an underlying mental disorder. These types of stalkers can be dangerous as they would not even consider the law as a deterrent to their stalking activities.

5. Sexual predators

These types of stalkers prey on their victims in order to plan an attack on them, most commonly in the type of sexual assault which can also lead to murder 9 .

Effects Of Stalking

Stalking can be a potentially traumatic experience for the victim. A 2020 study 10 stated that “the victims of stalking have an elevated risk of mental illness”. Also, a number of studies have indicated a high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder and depressive disorders in the victim. It can also escalate to physical violence and even take the form of sexual violence and rape. It is dangerous to the victims, both on physical and emotional levels. The behaviour has been identified as a form of abuse and can have the following effects in victims:

1. Mental and emotional effects

The victim may experience a reduction in the quality of their life. They might become too scared to leave their houses, make any phone calls or conduct other normal daily activities. They may start fearing for their safety and even their life. They may start having nightmares and even tend to get suicidal. Develop depressive disorders like PTSD 11 (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and experience flashbacks from the event. They might find it difficult getting close to or forming bonds with new people, be intimate with others and often find themselves becoming hopeless or depressed.

Read More About Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Here

2. Physical effects

The victim may get injured physically, or even seriously which can be life threatening in many cases. The victim also faces sleep disturbances and panic attacks which can severely impair their quality of life. In certain situations where the stalker had planned to attack their victims, it can result in death or even sexual assault or rape.

3. Social effects

The victim might get reluctant to leave their house. They might find it difficult to form new relationships or friendships with other people and may have a hard time trusting others. It can also lead to damaged relations 10 with existing friends or family members. Sometimes, it can lead to the victim losing or changing their job, moving to a new home or even experiencing financial hardships.

What To Do If You Are A Victim Of Stalking

If you feel like you are being stalked by a person or a group, you should endeavor to take action against it immediately. This prevents the situation from escalating and turning into something serious like a homicide. The following steps can help you in coping with the situation.

  • Do not engage your stalker all by yourself. You never know if they might be armed. It is also best if you refrained from communicating with them, as this might be exactly what they were hoping for.
  • Tell your friends, family and loved ones about any incident of stalking which made you feel unsafe or scared.
  • Record incidents of you being stalked as this might help you in taking legal action.
  • Contact your local law enforcement at the first sign of incidents getting repetitive.
  • Find an advocate and file a restraining order against the person. This will allow you to take legal action immediately on that person if he/she stalks you further.

Takeaway

Stalking is a form and a sign of terror. It can indicate impending danger and even permanently change the victim’s way of life. Do not be afraid to seek help at the earliest whenever you feel like someone is making unwanted approaches towards you.

References:
  1. Nadkarni, R., & Grubin, D. (2000). Stalking: why do people do it?. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 320(7248), 1486–1487. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.320.7248.1486 []
  2. Mester, R., Birger, M., & Margolin, J. (2006). Stalking. The Israel journal of psychiatry and related sciences, 43(2), 102–111. []
  3. Kelly B. D. (2005). Erotomania : epidemiology and management. CNS drugs, 19(8), 657–669. https://doi.org/10.2165/00023210-200519080-00002 []
  4. Nadkarni, R., & Grubin, D. (2000). Stalking: why do people do it?. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 320(7248), 1486–1487. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.320.7248.1486 []
  5. Nadkarni, R., & Grubin, D. (2000). Stalking: why do people do it?. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 320(7248), 1486–1487. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjf.320.7248.1486 []
  6. Kiran, C., & Chaudhury, S. (2009). Understanding delusions. Industrial psychiatry journal, 18(1), 3–18. https://doi.org/10.4103/0972-6748.57851 []
  7. Cassidy, J., Jones, J. D., & Shaver, P. R. (2013). Contributions of attachment theory and research: a framework for future research, translation, and policy. Development and psychopathology, 25(4 Pt 2), 1415–1434. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579413000692 []
  8. Abrams, K. M., & Robinson, G. E. (1998). Stalking. Part I: An overview of the problem. Canadian journal of psychiatry. Revue canadienne de psychiatrie, 43(5), 473–476. https://doi.org/10.1177/070674379804300504 []
  9. Dressing, H., & Gass, P. (2002). Stalking – vom Psychoterror zum Mord [Stalking–from psychoterror to murder]. Der Nervenarzt, 73(11), 1112–1115. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00115-002-1366-4 []
  10. Dreßing, H., Gass, P., Schultz, K., & Kuehner, C. (2020). The Prevalence and Effects of Stalking. Deutsches Arzteblatt international, 117(20), 347–353. https://doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.2020.0347 [][]
  11. The impact of stalking. (2003). Stalking and Violence: New Patterns of Trauma and Obsession, 39-46. https://doi.org/10.1007/0-306-47943-5_4 []