Author (Greek version): Christina Vaizidou
Translation: Harriet Spala
Provisions on criminalization of harassment, known as Anti-stalking legislation, were passed as law in England and Wales in 1997. An annual amount of about 200 cases was expected. However the Suzy Lamplugh Trust that has as main activity the awareness, information and the recording of each case, who also offered a help-line for victims, reported that a staggering amount of 1180 people were accused within the first six months, out of which 1013 were sentenced and convicted.
The term “stalker” – according to the Oxford English dictionary – was used during the 16th century to name a suspect or a poacher. The term changed during the 20th century to describe a very specific form of harassment. In Greek the term “stalker” was translated as “a hunter who ambushes”. Stalking is a phenomenon where a specific victim is continually targeted and is either watched or harassed, against the victim’s will and by the violent intrusion in the victim’s life, creating anxiety and fear. The stalkers pursue an endless search hunt to be accepted, or accomplish an unfulfilled desire and eventually are led to a repeated rejection. It is a twisted, one-way dysfunctional love which the stalker usually perceives as amorous. Stalking includes obsession and exaggeration.
The term “stalking” includes a vast number of behaviors categorized in general in three groups, three stages: The first is the inducement of “coincidences” and the maintenance of the visual contact of the victim’s work and residence. The second stage is where the stalker communicates with the victim through the phone, letters, e-mails or even through the internet (cyber stalking). The third stage includes violent behaviors such as threats, damage of assets and even bodily or sexual harm.
Stalking is a repeatable crime which can last for years, the average of which lasts 15 months (Spitzberg B.H., Cupach W.R., 2007). The stalkers usually know their victims in advance. A 45% is ex partners (National Stalking Helpline, 2015). In other cases stalkers turn out to be the victim’s acquaintances, work colleagues, family members and very rarely strangers.
As for the motives of this behavior many theories have emerged and the ones that prevail contain the power reclaim from a partner that he or she has already rejected and this search of a “love” relationship is based on a distorted prototype. Ιt is always one-sided. Paul Mullen, an Australian Psychiatric Professor analyzed in 1993, 145 diagnosed stalkers and found five types based on their behavioral motives (A study of Stalkers, Mullen et al., 2000):
- The rejected stalking type (as mentioned in the respected bibliography), is a person who has lived the end of a close relationship (sexual, family, friendly or work) against his/her will. In his/her effort to come to terms with the failure this person quite often seeks revenge.
- The intimacy seeker-stalking type is the stalker who seeks intimacy. This person is socially isolated and quite often has an underlying psychosis, where he/she behave as if they are in a relationship with the victim (quite often the victim is completely unacquainted with the stalker), and seeking true love.
- The incompetent stalking type is the stalker who feels incompetent and inadequate. This person also seeks a close relationship, contact, love and intimacy without the belief that he/she is in a relationship with the victim. Many times he/she lacks social skills and because of that they use methods which are counterproductive and may scare the victim/target.
- The resentful stalking type is the stalker who feels that he has lived an injustice or some other kind of humiliation and wishes to take revenge not necessarily from the victim. In fact this type of stalker believes that he/she is the victim. These stalkers many times are described as having had very controlling father figures. They focus in negative experiences from their past and they try through their actions to relieve their pain. A paranoid disorder underlies quite often.
- The predator stalking type is the stalker who does not wish to engage with the victim but seeks the feeling of power and control. She/he feels pleasure by obtaining information about the victim and through a fantasy sexually or physically attacks the victim.
The profile of a typical stalker shows that most of them are lonely and socially isolated. They are people with incomplete internal needs and who have twisted and distorted ideas about love and relationships. They create a life where rejection is not accepted and very often they are self-destructive or destructive towards others. They always justify and give logical reasons to explain their behavior and thus minimize as much as possible the consequences of their behavior. There is a psychological basis with feelings of anger, aggressiveness, denial and jealousy, and within this frame of mind the stalkers project negative experiences to their victim and blame the victim for them.
More than often they suffer from a personality disorder with narcissistic characteristics. The rejection is thus experienced as a narcissistic injury which they are in no position to handle. Yet rejection is but the boundaries of personal space and the exclusion of a person from that space. Stalkers have the tendency to disrespect and cross those boundaries, denying that way to incorporate this in their lives. Their character also has an insecure personality structure and a tendency to be in dependent relationships. Furthermore there are many irrational obsession elements to their character. It could be possible that the stalker feels a sense of security during the stalking since this repetitive behavior offers a specific behavioral structure and a “schedule”, the obsession of a habit that he/she is not willing to give up. Τhis harassment replaces in a way the meaning of life and the pleasure it offers reaches the limits of addiction.
Stalking is rarely a mental condition (that being either schizophrenia, schizoid emotional or paranoia disorder), with some type of delirium, as some stalkers have depression or addiction disorders. This type of illness together with the personality disorders is found in about 50% of the stalking types (Mc Ewan et al., 2009; Mohandle et al., 2006; Rosenfeld, 2004). The incompetent stalking types include people with autistic disorders, while the predatory stalkers include some cases of sexual disorders (e.g. paraphilia-a condition characterized by abnormal sexual desires, typically involving extreme or dangerous activities).
Stalking must be examined through a multi factorial model that is capable of researching the offender’s personality; his/her motives but also the actual relationship with the victim. In order to treat this condition the judicial system must collaborate closely with mental health professionals. The stalker must be aided through psychotherapy to cross the stage of the angry attachment /obsession of the past and proceed to the stage of mourning and sadness as he/she accepts the loss. It is very important to understand the conditions under which the stalking begun and the way this condition is understood and perceived by the stalker himself/herself. Through a psychotherapeutic procedure stalkers are able to improve their interpersonal and their social skills. Psycho-education acts as an assisting tool regarding the emotional consequences of their behavior towards their victims.
In case there is an underlying mental condition, it must be primarily treated with medication. Even if it involves a “simple” case of personality disorder, the prescription of neuroleptics and antidepressants of the serotonin reuptake inhibitor group together with psychotherapy, has led to the improvement of the stalker’s obsessive thoughts.
McEwan, T. E., & Strand, S. (2013). The role of psychopathology in stalking by adult strangers and acquaintances. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 47(6), 546-555.
Mullen, P. E., Purcell, R., & Stuart, G. W. (1999). Study of stalkers. American journal of psychiatry, 156(8), 1244-1249.
Nadkarni, R., & Grubin, D. (2000). Stalking: why do people do it?: The behaviour is newsworthy but complex.
Westrup, D., & Fremouw, W. J. (1998). Stalking behavior: A literature review and suggested functional analytic assessment technology. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 3(3), 255-274.