Definition: A person commits the offense of stalking if the person willfully on more than one occasion follows or is in the presence of another person without legal purpose and with the intent to cause death or bodily injury or with the intent to cause emotional distress by placing that person in reasonable fear of death or bodily injury.
A 1998 National Institute of Justice survey of stalking victims provided the first glimpse into the kinds of tactics stalkers most often employ in the commission of their crimes (Tjaden and Theonnes 1998). What follows are some of the tactics that victims report:
Followed, spied on, stood outside home/work
Made unwanted phone calls
Sent unwanted letters/left unwanted items
Killed/threatened to kill a pet
While most of these alone may not explicitly communicate a threat, the number, nature and context in which they occur may well communicate an implied threat.
“§ 14-277.3. Stalking. A violation of this section is a Class 1 misdemeanor. A person who commits the offense of stalking when there is a court order in effect prohibiting similar behavior is guilty of a Class A1 misdemeanor. A second or subsequent conviction for stalking occurring within five years of a prior conviction of the same defendant is punishable as a Class I felony.”
Relationships between Stalkers and their Victims
As mentioned above, stalking is most often about “relationships” –prior, desired or imagined. Therefore, it is critical to know about any prior relationship between the victim and the offender. The NIJ study indicates that the clear majority of stalkers and their victims (60%) had a personal relationship before the stalking began. The majority of these cases (42%) involved spouses, or partners and another 14% had a dating relationship. In more thank 4% of these case, the stalker and the victim were actually related to one another. Nearly 18% of stalkers were acquaintances or co-workers of the victim, while only 22% were complete strangers (Tjaden and Theonnes 1998).
Nevertheless, the relationships between victims and offenders often follow broad, distinct patterns, allowing forensic psychologists to use the relationship between stalkers and victims as a means of categorizing stalking behavior and stalking cases. Still, it is important to keep in mind that some cases do not follow any pattern and may shift between categories as they evolve. Thus, these categories are only useful as broad guidelines to aid in the discussion and analysis of stalking as an emerging category of crime.
Categories of Stalking
1. SIMPLE OBSESSION STALKING
This category represents 60% of all stalking cases. It includes all cases arising from previous personal relationships (i.e. those between husbands/wives, girlfriends/boyfriends, domestic partners, etc.) Many simple obsession cases are actually extensions of a previous pattern of domestic violence and psychological abuse. The only difference is that the abuse occurs in different surroundings and through slightly altered tactics of intimidation. Thus, the dynamics of power and control that underlie most domestic violence cases are often mirrored in simple obsession stalking cases.
Stalking behaviors observed in many domestic violence cases are motivated by the stalker’s lack of self-esteem and feelings of powerlessness. They attempt to raise their own self-esteem by demeaning and demoralizing those around them—usually their former spouses. The exercise of power and control over the victim gives stalkers a sense of power and self-esteem that they otherwise lack. When victims attempt to remove themselves from such controlling situations, stalkers often feel that their power and self-worth have been taken from them. This is when stalkers have the potential to become violent—they may feel like “they have nothing to lose” and become more dangerous.
2. LOVE OBSESSION STALKING
In this category, stalkers and victims are casual acquaintances (neighbors, co-workers) or even complete strangers (fan/celebrity). Primarily, stalkers in this category seek to establish a personal relationship with the object of their obsession—contrary to the wishes of their victims. Love obsession stalkers tend to have low self-esteem and often target victims who they perceive to have exceptional qualities and high social standing. These stalkers seek to raise their own self-esteem by associating with those whom they hold in high regard.
Love obsession stalkers become so focused on establishing a personal relationship with their victims that they often invent detailed fantasies of nonexistent relationship. They literally script the relationship as if it were a stage play. When the victims choose not to participate in the stalker’s imagined passion play, the stalker may try to force victims into assigned roles. Often this type of stalker is so desperate to establish a relationship—any relationship—that they “settle” for negative relationships, explaining why some stalkers are willing to engage in destructive or violent behavior in an irrational attempt to “win the love” (more likely attention) of their victims.
3. EROTOMANIA STALKING
By definition, erotomaniacs are delusional and consequently, virtually all suffer from mental disorders—most often schizophrenia. Unlike simple and love obsession stalkers who seek to establish or reestablish a relationship with their victim, erotomaniacs delude themselves into believing that such a relationship already exists.
Though relatively rare, erotomania stalking cases often draw public attention because the target is usually a public figure or celebrity. Like the other types of stalkers, erotomaniacs attempt to garner self-esteem and status by associating themselves with well-known individuals who hold high social status. While the behavior of many erotomaniacs never escalates to violence, or even to threats of violence, the irrationality that accompanies their mental illness presents particularly unpredictable threats to victims.
4. VENGEANCE/TERRORISM STALKING
The final category is fundamentally different from the other three. Vengeance stalkers do not seek a personal relationship with their targets. Rather, they attempt to elicit a particular response or change of behavior from their victims. When vengeance is their prime motive, stalkers seek only to punish their victims for some wrong they perceive the victim has visited upon them. In other words, they use stalking as a means to “get even” with their enemies (i.e. Employees stalking employers after being fired).
A second type of vengeance or terrorist stalker, the political stalker, has motivations that parallel those of more traditional terrorists. That is, stalking is a weapon of terror used to accomplish a political agenda.
Impact on Victims
Loss of sleep
Loss of appetite/ weight loss
Loss of trust in friends/family/co-workers
If you are in imminent danger, locate a safe place
Residence of family/friend (if location is unknown to perpetrator)
Domestic violence shelters/churches
Public areas (stalkers may be less inclined toward violence in public areas)
***If departure from current location is not possible, call 911
Restraining orders – If violated, stalkers can face incarceration, a fine, or both
Typically obtained through the district attorney’s or prosecutor’s office
Anti-stalking laws / Documentation and evidence collection
Documentation of stalking should be saved and given to law enforcement
Documentation of the perpetrators’ actions may be useful in future complaints or proceedings for evidentiary
Documentation may include photos of destroyed property/vandalism or any injury inflicted on the victim by the perpetrator; answering machine messages saved on tape; letters/notes; affidavits from witnesses; other materials
All materials should be kept in a safe place to prevent theft by perpetrator
Local victim advocate/crisis counselor
Domestic violence shelters/counselors
Rape crisis counselors
Victim advocates at Advocacy centers (THP)
District attorney’s office
Local law enforcement
Install dead bolts. If you cannot account for all keys, change locks
Install adequate outside lighting
Maintain unlisted phone number
Treat any threats as legitimate and inform law enforcement
Vary routes taken and limit time spent walking alone
Inform a trusted neighbor regarding situation. Provide them with a photo or description of the suspect and any possible vehicles he/she may drive
Have co-workers screen calls/visitors
When out, stay in public areas and try not to travel alone
Contingency plans: When victims are not in imminent danger, they still could be a risk at any time. For this reason, a contingency plan may be appropriate. Victims should consider—
Having quick access to critical numbers and locations of:
Law enforcement agencies
Individuals to be contacted after safety is secured (family, neighbors, friends, etc.)
Keeping a reserve of necessities that is easily accessible:
A packet suitcase in the car or another ready location for quick departure
Other necessary items such as bank and credit card information, creditor’s numbers, medical insurance, and birth certificates as well as personal welfare items including medications
A ready means of transportation (keep gas in the car, have money for a taxi, etc) and back up keys for neighbors
Alerting the following critical people of the situation and potential crisis:
- Law enforcement
- Security personnel