According to the National Institute of Justice and the National Center for Injury Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control, stalking generally refers to harassing or threatening behavior that an individual engages in repeatedly, such as following a person, appearing at a person’s home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages or objects, or vandalizing a person’s property. These actions may or may not be accompanied by a credible threat of serious harm, and they may or may not be precursors to an assault or murder.
Legal definitions of stalking vary widely from State to State. Though most States define stalking as the willful, malicious, and repeated following and harassing of another person, some States include in their definition such activities as lying- in-wait, surveillance, nonconsensual communication, telephone harassment, and vandalism. The definition may also include
approaching or confronting someone in a public place or on private property, appearing at one's workplace, home, or school, entering onto property someone owns, leases, or occupies, and/or contacting someone by phone, postal mail, email, text, social networking sites, etc.
According to the US Department of Justice, although stalking is a gender-neutral crime, most (78 percent) stalking victims are female and most (87 percent) stalking perpetrators are male. Adults between 18 and 29 years old are the primary targets of stalking, comprising 52 percent of all victims.
Types of Stalking
Stalking can occur in several forms. The first type of stalking is when the perpetrator follows an individual and watches them.
Another type of stalking is aggravated stalking. Aggravated stalking occurs when the perpetrator restrains the victim, causes bodily harm to the victim, or violates an order of protection.
Types of Stalkers
Actions define the type of stalking, but personalities combined with the actions define the type of stalker:
This type of stalker becomes upset when the friendship or romantic relationship has ended. The rejected stalker is not only self-centered and jealous but also over-dependent and persistent.
The resentful stalker feels humiliated that the relationship has ended and seeks revenge upon the victim. Resentful stalkers are often irrationally paranoid and are known to verbally assault their victims.
The predatory stalker seeks power and sexual gratification. They will not make physical contact but will use surveillance to track the victim.
The intimacy-seeking stalker seeks an intimate and romantic relationship with the victim. When the stalker is rejected by the victim, he or she will continually phone the victim, write the victim letters, and can become jealous and violent if the victim enters into a relationship with someone else.
The incompetent suitor stalker usually has inadequate social skills. They want a relationship with the victim but do not have the ability to realize he or she is not meant to be with the victim.
Erotomania and Morbidly Infatuated
This type of stalker feels that the victim loves them even though they may not have had any contact with the victim. The stalker is usually paranoid, prefers suitors in a higher social class, and will repeatedly approach the victim.
Not every stalker will fit into one of these categories, and some may exhibit signs of several of these types of stalkers. Each type of stalker has behavior that makes them a stalker.
Based on findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey, the Center for Policy Research offers the following conclusions:
1. Stalking should be treated as a significant social problem. The survey found that stalking is much more prevalent than previously thought, affecting an estimated 1.4 million adults per year in the United States. Since this figure does not include cases involving victims under the age of 18, nor victims who are homeless or living in homes without telephones, the estimate is probably an undercount of the true number of persons stalked each year. Given the scope of the stalking problem revealed by this survey, it is imperative that stalking be treated as a legitimate criminal justice problem and public health concern.
2. Credible threat requirements should be eliminated from anti-stalking statutes. Some State statutes include in their definition of stalking a requirement that stalkers make a credible threat of violence against their victims. Since stalking is often a “crime of deeds” rather than a “crime of words,” this requirement makes it more difficult to prosecute stalkers. Findings from the survey show that stalkers often do not threaten their victims verbally or in writing but instead engage in a course of conduct that, taken in context, causes a reasonable person to feel fearful. Despite being very frightened or fearing bodily harm or death, less than half of the stalking victims identified by the survey were directly threatened by their stalkers. This finding supports the view of many stalking experts that language which might be construed as requiring an actual verbal or written threat should be eliminated from all State anti-stalking statutes.
3. Research on stalking should move beyond “celebrity stalking” and focus on acquaintance and intimate partner stalking. Prior to this study, most stalking research focused on celebrity or political stalking. Findings from the survey show that the vast majority of stalking cases involve people who know each other, with fully half of all stalking cases arising in the context of current or former intimate relationships. Therefore, future research should focus on stalking occurring between intimates and acquaintances.
4. The Nation’s criminal justice community should receive comprehensive training on the particular safety needs of stalking victims. The survey produced dramatic confirmation of the link between stalking and physical violence in intimate relationships. Fully 81 percent of the women who were stalked by an intimate partner (either before or after the relationship ended) were also physically assaulted by that partner, and 31 percent were also sexually assaulted by that partner. To help law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and defense attorneys make appropriate case processing and management decisions, they must be made aware of the very real safety risks faced by these stalking victims.
5. More research must be conducted on the effectiveness of formal and informal law enforcement interventions. The survey found that 70 percent of all restraining orders obtained against stalkers were violated. The survey also found that stalking victims were more likely to credit the cessation of their stalking to informal police interventions, such as police warnings, than to formal justice system interventions, such as arrests or restraining orders. More research is needed to determine under what situations various law enforcement interventions are most effective.
6. The mental health community should receive comprehensive training on the appropriate treatment of stalking victims. The survey found that about a quarter of all stalking victims seek psychological counseling as a result of their victimization. In addition, stalking victims are significantly more likely than non-stalking victims to be very fearful for their personal safety, to carry something on their person to protect themselves, and to think personal safety for men and women has declined in recent years. To better meet the needs of stalking victims, mental health professionals need additional information about the characteristics of stalking, the mental health impact of stalking, and the mental health needs of stalking victims.
7. Stalking intervention strategies should include address confidentiality programs. Survey data indicate that about a fifth of all stalking victims move to a new location to escape their stalker. Given these findings, it is important that address confidentiality programs be made available to stalking victims. These programs encourage victims who face continued pursuit and unusual safety risks to develop a personal safety plan that includes relocating as far from their offender as possible and securing a confidential mailing address that provides mail forwarding service without revealing their new location. Because these measures focus on the behavior of the victim rather than the perpetrator, they may be perceived as unfair and unjust; but they may be the most effective way some victims can elude their stalkers.