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The Course and Nature of Stalking: A Victim Perspective

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Abstract

This article presents results from the first survey of stalking victims to be conducted in the United Kingdom. In-depth questionnaire data are drawn on to investigate the course and nature of prolonged stalking in 95 self-defined victims. Findings indicate a pattern of repeated intrusions, a high violence risk for both victims and their loved ones, a dearth of sources of support, and varied police response. Stalkers had higher socio-economic status than most other criminals, were ex-partners of the victim in under half of cases, and did not necessarily operate alone.
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ãBlackwell Publishers Ltd. 2001, 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK
and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA
The Howard Journal Vol 40 No 3. August 2001
ISSN 0265–5527, pp.215–234
The Course and Nature of Stalking:
A Victim Perspective
LORRAINE SHERIDAN, GRAHAM DAVIES AND JULIAN
BOON
Lorraine Sheridan is Lecturer in Forensic Psychology, Graham Davies is
Professor of Psychology, Julian Boon is Lecturer in Psychology, University of
Leicester
Abstract: This article presents results from the first survey of stalking victims to be conducted in
the United Kingdom. In-depth questionnaire data are drawn on to investigate the course and
nature of prolonged stalking in 95 self-defined victims. Findings indicate a pattern of repeated
intrusions, a high violence risk for both victims and their loved ones, a dearth of sources of
support, and varied police response. Stalkers had higher socio-economic status than most other
criminals, were ex-partners of the victim in under half of cases, and did not necessarily operate
alone.
The main aim of this research was to map in some detail the course and
nature of prolonged stalking as related by British and Northern Irish
victims. Over the past decade, stalking has become accepted as not only a
serious social problem, but also one that warrants criminal status. California,
in 1990, introduced the world’s first anti-stalking law. By October 1992, 25
US states had enacted stalking laws, implementing legislation closely
patterned on the California statute. By 1998, most countries in the devel-
oped world had statutes in place that criminalised stalking, with England
and Wales introducing the Protection from Harassment Act in 1997. Glob-
ally, anti-stalking sanctions have been introduced despite a lack of intelli-
gence on the phenomenon. This has led to criticism being levelled toward
governments that they have rushed through ill-considered legislation in an
attempt to appease public concern about stalking, rather than tackling the
problem of stalking itself. For instance, in the US, it is alleged that some
state’s statutes were prompted by domestic violence, and that the original
California initiative was probably due to the ‘stalking’ of media celebrities
(Goode 1995).
The criminalisation of stalking and harassment has raised a number of
issues. One of the most prominent of these is the question of what actually
constitutes stalking? Also, what is the prevalence of stalking in the general
population? What motivates a stalker to initiate and maintain a campaign of
harassment that may stretch into years and even decades? Who are stalkers
or their victims likely to be? What kinds of behaviours and activities does
stalking consist of? What is the duration of the typical case of stalking?
Indeed, is there such a thing as a ‘typical’ case of stalking? This article
attempts to provide some answers to these questions.
The first official statistics on the incidence on stalking in England and
Wales were published in September 1999 (Home Office 1999). In 1998, 661
persons were cautioned under the England and Wales Protection from
Harassment Act 1997, 4,298 cases were proceeded against, and 2,221
persons were convicted. An English telephone survey (National Opinion
Polls Research Group 1997) interviewed 1,013 people under the age of 35
years, and found that 25% said that they knew someone who had been a
victim of ‘stalking’ or persistent pestering. More than twice as many women
as men said they had personally experienced threatening behaviour of this
kind (19%, compared with 8%). Sheridan, Gillett and Davies (2000) found
in their survey of 80 British women that 20% claimed to have been stalked,
and this figure has recently been replicated with a sample of 348 women
(Sheridan, Davies and Boon 2001).
In North America, Faulkner and Hsiao (1993) estimated that 5% of US
women in the general population would be victims of stalking at some time
in their lives. A recent report by Tjaden and Thoennes (1998) estimated
that approximately 8% of US women have been stalked at some time, and
that over one million are stalked annually. Corwin (1993) has estimated the
number of cases of stalking in the USA to be at least 200,000 each year, and
Furio (1993) estimated that one in six women in the USA who are murdered
each year have first been stalked.
Given that stalking seems to have a relatively high prevalence rate, it is
surprising that so few surveys of stalking victims have been undertaken.
However, when compared with many other intrusive crimes, stalking is
difficult to define and classify. In England and Wales a precise legal defini-
tion of stalking has never been provided, and no accepted global definition
of stalking currently exists. The major difficulty is that the term ‘stalking’
does not apply to a single action or actions which can easily be defined in
legal terms: rather, it embraces a multitude of activities. Stalkers may harass
victims using illegal acts, such as obscene phone calls or actual violence.
However, stalkers often do not overtly threaten, but use behaviour which is
ostensibly routine and harmless and not, in itself, illegal. Examples of this
might include persistently following a person around a shop, or sending
them cards and bouquets. This has made it difficult for researchers to
determine what does and does not actually constitute stalking, and as stalk-
ing has only recently been considered in a criminal justice context, very
little data exist on the victims of stalking themselves. Despite this, Sheridan,
Gillett and Davies (2000) and Sheridan, Davies and Boon (2001) found
that female members of the public (the potential victims of criminal stalk-
ing) did hold shared ideas on what constituted stalking, agreeing at a level
of 70% or higher that 20 of 40 intrusive behaviours represented stalking
acts.
Pathé and Mullen (1997) carried out a survey of 100 Australian stalking
victims, and Hall (1998) conducted a similar survey of 145 victims who
responded to a series of press releases across the USA. Other surveys have
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concentrated on specific populations of stalking victims (for example, both
Fremouw, Westrup and Pennypacker (1997) and Mustaine and Tewksbury
(1999) surveyed college students and Romans, Hays and White (1996)
concentrated on college counselling staff).
This article aims to build a picture of the course and nature of stalking as
experienced by its victims in the United Kingdom. Ninety-five self-defined
victims of stalking completed a 46-item questionnaire relating to their expe-
riences. Throughout, unless otherwise indicated, findings relate to the
entire corpus of respondents, rather than sub-samples. This was so that a full
overview of stalking be provided, given that the British research in this field
is at too early a stage to confidently subdivide the sample.
Method
Participants
The sample was made up of 95 individuals who had contacted the London-
based Suzy Lamplugh Trust, a charity concerned with the promotion of
personal safety. When persons approached the Trust to complain of being
stalked, they were sent a questionnaire to complete, and the data below
derive from this. The response rate is unknown, but Trust staff suggest that
it was around 90%. All returned forms were included in the analysis.
Respondents came from a wide cross-section of the British and Northern
Irish community, but it cannot be assumed that they were representative of
all stalking victims in the population, as all 95 were self-defined victims of
stalking. All were members of the public, of which only one could be
described as a celebrity victim.
Questionnaire Design
The 46-item questionnaire explored: basic epidemiological data for the
victim and, where known, for the stalker; any prior relationship between
victim and stalker; the duration and frequency of the harassment; the nature
and course of the stalking; physical locations of contact; possible stalker
motives; specific behaviour of the stalking offender; the reaction of the
victim; the response of the authorities and its perceived impact, and finally
sources of support available for victims. At the end of the questionnaire,
respondents were provided with several blank sheets and were invited to add
any further information not included in the questionnaire.
Questionnaire Findings
The Victims
Ninety-two per cent of victims (87) were female and 7% (7) were male. A
married couple were together classified as ‘one’ victim (1%), because this
was how they had chosen to complete the questionnaire. The age range of
victims when the stalking began was two years (24 months) to 70 years
(mean 33.74, SD 11.81). Three victims (3%) were aged 14 years or less when
the stalking began and two (2%) were aged between 69 and 70 years.
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The socio-economic status (SES) of the victims was defined by their occupa-
tional title. From job titles, the victims were placed into occupational
subgroups, and these are illustrated in Table 1 above.
Victims were asked to state what their occupational title was both when
the stalking began and at the time of completing their questionnaire. From
Table 1 it is apparent that during the course of stalking, the occupational
status of the victims altered substantially. For instance, 26 were in profes-
sional occupations when they were first stalked, and just ten described them-
selves as professionals when they completed the questionnaires. Similarly,
the number of victims in clerical occupations dropped from 17 to just three.
In most cases, this drop in SES was related to the stalking, either directly or
indirectly. For instance, one woman reported that she had little choice but
to:
give up my job as he (the stalker) was my boss.
Other victims explained that they were forced out of their careers because
of the emotional effects of stalking:
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TABLE 1
Occupation of Victims – Both at the Start of the Stalking Episode, and at the Time
of the Questionnaires’ Completion
at time of
at start of completing
occupation subgroup stalking questionnaire difference
unemployed 6(6%) 7(7%) +1
student (inc. school 9(10%) 4(4%) –5
and pre-school)
unskilled 8(8%) 4(4%) –4
semi-skilled 8(8%) 4(4%) –4
self-employed 4(4%) 3(3%) –1
clerical 17(18%) 3(3%) –14
nurse/hospital/ 2(2%) / –2
care worker
technical 1(1%) / –1
professional 26(27%) 10(11%) –16
housewife 11(12%) 5(5%) –6
retired 2(2%) 5(5%) +3
information unavailable 1(1%) 50(53%) n/a
(Note: Cases of stalking that had ended and cases of stalking that were ongoing at the
time the respondents filled in questionnaires have been jointly analysed throughout
this article. This of course means that cases included in the ‘at time of completing
questionnaire’ columns cover both ongoing cases and historical cases. However, the
mean period of ongoing stalking was 7.71 years (SD 10.01 years). The shortest ongo-
ing stalking episode was six months and the longest 43 years. As such, it was judged
that all ongoing stalking cases would have altered the life of the victim to the extent
that their inclusion along with historical cases to investigate the impact of stalking on
the status of the victim was warranted)
I had to give up my career because I couldn’t cope with him being everywhere I went
and my daughter used to think that he would take me away whilst I was out at work
and I wouldn’t come back home.
Fifteen months ago I had the job I always wanted, I had worked so hard to get there,
but I had to give it up due to ill health and depression. Working with the mentally ill
on top of the stress I was under was just impossible.
The Offenders
The stalker’s gender was known to the victim in 94 of 95 cases. The major-
ity of stalkers (87%, or 82) were male, and 7% (7) were female. However, in
a further 5% of cases (5), there was more than one stalker. All four cases of
multiple stalkers involved mixed sex stalker groups.
The age of stalkers when they began their campaigns ranged from 11 to
73 years (mean 35.48, SD 11.59). One stalker was aged 11 years when the
stalking began, and a further four were aged between 13 and 18 years. Three
were aged between 60 and 73 years. In five cases perpetrators were part of a
group, and ages of group members were not given. Some of the data
provided by victims were approximations of stalker age. The correlation
between the age of the victims and the age of the stalkers when the stalking
first began was 0.52 (89) p<0.001, with stalkers being on the whole a little
older than their victims (mean of 35.48 compared to 33.74).
The occupational status of stalkers, where known, was requested both for
when the stalking began and for when the questionnaires were completed.
Data obtained are illustrated in Table 2.
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TABLE 2
Occupation of Stalkers – Both When the Stalking Began, and at the Time of the
Questionnaires’ Completion
at time of
at start of completing
occupation subgroup stalking questionnaire difference
unemployed 22(23%) 26(27%) +4
student (inc. school) 7(7%) 3(3%) –4
unskilled 2(2%) 3(3%) +1
semi-skilled 12(13%) 9(10%) –3
self-employed 2(2%) 2(2%)
clerical 2(2%) 1(1%) –1
nurse/hospital/care 3(3%) 3(3%)
worker
technical 4(4%) 3(3%) –1
professional 25(26%) 21(22%) –4
retired 3(3%) 2(2%) –1
various – more than 1 4(4%) 4(4%)
stalker in jail / 3(3%) +3
unknown 9(10%) 15(16%) +6
Unlike in the case of victims, the SES of stalking offenders (as defined by
occupation title) did not decrease significantly over time. A small decrease
in the number of professionals was seen, along with a corresponding small
increase in the number of unemployed offenders. Three more stalkers lost
their occupational status due to imprisonment for stalking-related offences.
Thus, it may be surmised that a person’s occupational status and there-
fore SES may decrease as a result of being stalked. However, an equivalent
decrease in the SES of the perpetrator is less likely to be observed.
How does the SES of stalkers compare with that of convicted males more
generally? It is a reliable finding that low SES is closely correlated with crim-
inal conviction. For instance, a survey of the adult prison population,
commissioned by the Home Office, classified prisoners by social class based
on their most recent employment prior to imprisonment (Walmsley,
Howard and White 1992). The obtained data are seen in the first column of
Table 3 below. Similarly, a study of court defendants found that only 5%
(excluding those charged with motoring offences) were from classes I and
II (Bottoms and McClean 1976). Table 3 provides a comparison of these
figures with the current data.
From examining Table 3 below, it is apparent that in terms of SES, stalking
offenders are closer to the population norm than are convicted males in
general. However, there were significantly fewer stalkers in the ‘Skilled occu-
pations (manual)’ grouping than in the convict and general populations. This
could however be due to a number of factors, for instance the relatively small
sample size or the recent decline in the manufacturing industry in the UK.
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TABLE 3
A Comparison of the SES of Stalking Offenders, the General British Prisoner Popu-
lation, and the British General Population
current data
(stalkers at the general
Walmsley et al. start of the population
(1992) stalking) (@ 1992)
I professional etc. 18% 38%(36) 45%
occupations
II managerial and technical
occupations
III skilled occupations
(N) non-manual
III skilled occupations 41% 13%(12) 37%
(M) manual
IV partly-skilled 41% 25%(24) 19%
occupations
V unskilled occupations
not employed
not known/student/
retired/ / 10%(9)/7%(7)/ /
more than one stalker 3%(3)/4%(4)
Victim-Stalker Relationship
The prior relationship between stalker and victim has been given consider-
ation by a number of authors, and no one classification system has been
universally accepted by all professionals in the area of stalking. Instead, vari-
ous attempts have been made to classify stalkers and their victims according
to particular characteristics. Meloy (1997) suggested that future studies
should utilise a system based on acquaintanceship: those who were prior
acquaintances, those who were prior sexual intimates and those who were
strangers (see Sheridan and Davies (in press), for a discussion of stalking
typologies and arguments supporting Meloy’s system). The current work
classified victims in this way, and found that in 48% of cases (46), the stalker
was an ex-partner of the victim, and in 12% of cases (11) there had been no
prior relationship between the victim and their stalker. In 37% of cases (35),
the stalker was described as being a former acquaintance of the victim. In
two cases however the victim did not know her stalker’s identity, and so was
unable to indicate the nature of their prior relationship, if any. Table 4 shows
this breakdown in more detail, and further subdivides the ‘former acquain-
tance’ category.
Serial Stalking?
Only five victims (5%) were sure that their stalker had never stalked any
other person. Just over half (54%, or 51) were unsure as to whether they
were the only victim of their harasser. The remainder (41%, or 39) indi-
cated that their stalker had stalked someone else, or was doing so. In the
words of one victim:
The saddest thing is that I know that this man is as I write this stalking someone else
and there is nothing that I or the Law can do to prevent it. I only wish that I could
hold his unsuspecting casualty so that she does not feel alone.
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TABLE 4
Victim-Stalker Prior Relationship
relationship percentage tools (and
frequency)
stranger 11(12%)
ex-husband/wife 19(20%)
ex-boy/girlfriend 27(28%)
acquaintance: work-related 7(7%)
acquaintance: friend 1(1%)
acquaintance: neighbour 15(16%)
acquaintance: client 8(8%)
acquaintance: social activity 2(2%)
acquaintance: student 2(2%)
falls into several ‘acquaintance’ categories 1(1%)
stalker’s identity unknown to victim 2(2%
Stalking by Proxy?
Over half of respondents (59%, or 56) reported that their stalker had oper-
ated alone, and one more victim (1%) was unsure as to whether their stalker
had recruited the help of others. However, 40% of victims (38) said that
friends and/or family of their stalker had also been involved in the harass-
ment. The 1982 British Crime Survey showed that lone offenders predomi-
nated in crimes of violence not limited to theft, whilst multiple offenders
predominated in personal theft crimes and in vandalism. Similarly, victims
who reported incidents of violence without theft also tended to report a
prior relationship with the offender. This pattern is not apparent in the case
of stalking, at least in the current sample. This is a surprising finding as the
popular view of a stalker is of a lone and secretive individual.
Frequency and Location of Contact
Frequency of contact
All 95 victims were asked to provide information on the frequency with
which their stalker contacted them. They were asked to do this with respect
to: (i) the worst/most intense period of their stalking, and (ii) the more
typical periods (see Table 5).
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TABLE 5
Frequency of Contact Made by Stalker
frequency of contact by at worst/most
stalker intense on average
more than once per day 70(74%) 19(20%)
once per day 6(6%) 16(17%)
2–3 times per week 14(15%) 29(31%)
several times per month 4(4%) 22(23%)
less frequently 1(1%) 9(10%)
TABLE 6
Main Places of Contact Between Victim and Stalker
% (frequency) of
place total sample
a. victim’s home only 6(6%)
b. victim’s workplace/educational 3(3%)
establishment only
c. public places only 3(3%)
all three 52(55%)
a and b 9(10%)
a and c 19(20%)
b and c 3(3%)
Most of the 95 victims (72%) reported that the behaviour of their stalker
had ‘worsened’ over time. A further 15% were unsure as to whether the
stalking had intensified and just 14% stated that it had not.
Place of contact
Respondents were asked to provide information on where their stalker was
most likely to seek them out. The data obtained are shown in Table 6 above.
From Tables 5 and 6, it may be seen that the typical pattern of stalking as
experienced by the current sample involved contact made by the stalker
several times each week in the home, at work, and out in public.
Stalking Behaviours Experienced
Frequency of experience of specific stalking behaviours
The sample were then asked about the form their stalking took, so that the
actual nature of stalker contact could be determined. Information was
obtained via the presentation of a range of specific behaviours, with respon-
dents required to indicate any they had experienced via a simple yes/no
format. The results are detailed in the Tables 7a, 7b, 7c and 7d.
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TABLE 7a
Frequency of Experience of Specific Stalking Behaviours – General
% (frequency) of
stalking behaviour total sample
watches victim 86(91%)
follows victim 78(82%)
tries to gain victim-related information from 73(77%)
victim’s family, friends, etc.
trespasses on victim’s property 65(68%)
approaches and tries to speak to victim 63(66%)
slanders victim/defames character 57(60%)
stalked members of victim’s family 56(59%)
threatens victim with physical assault 50(53%)
shouts abuse/obscenities at victim 48(51%)
damaged victim’s car 38(40%)
makes counter-allegations of stalking 37(39%)
threatened family/friends/partner(s) of victim 37(39%)
damaged outside of victim’s home/garden 36(38%)
carried out actual physical assault(s) 30(32%)
broke into/damaged inside of victim’s home 30(32%)
stole from victim 28(30%)
attempted to kill victim 24(25%)
tries to move into victim’s social circle 21(22%)
assaulted family/friends/partner(s) of victim 16(17%)
bugged victim’s home 12(13%)
*carried out actual sexual assault(s) 3(3%)
(Note: *data only available for 22 victims)
Unsurprisingly, almost all victims were watched and/or followed by their
stalker. It is these types of activities, which form ‘typical’ stalking cases. Sheri-
dan and Davies (in press) reviewed twelve studies which had examined the
harassment behaviour of stalkers and found that stalkers do in fact engage
in patterns of very similar activities. Chief among these were repeated
communications, intrusions, approaches, property damage, threats to the
person, and actual assaults. The present work has also found that almost
80% of stalkers had made attempts to obtain information on their victim
from the victim’s family and friends. Further, over half had actually stalked
members of the victim’s family, 40% had threatened those close of the
victim and 17% had actually carried out assaults on the same:
My stalker would telephone and visit my friends and family as much as he contacted
me.
He moved into the house across from me trying to frighten off my family and friends.
My ex-boyfriend has been assaulted twice and has received warnings to keep away
from me. He has also received threats by letter and over the telephone warning that
if he doesn’t stay away he’ll get his legs broken.
It was noted earlier that for over half of the stalkers in the sample, stalking
was not a lone venture. The finding that a similar number of stalkers
harassed members of their victims’ families deals a double blow to the popu-
lar image of stalking as a menacing game of cat and mouse perpetrated by
an individual stalker toward a solitary target. As noted above, repeated
unwanted communications are an integral part of stalking activities. Tables
7b, 7c and 7d list frequency data derived from asking the sample about their
experiences of such.
Many victims volunteered additional information relating to harassment
via the telephone, and the following comments make clear the fear and frus-
tration that telephone harassment can generate:
The person did not assault me (though I know, by his own admission, that he is capa-
ble of violence) or send grossly obscene letters or threaten me – in so many words – or
heave rocks through my window BUT his persistent phone calls, day and night, nearly
drove me mad.
From the 12th January 1998 till 3 February 1998 there were 127 phone calls.
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TABLE 7b
Frequency of Experience of Specific Stalking Behaviours – Telephone-Related
% (frequency) of
stalking behavour total sample
a. rings then hangs up 56(60%)
b. silent calls 54(57%)
c. conversational calls 55(58%)
d. abusive calls 42(44%)
mixture of d and a, b, or c 50(53%)
Some respondents even experienced stalking via the telephone when their
stalker had been jailed:
I received a phone call from him when he was in prison, not the first, stating that he
swears on his ‘f******’ life that I will be dead and that he has got someone to do the
job for him.
Over half of victims (55%) reported their stalker to their telephone
company for abusive and/or excessive unwanted telephone calls.
Again, some victims gave details of the volume and content of letters and
gifts:
All I did was to act as a shoulder for him to cry on and then out of the blue the
presents, flowers and letters started to arrive – sometimes 12–15 letters per day plus
gifts.
He even sent letters which were apologetic in tone, saying he’ll leave me alone (it
never happened!).
These letters were so offensive, they were terrifying – full of weird stories about the
end of the world and threats and what he wanted to do to me.
Violence Risk
Over half of the 95 victims (53%) were threatened with physical assault, and
a third (32%) were actually physically assaulted by a stalker. One-quarter of
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TABLE 7c
Frequency of Experience of Specific Stalking Behaviours – Mail-Related
% (frequency) of
stalking behavour total sample
a. threatening mail 28(30%)
b. abusive/offensive mail 24(25%)
c. pleading/begging mail 41(43%)
d. conversational mail 19(20%)
mixture of d and a, b, or c 26(27%)
TABLE 7d
Frequency of Experience of Specific Stalking Behaviours – Gift-Related
% (frequency) of
stalking behavour total sample
none 48(51%)
a. non-malicious gifts 32(34%)
b. malicious gifts 7(7%)
mixture of gifts of malicious/non- 9(10%)
malicious nature
respondents (25%) had been the victim of a murder attempt perpetrated by
the stalker, and 3% had been sexually assaulted (note that data on sexual
assault were only available for 22 of the 95 victims):
He’s almost strangled me, beat me, blacked my eye and threatened to burn me and
my family to death with a gallon of petrol and matches.
The safety of my daughter is my main concern. This man attempted to kill us both
when she was only five weeks old. He also nearly managed to kidnap her when she
was two. She is unable to play out with friends and I dread the day she has to go to
school.
He eventually tried to kill me by strangulation and stuffing a towel down my throat.
As noted above, violence was not confined to the victim as in 39% of cases
the stalker had threatened family and/or friends of the victim, and in 17%
of cases, the stalker had actually physically assaulted individuals close to the
victim.
Reason for Stalking
Victims were asked why they felt they were being stalked. In 15% of cases,
the victim could provide no possible reason for their harassment. The high-
est proportion of victims (46%) said that they were being stalked by an ex-
partner, after ending a relationship with them. A quarter (24%) felt that
their stalker believed him/herself to be in love with the victim, describing a
likely delusional/erotomanic individual. One victim (1%) said that her
stalker believed himself to be protecting her.
A minority of victims (7%) said that their stalking was the result of an
escalation with a neighbour. Two more (2%) said that they were being
stalked by the new partner of their ex-partner (that is, the new girlfriend of
a former husband). A man against whom she was due to testify in court was
stalking one more victim. Three victims provided other reasons for their
stalking. For instance:
He claims we are psychically linked and I am sending him my hangovers.
How Did the Stalking End?
At the time of filling in the questionnaires, 20 of the 95 victims (21%)
reported that their stalking had ended. Eight more (8%) said that their
stalking had only (and perhaps temporarily) ended due to ‘extreme
measures’ (for example, they moved to another country, the stalker was
jailed). One respondent told us:
After I moved to Canada he tried to trace me through the hospital in London where
I had worked, but they did not tell him that I’d moved overseas and so this is how I
stopped his stalking.
One other victim attempted to placate her stalker in the following manner,
illustrating the extreme lengths to which stalking victims may be driven in
trying to bring their harassment to an end:
In a split second I decided that to step backwards into the path of a bus might just give
him enough satisfaction. It might satisfy his desire to see my blood. The bus fractured
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my skull and perforated my eardrum, but amazingly I was otherwise unhurt. He was
arrested for causing a fuss in the hospital (then released 24 hours later). I stayed on
the neurosurgical ward for a week while my parents packed up my belongings and
moved me out to S .
The 28 victims who believed that their stalking was now over were asked how
it had come to an end. Five were unsure. In seven cases the victim moved
house, and in another four cases the arrest of the stalker was sufficient for
them to cease their harassing activities. Three victims said that their stalker
stopped harassing them when the stalker found a new partner, and three
more said the cessation was due to their stalker moving on to a different
victim, and two more reported that their stalker had voluntarily moved to
another area. Four more victims each gave one of the following varied
reasons: the stalker was threatened, the victim left their job, the stalker was
jailed, the stalker was detained under the Mental Health Act.
The total length of stalking for those whose harassment had ended is
detailed in Table 8. The length of ongoing stalking at the time that the ques-
tionnaires were completed for the remaining 67 victims is also shown.
Effects of Stalking
Victims were provided with a list of adjectives, and were asked to tick the one
which best described the emotions they had experienced as a result of being
stalked. However, 41% (39) were unable to choose one particular adjective,
and instead explicitly stated that they had experienced them all. Of those
who were able to choose one emotion, the most frequent choice was ‘fear’
(18%), followed by ‘terrorised’ (15%). All of the remaining adjectives were
chosen far less frequently, as the following list illustrates: ‘intimidation’
(7%), ‘imprisoned’ (5%), ‘powerlessness’ (4%), ‘upset’ (4%), ‘anger’ (3%),
and ‘loss of self-esteem’ (2%).
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TABLE 8
Total Period of Stalking for Victims Still Being Stalked
years stalked ended stalking cases ongoing stalking
cases
(n = 28) (n=67)
less than 1 year 13(46%) 4(6%)
1 year 0 15(22%)
2 years 6(21%) 10(15%)
3 to 5 years 7(25%) 12(18%)
6 to 10 years 2(7%) 12(18%)
12 to 15 years 0 3(5%)
16 to 18 years 0 3(5%)
22 to 28 years 0 4(6%)
35 to 37 years 0 3(5%)
43 years 0 1(1%)
Thus, the effects of stalking are various and wide reaching. Some victims
reported that they were too afraid to go out in public:
I curtailed my social life to zero over this last 6 to 8 months, have not been anywhere
or really spoken to anyone.
Others expressed the permanent damage that they felt that their stalker had
inflicted:
Although this ceased approximately 9 years ago, I have not recovered from the
effects. The psychological damage to me has been incalculable. It has shattered my
trust in men because once I loved this man and he was really a monster underneath
it all. I look at all men now and think that this monster is probably lurking very near
the surface and I am deeply afraid.
The emotional/mental strain placed on me has completely taken over my life.This
man has left me half the person I used to be. General everyday affairs can cause me
great anxiety. Stalking affects every aspect of your life from family to work to rela-
tionships. I trust no-one, and am suspicious of all. I am different than most girls and
know that this difference is the result of the extra baggage that ‘casualties of stalkers’
carry with them 24 hours a day.
Still other victims spoke of the effects that their stalker had had not only on
them, but also on their close ones:
Our lives had been devastated. My wife still undergoes psychiatric therapy.
She has had nightmares EVERY night for the past 8 years.
My daughter has constant nightmares.
I became obsessively involved and so inwardly focused, that my wife thought I had
another woman. I did, the female stalker was possessing my thoughts night and day.
One victim put her worst fear into words:
He is going to kill me.
People in the sample were asked if they had made specific changes at all
during the time that they were stalked. Just 6% (6) said that no, they had
not. Nearly half (44%) said that they had altered their behaviour in such
matters as taking a different route to work, or stopping going out alone in
public, and had changed their telephone number, and had moved house. A
further 20% (19) had made behavioural changes, and had also altered their
telephone number. One woman reported that:
I change my appearance, change my hair colour, dress differently, even walk differ-
ently.
Over a fifth of victims (22%) said that they had moved either to another
county or overseas in an attempt to escape their stalker. However, such
measures were not effective in all cases, due to the sheer tenacity of some
stalkers:
I moved 200 miles away – I did this suddenly, almost on a whim. Three weeks later he
knocked at my door having somehow traced me. Considering I told on-one I had
moved this frightened me. He has strange ways of finding out information. He knew
someone who had access to computers. He must have accessed the DVLC computer
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for the car details of my boyfriend to get his parents address, then used the Electoral
Register to get their names. He got his date of birth details without having his age.
He knows very quickly that I have moved twice even though I tell no-one.
Response of the Police
Most of the victims (92%, or 87) had reported the activities of their stalker
to the police. Victims indicated the response of the police as either positive
or negative, both for the first complaint of stalking and also for any subse-
quent complaint. The data may be seen in Table 9.
Overall, 33% of respondents (31) felt that the police had been very help-
ful, and 19% (18) were reasonably satisfied with the help they had received.
However, 41% (39) were unhappy with the way the police had handled their
case. The split between satisfaction and lack of it with police response is also
illustrated by the following comments:
Throughout the police have been sympathetic and supportive. (male victim)
The police just listen, say ‘ignore it’ and that’s it.
I called the police almost daily. They always came promptly, sometimes at 2am and
were sympathetic to my situation but powerless to help as no laws existed back then
for them to use against the stalker.
Some victims commented on what they felt to be the inadequacy of the law
to aid them:
I believe him to have been impersonating me on the internet but can’t prove a
damned thing. It is just so frustrating!
My wife knows that the law will not protect her. We honestly feel that only direct
action, outside of the law, is our only option. We are peaceful, law-abiding people,
but if the law won’t protect you, what are you supposed to do? Stalking is one of the
most serious crimes of the 1990s, but no-one, apart from the victims, seem to realise
it.
(Both these victims were writing prior to the introduction of the England
and Wales Protection from Harassment Act 1997.)
Another victim spoke about how her stalker mocked her efforts to seek
legal intervention:
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TABLE 9
Perceived Response of Police to Complaints of Stalking
police attitude police attitude police actions police
actions
– intial – further – intial – further
complaint complaint complaint complaint
positive 44(46%) 35(37%) 40(42%) 28(30%)
negative 44(46%) 39(41%) 48(51%) 46(48%)
not applicable 7(7%) 21(22%) 7(7%) 21(22%)
Consequently I feel I am a nuisance to the police. In fact my stalker in his latest corre-
spondence to me writes ‘Run along now to the police . . . I bet the police love you’.
A third of victims (34%) had attempted to obtain a civil injunction in order
to deter their stalker. A civil injunction was successfully obtained in 14 of the
30 cases (five more were awaiting outcome). Of the 19 cases where an
injunction was obtained, nine included the power of arrest. The injunctions
had been breached in 15 of the 19 cases, as one victim explains below:
My stalker is currently in prison for breaching the injunction order, this is his fourth
prison sentence he has served. I still have outstanding matters concerning my stalker
breaching the injunction which are due to be heard in court on the next month.
Of a total of 95 cases of stalking, 28% of stalkers (27) were convicted as a
result of their activities. Five more cases (6%) were awaiting outcome at the
time of the filling in of the questionnaires. However, even successful convic-
tions failed to allay the fears of several victims:
My stalker is due to be released from prison at the end of August this year – it’s like
waiting for a time bomb to go off! I feel powerless to stop the whole thing starting all
over again. Since he’s been in prison I’ve had the same number of letters as when he
was stalking me from the outside, and he’s also made some very serious threats.
Support
All bar one of the 95 respondents felt that the support available for British
and Northern Irish victims of stalking was inadequate. As stalking has only
recently been considered in a criminal justice context in England and
Wales, there are few support networks that provide help to stalking victims
specially. There exist two known to the author; both created by former
victims of stalking or their families. The other source of support open to
victims of stalking are the same as those available to victims of most intrusive
crimes, that is, the National Health Service where victims may seek coun-
selling via General Practitioner referral, private counselling, and general
victim support helplines. Given the seemingly high prevalence rate of stalk-
ing, it may be that in time, adequately funded victim support networks will
be set up in Britain specifically for stalking victims. As one victim suggested:
There doesn’t seem to be any support service for people who are being/have been
stalked. A service/counselling facility similar to that for rape victims etc. would
improve the psychological problems experienced by victims. It may even prevent the
long-term problems suffered by victims.
The other problematic aspect of support as highlighted by respondents was
that, at the start of the stalking period at least, they were not all taken seri-
ously:
The thing that really gets to me is that this ‘friend’ of mine can’t see the problem with
what J is doing, she thinks I should be flattered by the attention, and she would
love somebody to keep sending her gifts and being followed.
Almost half of the 95 victims who completed questionnaires said that when
they first realised that another individual was behaving toward them in an
overly intrusive and/or threatening manner, friends and family downplayed
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the idea that they were being ‘stalked’. Because some of the behaviour of
stalkers is, when viewed in isolation, ostensibly routine and harmless, it is
difficult for some victims to convey the discomfort and fear that they are
experiencing. To rectify this problem, additional research and education
concerning stalkers and their motives needs to take place. As one victim
states:
The worst part of the experience was lack of support from others, some who believed
that he was only acting out of ‘love turned to anger’. There is not justification for
behaviour which works away at a person’s sense of trust for other human beings and
makes them terrified at every moment of the night and day. It was psychological
torture, vicious and nothing whatsoever to do with love.
Limitations
In common with the investigations cited in the introduction, all samples are
non-random and as such generalisations to other survey results cannot be
made. Nor can generalisations be made to the entire population of victims
of stalking. An unknown number of individuals may not define themselves
as stalking victims, or if they do so, they may be unwilling to come forward
and speak openly about their experiences. However, many other victim-
based surveys share disadvantages not seen in the current sample. For
instance, the victims discussed in this article were not reluctant to divulge
their experiences as victims. All 95 independently approached the Suzy
Lamplugh Trust and volunteered their histories. Further, many had kept
ongoing records of their experiences and drew on these when completing
their questionnaires, thereby reducing the likelihood of response error due
to the frailty of memory. This survey is the only of its kind so far conducted
in the United Kingdom, and as such it provides a starting point for others
wishing to carry out exploratory studies into stalking and harassment.
Throughout this article, respondents were treated as genuine victims of
stalking and questionnaire responses are accepted as truthful, and so for the
sake of brevity, terms such as ‘alleged’ and ‘supposed’ have been omitted.
Conclusions
This investigation has revealed perturbing insight into the experiences of
stalking victims and has provided preliminary answers to some of the ques-
tions set in the introduction. Although stalking has a nebulous quality in
that it often involves no more than the targeted repetition of ostensibly ordi-
nary behaviours, most of the victims surveyed in this study reported shared
experiences. For instance, 91% had been repeatedly watched, 82% had
been followed, and 84% were victim to repetitive telephone calls. Thus, it
may be surmised that a ‘typical’ case of stalking would share these features.
Still, there was evidence of less endemic stalker behaviour. For instance,
30% of stalkers had stolen from their victims, and 13% were reported to
have bugged their victim’s homes.
In this study, 92% of victims were female. Their average age when the
stalking began was 34 years. The largest proportion (55%) were professional
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and clerical workers, or students. Their stalkers tended to be male (87%)
with a mean age of 35 years. Overall, stalkers were of far higher socio-
economic status than the majority of the criminal population. Unlike their
victims, stalkers tended to retain their socio-economic status as the stalking
went on. This was despite, in some cases, criminal charges being successfully
brought against them. Another perhaps unexpected finding was that stalk-
ers do not always conduct their campaigns single-handedly: 40% of victims
reported that their stalker was helped by family and/or friends. Just 5% of
respondents were sure that their stalker had never stalked any other person.
Over half of respondents (53%) reported threats of violence, and actual
violence was reported in 32% of cases. Friends and family of respondents
had also been assaulted in 17% of cases. What is clear from these findings is
that the support available for victims of stalking in the United Kingdom
needs to be developed and that legislative remedy, while welcomed by
victims, is in many cases still a palliative. A main complaint from the feminist
research on interpersonal violence is that criminal justice responses are far
from ideal (for example, Dobash and Dobash 1979; Stanko 1985; Edwards
1986). In England and Wales, stalking was not made illegal until 1 June
1997. Prior to the introduction in California of the world’s first anti-stalking
legislation, many of the behaviours engaged in by stalkers were not consid-
ered to be criminal (Attinello 1993). In terms of gendering sexual violence,
Walklate (1995) would encourage us to recognise the ‘pervasive way in
which presumptions concerning normal male heterosexuality underpin
(those) acts of violence and our understanding of them . . .’ (p. 94). May it
be surmised then that until recently, it was considered ‘normal’ for men to
stalk and intimidate their ex-partners, or that ‘faint heart never won fair
maiden’?
Stanko (1990) lists a number of studies which have concluded that in
general, woman are significantly more at risk of physical and sexual violence
perpetrated by former intimates than strangers (Russell 1982; Kelly 1988;
Warshaw 1989; Smith 1989). Stanko argues that despite clear evidence,
public discussion only really acknowledges the dangers that women face at
the hands of strangers. Further research is necessary to ascertain whether
this is the case with stalking, although it would certainly appear to be the
case that the media coverage portrays the ‘modal’ stalker as someone who
terrorises a stranger or, even more commonly, a celebrity.
Mullen, Pathé and Purcell (2000) suggest that the recognition of stalking
as a serious social problem and as a criminal act may have led to greater
protection for battered women. Indeed, some statutes (for example, the first
anti-stalking legislation in West Virginia, USA and in New South Wales,
Australia) confined their definition of stalking to those who had had a previ-
ous intimate relationship with their stalker.
There is an obvious link between stalking and domestic violence. In the
current sample, 48% of respondents were stalked by a prior intimate. There
had been no prior relationship between stalker and victim in just 12% of
cases. In the United States, Tjaden and Thoennes (1998) surveyed a nation-
ally representative sample of 8,000 women and 8,000 men, asking about
their experiences of violence, including stalking. One in twelve of the
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women reported being stalked at least once, as did one in 45 of the men. Of
those women who had been stalked, over half (59%) had been stalked by an
ex-intimate, compared to 23% by a stranger (the corresponding figures for
men were 30% and 36% respectively). A fifth of the women stalked by
former partners reported that the stalking had begun before the relation-
ship ended, 43% after the termination of the relationship, while 36% said it
had occurred both before and after the relationship had ended.
The Tjaden and Thoennes survey also found a strong link between stalk-
ing and other forms of violence in intimate and ex-intimate relationships.
For instance, 81% of women who were stalked by a former partner were also
physically assaulted by him. Further, ex-husbands who stalked were signifi-
cantly more likely than non-stalking ex-husbands to engage in controlling
and emotionally abusive behaviour toward their wife while the relationship
was still intact. These findings complement a survey of 120 respondents
charged with domestic violence offences, of whom 30% self-reported stalk-
ing behaviours (Burgess et al. 1997). Walker and Meloy (1998) state that
anecdotal and clinical reports of domestic violence clearly show that far
more abusive individuals ‘follow, harass, surveil, and frighten their partners
and ex-partners’ (p. 158) than are known to the criminal justice system.
These figures testify to the importance of investigations into violence and
relationship factors in stalking cases. As Burgess et al. (1997) note: ‘Stalking
behaviour is yet another repetitive interpersonal intrusive act that can have
lethal consequences’ (p. 398).1
Note
1Acknowledgement: The authors are most grateful to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust for
providing the study data.
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J.R. Meloy, The Psychology of Stalking. R. Saunders, The Legal Perspective on Stalking. K.K. Kienlen, Developmental and Social Antecedents of Stalking. M. Zona, R.E. Palarea, and J.C. Lane, Jr., Psychiatric Diagnosis and the Victim-Offender Typology of Stalking. G. Skoler, The Archetypes and Psychodynamics of Stalking. D.M. Hall, The Victims of Stalking. L.E. Walker and J.R. Meloy, Stalking and Domestic Violence. J.R. Lion and J.A. Herschler, The Stalking of Clinicians by their Patients. R.A. Fein and B. Vossekuil, Preventing Attacks on Public Officials and Public Figures: A Secret Service Perspective. R. Lloyd-Goldstein, De Clerambault On-Line: A Survey of Erotomania and Stalking from the Old World to the World Wide Web. J. Meyers, Cultural Factors in Erotomania and Obsessional Following. K. Mohandie, C. Hatcher, and D. Raymond, False Victimization Syndromes in Stalking. G.S. Lipson and M.J. Mills, Stalking, Erotomania, and the Tarasoff Cases. D. Westrup, Applying Functional Analysis to Stalking Behavior. S.G. White and J.S. Cawood, Threat Management of Stalking Cases. Index.
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