Are Stalkers Recidivists? Repeated Offending by Convicted Stalkers

Article (PDF Available)inViolence and Victims 26(1):3-15 · February 2011with37 Reads
DOI: 10.1891/0886-6708.26.1.3 · Source: PubMed
Abstract
Stalking is an obsessive behavior. Legal definitions generally characterize stalking as repetitive conduct. It may therefore be expected that recidivism by stalkers is high. We investigated court statistics of stalking cases to establish which proportion relapses in stalking behavior after a conviction and what other types of new crimes they commit. Case files of stalking cases have been investigated to find out whether and which neutralization techniques are used by stalkers to justify harassing behaviors. Stalkers who do recidivate do so quickly after a conviction. They appear to make use of various neutralization techniques. There is a small group of highly obsessive stalkers that seems not to be stopped by any of the measures, sanctions, or interventions that are imposed.
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© 2011 Springer Publishing Company 3
DOI: 10.1891/0886-6708.26.1.3
Violence and Victims, Volume 26, Number 1, 2011
Are Stalkers Recidivists? Repeated
Offending by Convicted Stalkers
Marijke Malsch, PhD
Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR)
Jan W. de Keijser, PhD
Leiden University
Sofia E. C. Debets, MSc
Court of Appeal, Amsterdam
Stalking is an obsessive behavior. Legal definitions generally characterize stalking as
repetitive conduct. It may therefore be expected that recidivism by stalkers is high. We
investigated court statistics of stalking cases to establish which proportion relapses in
stalking behavior after a conviction and what other types of new crimes they commit. Case
files of stalking cases have been investigated to find out whether and which neutralization
techniques are used by stalkers to justify harassing behaviors. Stalkers who do recidivate
do so quickly after a conviction. They appear to make use of various neutralization tech-
niques. There is a small group of highly obsessive stalkers that seems not to be stopped by
any of the measures, sanctions, or interventions that are imposed.
Keywords: stalking; recidivism; harassment; neutralization techniques; psychological
justifications
S
talking is a type of behavior that is repetitive by nature. Most, but not all, legal defi-
nitions of “stalking” in countries worldwide characterize stalking as a type of con-
duct that repeats itself over time (De Fazio, 2009; Groenen, 2006; Malsch, 2007).
This inherent repetitiveness makes stalking a crime with distinctive characteristics.
When stalking is criminally prosecuted, some kind of law enforcement measure may
be imposed, either for the duration of the proceedings in the form of preventive custody,
or as a (definitive) court-imposed sanction. In such a situation, the stalker is (temporarily)
incapacitated from performing the behaviors that gave rise to the legal interventions. Some
time after this measure or sanction has ended, it may be established whether the stalker
has relapsed into his
1
harassing behavior, or whether he has stopped. In this article, the
recidivism of convicted stalkers is examined. The article looks at the convicted stalkers’
criminal behaviors after they had been convicted, and it also pays attention to the occur-
rence of invasion of other types of measures or orders.
From the 1990s onward, various countries, both in Europe and in other parts of
the world, have introduced stalking laws. Research into the implementation of these
laws shows that, at least in the Netherlands and Belgium, the laws are being used on an
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
4 Malsch et al.
increasing scale (Malsch, Groenen, de Keijser, & Vervaeke, 2009). Since the introduc-
tion of the new Dutch stalking law, the number of registered stalking cases has witnessed
a substantial growth in this country. The new law can be characterized as “successful”
in the sense that a substantial volume of cases has reached the court and has been tried
by judges. Many stalkers have been convicted and have received a sanction (Malsch, de
Keijser, & Rodjan, 2006). The number of Belgian stalking cases has also grown enor-
mously after the introduction of a stalking law in that country (Groenen, 2006). In view of
the repetitive nature of stalking, the question may be asked, however, whether these laws
are sufficient to end this behavior. Stalking is a highly obsessive type of conduct, which
seems difficult to effectively combat with conventional penal interventions (Malsch,
2004; Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007). A considerable proportion of stalkers have invaded
restraining or protection orders in the past, which suggests that their preparedness or
capacity to follow directives concerning their conduct is low (Attinello, 1997; Debets,
2008; Malsch et al., 2006; Nicastro, Cousins, & Spitzberg, 2000).
The Dutch stalking law has come into force in the year 2000. At present, about a decade
later, it is possible to investigate whether stalkers who have been convicted for stalking
during the first years of the law have since recidivated, and, if so, for what type of crime.
This article deals with the issue of recidivism of stalkers. First, we will briefly discuss the
existing literature on stalking, the stalking laws, and recidivism. Next, we will explain
the methods that have been used for collecting data on the recidivism of stalkers. On top
of looking at court statistics of stalking cases, we have analyzed case files with the aim
of gaining more insight into the backgrounds of recidivating stalking. We will address
theoretical notions based on the neutralization techniques of Sykes and Matza (1957) to
tentatively explain recidivism by stalkers.
TYPOLOGIES OF STALKING, STALKERS, AND THEIR VICTIMS
An extensive literature exists on the backgrounds of stalking, stalkers, and their victims
(Groenen, 2006; Malsch, 2004; Malsch et al., 2006; Malsch, 2007; Meloy, 1998; Mullen,
Pathé, & Purcell, 2000; Pathé & Mullen, 1997; Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007; Tjaden &
Thoennes, 1998; Zona, Sharma, & Lane, 1993). In general, this literature portrays stalking
as an obsessive behavior that is difficult to stop. Most stalking takes place in a situation in
which a relationship has ended and the partner who has been left tries to restore the contact
with the victim. A smaller proportion of cases refers to a situation in which the stalker and
the victim either do not know each other personally, such as in cases of celebrity stalk-
ing, or have had only slight contact before the stalking started. In view of the vast body
of research that exists on the characteristics of stalking and the wide scale on which the
findings have been disseminated, we do not intend to provide an exhaustive description of
the literature here.
Various typologies of stalkers and stalking have been created. Factors such as the type
of the previous relationship with the victim, the motives, the type of behaviors, and the
prevalence of mental disorders differ between stalkers, and they enable various typologies
(Meloy, 1998; Mullen et al., 2000; Zona, Sharma, & Lane, 1993; Sheridan & Boon, 2002;
Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007). Mohandie, Meloy, McGowan, and Williams (2006) have
developed a typology based on the relationship between the stalker and the victim. This
typology’s name is RECON (relationship and context-based). The stalker’s mental state is
left out of this typology, and it focuses exclusively on the type of the previous relationship.
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
Are Stalkers Recidivists? 5
This typology identifies two categories of stalkers: one in which a previous relationship
existed between the stalker and the victim, and the other, in which there has been no such
relationship or only very incidental contacts have taken place. Type I can be further divided
into stalkers who have had a romantic relationship with the victim and stalkers who have
been just friends or acquaintances of the victim. Type II can be subdivided into celebrity
stalking and stalkers who have not, or only slightly, known their victim previously. This
typology is not complex and it can be used in various situations and for several purposes.
The categories do not overlap. The quantitative data that we have used for this article do
not allow for more in-depth analyses of the relational and other backgrounds of the stalk-
ing cases. Therefore, as far as we refer in this article to subdivisions within the group of
stalkers, we make use of the typology of Mohandie et al. (2006).
JUSTIFICATIONS AND RATIONALIZATIONS FOR STALKING
BEHAVIORS
Often, victims of stalking try to stop it by talking to the perpetrator or by taking certain
measures. The police, after having been notified by the victim, also sometimes contact the
stalker to try to persuade him to desist from harassing the victim. It may thus be presumed
that stalkers at least have a certain notion of the fact that their attempts to come into
contact with the victim are disapproved of. We expect that neutralization techniques and
other types of justifications and rationalizations for one’s own behaviors do play an active
role for stalkers in order to reject disapproval from themselves and from others (see also
Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007, p. 78).
Sykes and Matza (1957) have described several of these neutralization techniques.
Central to these neutralization techniques is a general denial of responsibility for one’s
actions. Perpetrators attempt to reduce the disapproval, both their own and that of others,
by these techniques. Injury incurred by victims may be denied, or even the very existence
of a victim. The victim himself or herself may be transformed into a wrongdoer. The latter
is the case when condemners are condemned themselves. When being accused, perpetra-
tors may shift the focus of attention from their own actions to the motives and behavior
of those who disapprove of their violations (Sykes & Matza, 1957, p. 668). Sometimes,
perpetrators appeal to higher loyalties to justify their behaviors. They may present it as
though a dilemma has occurred between the demands of persons in their direct surround-
ings on the one hand, and invading the law on the other, which has given them arguments
to trespass the law.
According to Cupach, Spitzberg, and Carson (2000), obsessive stalkers may miscon-
strue neutral or rejecting behaviors by their victim as encouragement. The negative conse-
quences of the stalkers’ own deviant actions are downplayed or overlooked by themselves,
and they fail to realize the anxiety and inconvenience they create for their victims.
By studying case files of perpetrators who have repeatedly been convicted for stalking,
we attempted to detect the rationalizations they used. The case files studied contained sev-
eral reports of interviews by law enforcement officials with both suspects of stalking and
their victims, as well as reports of mental health experts who investigated potential mental
disorders the suspects may have suffered from. These documents disclosed rationalizations
used by stalkers to justify their behaviors. As a consequence of the rationalizations they
use, we expected that stalkers will feel justified to continue harassing their victim without
feeling responsible for the distress they cause.
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
6 Malsch et al.
After a discussion of the quantitative findings on recidivism, the second part of the
presentation of the results in this article will therefore pay attention to the analysis of
20 case files of repeated stalking. This part of the article is largely focused on the use of
neutralization techniques. In view of the limited number of cases involved in this analysis,
caution is required regarding the generalization of the findings.
RECIDIVISM OF STALKERS
Recidivism of convicted stalkers has, as yet, not been investigated on a large scale. Rosenfeld
(2003), the only study known to the authors on repeated offending by stalkers, has found
that 49% of the convicted stalkers and perpetrators of “harassment crimes” recidivated.
Rosenfeld classified offenders as having reoffended if there was any indication of a second
arrest or renewed harassment. Of this group of recidivating stalkers, 80% did so within
1 year after a conviction (Rosenfeld, 2004). Younger offenders were significantly more
likely to reoffend than older offenders. In addition, offenders with a prior intimate rela-
tionship with the victim were significantly more at risk for reoffending (Rosenfeld, 2003).
Offenders who suffer from personality disorders, such as antisocial and narcissistic person-
ality or borderline disorders, appeared to have a larger probability of reoffending. Convicted
stalkers with both a personality disorder and a history of addiction were also at risk for
reoffending. Erotomania, a disorder involving the delusion of being loved by the victim,
was surprisingly accompanied by a lower risk of reoffending (Rosenfeld, 2004). These
percentages largely correspond with the findings of Dutch research into repeated offending
for several crimes other than stalking (Wartna & Tollenaar, 2006; Wartna, Tollenaar, &
Blom, 2005). Thus, stalkers do not seem to recidivate more often than perpetrators of other
types of crime. However, the criteria for recidivism in the studies of Rosenfeld (2003,
2004), Wartna et al. (2005), and Wartna and Tollenaar (2006) on the one hand, and our study
on the other, differ from one another. The first-mentioned studies employ a wider criterion:
“new contacts with the police,whereas our study uses only new convictions by a court as
a criterion. If the criterion of the other studies would have been used, our study might have
found a larger volume of new crimes than is the case at present.
About one-third of the perpetrators in this study had been subject to one or more civil
restraining orders prior to appearing before a criminal court but invaded these orders
(Malsch, 2007). Other research also found invasion of protective orders (see Logan &
Cole, 2007; Mechanic, Weaver, & Resick, 2002; Van der Aa & Groenen, 2011). This
finding again illustrates that stalkers are an obsessive group of perpetrators, because these
orders apparently had not been effective to stop their harassing behaviors.
OTHER TYPES OF CRIME COMMITTED BY STALKERS
In both the Netherlands and Belgium, stalking was in most cases not the only crime for
which stalkers were convicted (Groenen, 2006; Malsch, 2004; Malsch, 2007; Malsch et
al., 2009). It is often perpetrated in combination with threatening the victim, physical
abuse, destruction of property, theft, unlawfully entering the home, (attempted) homicide,
rape, burglary, robbery, and forgery (Malsch et al., 2009). Previous studies have shown
that stalking is often perpetrated in combination with other crimes, many of which are of
a violent nature (Davis, Frieze, & Maiuro, 2002). A Dutch study has shown that stalkers
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
Are Stalkers Recidivists? 7
regularly switch from one type of crime to the other, just like they also switch from one
stalking method to the other. Thus, stalkers do not seem to restrict themselves to only one
type of action or one type of crime. Most criminal acts are committed against the same
victim (Malsch, 2007).
This article investigates to what extent convicted stalkers recidivate, and if they do so,
for what types of crime. It also explores whether stalkers relapse into crimes that do not
mount up to stalking in the strict sense of the word, but which are nevertheless inherently
linked to stalking, such as threat, defamation, unlawfully entering the home, and crimes
against the legal order/destruction of property.
METHODS
Data
We used a database that is constructed and maintained by the Research and Documentation
Centre (RDC) of the Dutch Ministry of Justice. The name of this database is Research and
Policy Database for Judicial Documentation.
2
This database includes all crimes brought
to the attention of the prosecution and all actions taken by the Public Prosecution Service
and by the courts with regard to these (alleged) crimes. From this database, we selected
the criminal histories of perpetrators who were found guilty of stalking by a court between
July 2000 and December 2003. Cases in which the defendant was found guilty for other
crimes on top of stalking were also included. The sample thus covered all perpetrators
who were convicted for (at least) stalking during the first 3.5 years of the existence of the
Dutch stalking law. The selected sample enabled an investigation of the recidivism of these
perpetrators after their conviction for stalking. In total, 709 convicted stalkers have been
investigated. Of these stalkers, 90% were male.
Observation Period
Of each convicted stalker in the sample, it was established if, when, and for which new
crime(s) he or she was convicted during a period starting the day after his or her conviction
by a court for stalking, and ending on January 1, 2008. This period is called the “obser-
vation period.Although the start of the observation period differed for each convicted
stalker, because the dates of their convictions differed, the end of the observation period
was equal for each stalker in the sample.
3
In November 2000, the first conviction for stalking under the new law took place,
by which time the observation period for this convicted stalker started. The last stalker
included in the sample was convicted in December 2003, by which time the observation
period of this particular perpetrator started. The length of the various individual observa-
tion periods for all stalkers in the sample thus ranged from 7 years and 2 months to 4 years
and 1 month, with a mean of 5 years and 1 month.
Summarizing, two periods are relevant for the data collection and for the analysis of
the database. The first period ranged from July 2000 (the coming into force of the Dutch
stalking law) to December 2003. All perpetrators convicted for stalking during this period
are included in the sample. The second period relevant for our study ranged from a point
in time that differs for all members of the sample, namely the date of their first conviction
by a court for stalking, to January 1, 2008. We have investigated whether the individuals
sampled during the first period have recidivated during this second period.
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
8 Malsch et al.
Survival Analysis
We used a “survival analysis” (De Vogel & De Ruiter, 2003; Kalbfleisch & Prentice, 2002)
to establish the period during which perpetrators were not convicted for new crimes after
their first convictions for stalking (had “survived”). For each month within this period, we
established which percentage of all stalkers in the sample had not relapsed into criminal
behavior (i.e., had remained without reoffending). We removed each offender who recidi-
vated from the sample. The database made it possible to analyze relations between preva-
lence, frequency, and speed of recidivism on the one hand, and variables such as criminal
record on the other. On top of that, we investigated the nature of the new crimes with the
help of information obtained from the perpetrators’ criminal histories.
Analysis of Case Files
We analyzed 20 case files of convicted stalkers. These stalkers had reoffended with a stalk-
ing crime and were convicted for this new crime as well. The case files were inspected in
situ at the selected courts. We conducted the analysis with the help of a checklist, which
was constructed based on the checklists used in previous research on stalking (Malsch,
2004, 2007). The aim of this part of the research was to explore more in-depth the stalkers’
motives for repeating the crime, the psychological justifications for their behaviors, and
the types of punishments that were imposed in case of repeated stalking.
RESULTS
Quantitative Findings
Recidivism: Volume and Type of Crime. The analysis of the database showed that 53% of
the 709 convicted stalkers recidivated during the total observation period.
4
It appeared that
those offenders who recidivated with a stalking crime (11% of all convicted stalkers), did
so the most speedily: After only 7 months, half of them had again committed a stalking
crime.
5
Within a short period directly after the conviction, a proportion of all perpetra-
tors had thus recidivated with a new stalking crime. By contrast, recidivism to unlawfully
entering the home took a far longer period: It took 30 months before half of them had
relapsed into this crime.
In total, the stalkers were convicted for 1,955 new crimes after their conviction for stalking.
Most new crimes had nothing to do with stalking (58%). In this category, crimes can be found
such as drunk driving or speeding, theft and fencing, drug crimes, and economic crimes.
Almost a quarter (24%) of the new crimes are in one way or another related to stalking, such
as threat, defamation, the destruction of property and crimes against the legal order, and
unlawfully entering the home. Half of the group of convicted stalkers who recidivated for one
of these crimes did so within a period of 15 months. This type of recidivism thus takes place
less speedily than is the case with repeated stalking, but it has a larger volume.
New violent crimes were committed by 17% of all convicted stalkers during the total
observation period. The period that is required for half of these convicted stalkers to com-
mit their violent crimes is 19 months. Recidivism to violent crime thus takes place at a
substantially slower pace than recidivism to other types of crime.
Criminal History. To establish the relationship between previous convictions and
recidivism, the total group of convicted stalkers has been subdivided in subgroups based
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
Are Stalkers Recidivists? 9
on their criminal history. Stalkers with more previous convictions appeared to be more
at risk for reoffending: Of both the groups of frequent (7–9 previous convictions) and of
persistent (10 or more previous convictions) offenders, 81% had recidivated. Of the group
of first offenders, only 26% had recidivated, whereas of the group of incidental offenders
(1–3 previous convictions), 48% had recidivated. The differences between the groups are
significant.
6
Summarizing. When they recidivate, stalkers do not seem to specialize in one specific
crime. They commit various types of crime. However, when we include the crimes that
are related to stalking, the perpetrators might be considered “specialists” to a larger degree
than when we only look at stalking in the strict sense of the word. It cannot be precluded
that, after their conviction for stalking, they continue to commit crimes that are not legally
qualified as stalking, but that are nevertheless of a comparative nature, such as threat,
defamation, destruction of property and crimes against the legal order, and unlawfully
entering the home. An alternative explanation may be that the prosecution and the court
apply different legal qualifications to the behaviors that have been found proven.
The speed of recidivism is the highest with regard to a relapse into a stalking crime,
and a relapse into related types of crime occurs rather quickly as well. Being convicted
may lead to fresh anger or the desire to contact the victim. That may be the reason for the
velocity with which new stalking and related crimes take place. In line with what is known
from other research into recidivism, there is an association with the number of previous
convictions: Those stalkers who had been previously convicted many times were more at
risk for recidivism than first offenders were.
The Analysis of Case Files of Recidivating Stalkers
We collected 20 case files of convicted stalkers who had reoffended with a stalking crime.
The courts where these recidivating stalkers had been tried for their new crimes were the
District Courts of Utrecht (eight cases), The Hague (six cases), and Haarlem (four cases),
and the Court of Appeal of Arnhem (two cases; Debets, 2008). The aim of this part of the
research was, on top of the statistical findings, to gain insight into the backgrounds of
repeated stalking, the stalkers’ motives for recommencing, and the justifications uttered
for doing so. We also intended to establish whether courts sentence differently in case of
repeated offending.
In 15 cases (75%), the perpetrator had previously been convicted for stalking only
once. Four offenders (20%) had twice been previously convicted for stalking, whereas
one offender (5%) even had four previous convictions for stalking. In 17 cases (85%),
the victim had also been the victim in the previous stalking case against the same per-
petrator, whereas in 3 cases, the previous victim had been a different person. The col-
lected case files, thus, cover a body of cases of persistent stalking, mostly directed to
the same victim.
As far as the case files were clear on this point, there was a mean period of 6 months
between the conviction for stalking and the occurrence of a new stalking crime for which
a conviction followed. Five stalkers (25%) even resumed their stalking within 1 week
after their conviction. This finding is in line with the findings presented previously, which
revealed that stalkers who resume stalking generally do so quickly after their conviction.
Most of the stalkers (75%) have also been convicted for other types of crime on top of
stalking. Most of these crimes concerned threats, batteries, thefts, and destruction of property.
This finding corresponds with the previously presented results regarding the criminality of
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
10 Malsch et al.
stalkers. It is also in line with the findings regarding stalking cases tried by courts in the first
5 years of the Dutch stalking law (Malsch et al., 2006; Malsch et al., 2009).
Backgrounds. The 20 cases concerned 19 male stalkers and 1 female stalker. The mean
age at the time of reoffending was 39 years. Most repeated stalking took place after the
termination of a romantic relationship (85%). As far as has become clear from the case
files, most motivations to (re)commit stalking had to do with attempts to restore a relation-
ship (45%), attempts to have contact with a child (35%), jealousy (15%), love (15%), and
rage (5%). In three cases, the stalking had a background of erotomania: The stalker was
convinced, contrary to reality, that the victim was in love with him or her.
Based on the typology of Mohandie et al. (2006), the relationships between the stalkers
and their victims can be placed in two categories: one in which a previous relationship
has existed between the stalker and the victim (19 cases), and the other in which there has
been no such relationship (1 case). In total, 16 cases (80%) concerned a previous intimate
relationship, whereas 3 cases concerned people who had known each other in advance
without having had an intimate relationship (neighbors, the new partner of the ex-partner,
and a former colleague). The other group consisted of only one case, in which the stalker
and the victim had not previously known each other (an employee of a shop and one of
her clients).
Various stalking methods were used by the perpetrators in these cases, of which harass-
ing the victim by telephone, lingering near the home, and uttering threats were the most
common. The perpetrators used a mean number of three stalking methods.
Neutralization Techniques. We examined the case files with regard to techniques used
by the stalkers to escape responsibility for their behaviors, or to justify them (Debets, 2008;
Sykes & Matza, 1957). As appeared from the reports of interviews and from other documents
included in the case files, in 15 cases (75%), the stalker denied responsibility for the stalking
and its consequences. The stalkers in these cases stated that the encounters with the victims
had taken place by accident” and that they had not intentionally sought contact with them.
In half of the cases, it was contended that stalking was not the primary intention of the perpe-
trator. According to the perpetrators, the victims had played an important role in the contacts
that were established. As the stalkers stated, the victims themselves had regularly tried to
establish contact with the stalker. As a consequence, this then had motivated the stalkers to
continue seeking contact with the victims. In one of these cases, the relationship had indeed
been restored for a certain period, after which it was broken up again (see also Logan & Cole,
2007). Therefore, it may be tentatively concluded that the victim’s conduct may actually have
influenced the perpetrator’s behaviors in at least one of the cases analyzed.
“Denial of injury” is a neutralization technique that was also regularly used (in nine
cases, 45%; Sykes & Matza, 1957). In three of these cases, the perpetrator stated that his
behavior resulted from his love for the victim, and he denied the intention to harm her. The
stalkers in these cases also denied the actual harm that was incurred by the victims.
In some cases, the stalker justified his behavior by stating that he was trying to meet
with his children, thereby denying or justifying his stalking of the mother. Some stalkers
were of the opinion that the mother would not suffer from their attempts to see the children
(“denial of injury”). We observed the neutralization technique of “condemning the con-
demner” (Sykes & Matza, 1957) in a case in which the perpetrator accused his victim that
this person had swindled him. This would have been the reason for this stalker to continue
establishing contact with his victim.
It may be concluded that almost all stalkers in these cases made use of neutralization
techniques to justify their behaviors. Each of them appeared to use more than one of
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
Are Stalkers Recidivists? 11
these techniques. The techniques of “denial of responsibility” and “denial of injury” were
employed most often. This tendency seems in agreement with findings of Meloy (1998)
who has found that stalkers often utter psychological objections against the charges of
stalking brought out against them. With these psychological objections, they would justify
their own behaviors.
It is not clear whether stalkers use neutralization techniques more often than perpetra-
tors of other types of crime. However, in view of the persistence of at least part of the
group of stalkers, it is not unconceivable that this is the case. The 20 case files investigated
present cases in which repeated convictions for stalking have taken place. Especially for
these perpetrators, neutralization techniques may have played an important role in enabling
them to continue their harassing behaviors without feeling guilty about it. Rationalizations
may thus open the door to future criminality.
Measures Taken. In four of the cases analyzed, the victims had taken the initiative to
talk to the perpetrator to make him stop the stalking. These meetings generally had an
adverse effect, because they instilled hope in the stalker of a continuation of the relation-
ship. In two cases, the victim had taken a new telephone number, but in one of these cases,
the perpetrator had been able to obtain the new number and had resumed stalking her. Two
victims had previously applied for and received a restraining order by a court against the
stalker, but in both cases, this had not stopped the harassing behaviors. In no less than five
cases, the victim had moved to a new home to escape the stalker. This has been effective
to the extent that the stalker no longer lingered near these victims’ homes. However, some
stalkers then started to harass the victims’ family members to obtain the victims’ new
address and the stalking had, if they succeeded, recommenced. A stalker of a victim who
was connected to the AWARE
7
alarm system was not prevented from harassing her with
his car, outside, in the street, even trying to push her aside with the car.
All 20 stalkers had been taken into preventive custody prior to the court session in
their case. In eight cases, the preventive custody was conditionally suspended. Among the
conditions imposed was the condition that the defendant must not try to come into contact
with the victim. In five of these eight cases, however, the defendant invaded these condi-
tions and, as far as has become clear from the case files, three of them have been retaken
into custody as a consequence.
These findings, although not representative of all stalking cases, suggest a substantial
obsessiveness on the part of the stalkers. As a result, victims face great difficulties when
they try to escape their harassers or to avoid contact.
Court Decisions. Prison terms were imposed by the courts in five cases (25%). Partly
suspended prison terms have been imposed in eight cases (40%). In the remaining cases,
other types of suspended penalties have been imposed, and in some cases, these penalties
are combined with community service. In two cases, the defendant was considered not
accountable for his behaviors because of a mental disorder. The execution of a suspended
prison term that had been imposed in a previous case by a court was ordered by the courts
in no less than 13 cases. The stalkers had invaded the conditions for the suspended prison
terms that were imposed in these previous cases, which can, again, be considered a sign
of their obsessiveness.
Probably because the cases concerned perpetrators who had been convicted for stalking
before and who, in the present case, were again prosecuted for stalking, no community
services without another type of penalty, or fines, were imposed.
8
The courts probably
considered a mere community service as too lenient a sanction to be imposed for repeated
stalking. In general, sentences imposed in these cases of recidivating stalkers were more
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
12 Malsch et al.
serious than those for the stalkers tried in the first 5 years of the Dutch stalking law
(Malsch et al., 2006; Malsch et al., 2009). In this last-mentioned sample, (partly) sus-
pended sentences were imposed in a substantially larger proportion of cases (70%) than
in the present study (40%).
In general, sentences that have been imposed on this recidivating group of stalkers are
more punitive than was the case for first offenders. However, it cannot be precluded that
the cases under concern represent more serious incidents of stalking as compared with the
“older” cases, thereby justifying more severe sanctions.
DISCUSSION
Stalkers are a group of people who do not recidivate extremely often. The prevalence of
recidivism among this group is comparable to that found in other studies (Rosenfeld, 2003;
Wartna et al., 2005).
9
When the perpetrators in the sample reoffended for a stalking crime,
they did so quickly after their conviction, more quickly than a relapse into other types of
crime takes place (on separation as a risk factor, see Davis, Ace, & Andra, 2002; Mechanic
et al., 2002). This finding may be caused by the fact that most stalking is directed against
the ex-partner. When stalking starts, the relationship between the stalker and his or her
partner generally has only recently ended, and the emotions resulting from the separation
still abound, leading to harassing behaviors. In a similar vein, having just been convicted
by a court for stalking may lead to renewed feelings of anger and regret. This may stimu-
late the stalker to immediately recommence seeking contact with the victim.
There is a considerable group, most of them first offenders, incidental or infrequent
stalkers, that remains without reoffending after their conviction for stalking. Of the group
of first offenders, 74% has not recidivated during the observation period. It is not justi-
fied to simply attribute this absence of recidivism to the court decision in these cases.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that there is a certain group of stalkers, most of whom do
not have a criminal record, who seem to desist from committing new crimes after having
been convicted.
It is furthermore surprising that the group of perpetrators investigated does hardly or
not at all specialize in stalking. Previous research has shown that stalking is often perpe-
trated together with other types of crime, of which a considerable proportion is of a violent
nature (Davis, Frieze, et al., 2002; Malsch et al., 2006; Malsch et al., 2009). The findings
presented in this article seem to confirm these findings: Stalking is only one of the various
types of crime that stalkers commit, and 58% of the new crimes have nothing to do with
stalking. After their conviction, several new types of crime are committed, of which more
than half have nothing to do with stalking.
However, about a quarter of the group of recidivating stalkers continues with related
types of crime that are also directed at the same victim (26%). It cannot be precluded that
stalkers, after their conviction, broaden their scope and try to find other means of harassing
the victim that were not legally qualified as “stalking.We should, therefore, be cautious to
conclude too easily that a large group of stalkers stops stalking after being convicted.
The obsessive nature of at least part of the group of stalkers was again shown in this
study. In case of repeated offending, not only did the stalking often recommence directly
after a conviction by a court, but it also became evident from the fact that the measures
taken by the victims themselves were not effective. The case files showed that even mov-
ing to a new home did not have the effect that the stalker refrained from his harassing
Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
Are Stalkers Recidivists? 13
behaviors. An alarm system installed into the home resulted in increased stalking outside
in the street. When they had been subject to prior restraining or protection orders, or when
they had previously been convicted to a suspended sentence, these stalkers more often
than not had invaded these orders or conditions to a suspended sanction. Furthermore,
the group of most persistent stalkers appeared to make use of several neutralization tech-
niques to escape responsibility for their own actions, or to accuse the victim or others. Not
taking responsibility for one’s own actions may lead to a reduced motivation to change
stalking behavior on one’s own initiative. As a result, a continuation of the stalking might
be expected. This expectation is supported by the finding from the case files that when
stalkers are again convicted by a court for stalking, the victim of the crime is in 85% of
the cases the same person as before.
In conclusion, there is a small group of highly obsessive stalkers who has been addressed
in this study, and who deserves further attention in future research. The members of this
group do not seem to be stopped by any of the measures, sanctions, or interventions that
are imposed.
NOTES
1. Most stalkers are men (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). Therefore, we
use the male pronoun when referring to stalkers in this article.
2. Onderzoek-en Beleidsdatabase Justitiële Documentatie (OBJD) in Dutch.
3. Unfortunately, it was not possible to control for the period in which the convicted stalker
remained in detention. It might be expected that while in prison, stalkers are impeded to approach
their victims or seek contact with them. However, previous research has shown that even while
being in detention, stalkers sometimes continue to harass their victims. Relapse into stalking thus
seems possible even when being detained (Malsch, Visscher, & Blaauw, 2002). On top of that, only
a relatively small part of the cases do end in an unconditional prison term, at least in the Netherlands
(Malsch et al., 2006).
4. The prevalence of recidivism presented is in line with general figures of repeated offending
(Wartna & Tollenaar, 2006).
5. Six percent of all new crimes concerned stalking crimes. Only a relatively small proportion of
all new crimes thus presents “special recidivism” (a repetition of the same crime).
6. p 5 0.00 for each comparison between the groups, while using a Breslow test (Breslow 5 146,48;
df 5 1, p 5 0.000).
7. Abused Women’s Active Response Emergency (AWARE)
8. See Malsch, 2004, for a description of the sentencing in stalking cases that did not (primarily)
concern recidivating stalking.
9. However, when employing the same criterion as used in these other studies, the recidivism of
Dutch stalkers might be substantially higher than the figures presented here.
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Copyright © Springer Publishing Company, LLC
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