April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It just so happens that I’m currently working on a presentation for stalking for school, so I figured I could share some knowledge with all of you. I will cite my sources the best I can and put them at the bottom, but know that they are journal articles so unless you’re affiliated with a university it’s likely that you won’t be able to access them for free.
Temporary note: Dr. Marshall, if you find this when checking my ABs for plagiarism this is me, I promise.
What is stalking?
Until fairly recently, stalking wasn’t a recognized crime, but it existed well before that. Personally, I know that my aunt was stalked before I was born and while she got a restraining order for harassment, the police didn’t do anything to put an end to her stalker’s pursuit of her. It wasn’t until she got married that he finally left her alone. The stalking went on for years.
In 1994 in California stalking was officially deemed a crime. In England and Wales, it was the Harassment Act introduced in 1997 that provided protection for stalking victims but wasn’t until 2012 that the word “stalking” was actually put in legislation to further protect victims (Scott, Nixon, & Sheridan, 2013). Stalking is defined as “repeated pursuit and harassment of another causing fear or bodily harm” (Menard & Pincus, 2012, p. 2184).
Because it is so new, there are some problems with its definition. For one, stalking is a gender-biased crime. Women are more likely than men to fear their stalker (Owens, 2015), and without the fear element stalking is simply considered harassment. These victims go through the same experiences, but when a women would fear a man showing up at her workplace a man might simply be annoyed if a girl who had been staking him showed up at his favorite bar. While stalking victims are typically women and stalking perpetrators are typically men (Menard & Pincus, 2012), any combination of gender or sexuality is possible. I had a very unlucky roommate who was stalked by a lesbian and a straight male within a single year.
Why care about stalking?
Estimates vary wildly for how prevalent stalking is in the United States. Some estimates guess that 2% of men and 8% of women will be stalked in their lifetime (Reyns & Englebrecht, 2012) to 7% of men and 16% of women (Kraaij, Arensman, Garenfski, & Kremers, 2007). Chances are that you know someone who has been stalked or has stalked someone.
Stalking isn’t just about someone calling you repeatedly and constantly checking up on your Facebook. It isn’t annoying or humorous, like some girls seem to think when they utter the phrase, “Ugh, he remembered my birthday, what a total stalker.” Men and women have been killed by their stalker or sustained other serious injuries. Women can suffer PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
In addition, stalking can affect women’s employment. Stalking has been associated with absenteeism from work, reduced productivity, and increased likelihood of losing their job. The victim’s place of work may be the easiest way to target her, so her performance at work may suffer. One study interviewed stalking victims and found that women reported on-the-job harassment, being disrupted at work, and job performance problems. One women described how during her shifts at an emergency room her stalker would call every five minutes asking to talk to her, disrupting her work and creating friction between herself and her coworkers. One woman reported that she was afraid to go out and look for jobs because she knew as soon as she hit the street her stalker would be there waiting for her (Logan, Shannon, Cole, & Swanberg, 2007).
Who is at risk for stalking?
The common misconception is that most stalkers are strangers who see you across a crowded bar and follow you home, but that simply isn’t true. Stalking is like rape in that a very small percentage of cases happen between total strangers, and when it does in 50% of cases it doesn’t last longer than two weeks. Stalkers usually know their victims and may be an ex-lover or even a current partner (Weller, Hope, & Sheridan, 2013).
One study randomly assigned laypersons and police officers to three conditions. They were told that the victim and the perpetrator were either coworkers, ex-partners, or strangers. Participants were then asked to rate items on a Likert scale describing the extent of the stalking (if any) and the severity of the situation. Even the police were more likely to believe that the case of the stranger stalking the victim was the most severe, but almost all studies in stalking violence say that the opposite is true (Weller, et al., 2013).
Another study looked at cases where abusive relationships turned into stalking relationships. Over half of participants experienced jealousy, isolation, and criticism during their relationships, while only 22.3% experienced sexual violence and only 11.4% experienced property damage. The significant predictors of violence were found to be threats of violence during stalking, if the stalker abused drugs, and jealousy of the former partner (Roberts, 2005).
Was she asking for it?
Like with any crime, don’t blame the victim. This might seem obvious, but in the study I mentioned where laypersons were asked about their perceptions of the different stalking behaviors many indicated that the victim had some level of blame. She had to have led the guy on, right? She was being flirty. She was texting him back at first!
Just like any other crime, stalking happens because the perpetrator has bad intentions. It has nothing to do with the victim. Some studies suggest that stalkers stalk people to regain control in their lives when there an imbalance of control already evident (Nobles & Fox, 2013) while others find that child abuse and unhealthy attachment styles were most predictive of stalking behaviors (Menard & Pincus, 2012).
How can you help?
If a friend comes forward talking about something that sounds like stalking (repeated unwanted behaviors) urge them to talk to the authorities about it. Here is a database of places to call in the United States if you’d like to talk to someone anonymously and here is the UK stalking hotline (0808 802 0300). You can also go to your local women’s shelter (yes, men can go there too!).
If you are being stalked or harassed, you don’t have to live with the fear. Make a plan and contact someone who can help, whether that be the authorities or a family member. Don’t be afraid to speak up.