Stalked is a detailed account of the effects of stalking, which is experienced by a shockingly high proportion of the population. Celebrities like David Letterman and Madonna are the highest profile targets of stalkers, but ordinary people are also targeted, harassed and bullied.
Rachel Cassidy, herself the target of a stalker, tells the stories of people who have been pursued by stalkers and the devastating effects that has had on their lives. To an outsider, the stalker's actions may appear to be minor indiscretions, but the unwanted constant attention, relentless harassment, and utter terror of being a human target can have chilling cumulative effects. Sometimes the stalker's behavior becomes violent. Dancing with the Stars judge Mark Wilson had two dancing schools burned to the ground and his career destroyed. The man who stalked Jodie Foster attempted to assassinate President Reagan to gain her attention.
With the assistance of forensic psychologists who have worked with stalkers and their targets, and lawyers and police who have represented and protected the people pursued, the author explores the psychopathology of stalkers, surveys the laws that deal with stalking behaviors, and looks at cyberstalking. In the final section, Cassidy discusses how to survive a stalker and build a new life of achievement and hope.
Stalked is a perceptive analysis of stalking from the inside--told by the targets, the stalkers, and the experts who deal with the havoc wreaked by the people who harass or persecute others with unwanted and obsessive attention.
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About the Author
Rachel Cassidy has been involved in the not-for-profit sector for over 20 years, working with various causes for the health and well-being of women and children and on World Reconciliation Day events with Nelson Mandela. She is the CEO of the Anti-Bullying Council Foundation, a national charity in Australia that provides support to victims who have been stalked, targeted, or bullied. She is also an Australia Day Ambassador and serves on the Lord Mayor's Melbourne Awards board. Rachel has been recognized for her charity work as a finalist in the 2009 Australian of the Year awards and received the Patch Adams Humanitarian of the Year award in 1999.
Read an Excerpt
What is Stalking?
For more than 13 years Associate Professor Troy McEwan has worked with people who stalk, 'originally as part of my doctoral research and then subsequently as both an assessing and treating psychologist, and as a researcher.' For her doctorate, she 'was supervised by Professor Paul Mullen, who was one of the first people in the world to undertake research into stalking in the 1990s,' she explains. 'I chose to continue my involvement with both research and practice in the area of stalking for a few different reasons. A close colleague asked me to co-write a manual for assessing stalkers immediately after the conclusion of my doctoral thesis. That led to continued research and to my ongoing clinical specialisation in this area.
'Understanding why someone chooses to act in this way, and to continue to act in this way in spite of all opposition, is fascinating to me, both as a clinician and a researcher,' Troy McEwan says. In this chapter, she defines the breadth of behaviours that make up stalking and its prevalence, looks at types of stalkers, why they do it and how victims are affected.
Stalking is a constellation of behaviours by one person that targets another. The contact or communication with the target is unwanted and repeated, and causes some level of distress, fear and/or harm. It is defined by its repetitive pattern – one-off unwanted behaviour does not constitute stalking. A range of behaviours might be part of a pattern of stalking, from otherwise-innocuous actions such as emailing, leaving gifts or visiting the target at home or work, through to actions that would be crimes in themselves, such as threatening or physically assaulting someone. The most commonly reported stalking behaviours are unwanted telephone calls, emails and physical approaches to the target. In fact, the behaviours that make up stalking are really only limited by the stalker's imagination, which can mean that it can be very difficult for the target of the stalking to get people to believe the very odd things that the stalker is doing.
As a recognised behaviour, stalking is a relatively new phenomenon. It was only defined as a problem in the 1980s, after a number of high-profile cases that led to very serious or even fatal violence. It has been a crime in almost all English-speaking jurisdictions since the 1990s. This recognition that stalking could be seen as a crime was preceded by significant social changes that included the increased awareness of and prosecution of violence against women and domestic violence, both of which have relevance to stalking. There was also an increasing intolerance towards and fear of violence, along with increasing fear of crime more generally in the wake of the emergence of 'tough-on-crime' politics.
Classifying stalkers' behaviours
Stalking can occur in many different situations and relationships. Because of how varied stalking can be, a lot of different systems have been developed to classify stalking so it can be more easily understood. One typology that is widely used to classify stalkers and their behaviours was developed in the 1990s by Paul Mullen, Michele Pathé and Rosemary Purcell, based on their work with the perpetrators and victims. This is useful in practice because the different types are associated with different outcomes and ways of managing the behaviour.
This classification system describes three characteristics of stalking; this combination of characteristics produces five stalker 'types'. The three aspects are: the nature of the prior relationship between stalker and target; the apparent initial motivation for contact between the stalker and target, and the presence and nature of any mental illness of the stalker. The classifications are not perfect or mutually exclusive, and some cases do not fit any of the identified types. But these types do help to build an understanding of a case and can guide the kinds of questions that should be asked of the stalker and the victim.
The first type is the rejected stalker. This group begins to stalk after the breakdown of a close relationship, usually an intimate sexual relationship (however brief), but it can also emerge from the breakdown of a familial relationship, a close friendship or even a long-standing therapeutic relationship with a counsellor. The stalking is motivated by a desire to resume the relationship, take revenge for its end or, commonly, a combination of both. It is unusual for stalkers in this group to experience severe mental illnesses, although often depression and substance misuse is observed around the time of the stalking as the person struggles to cope with the loss of the relationship. The rejected stalker may have an underlying personality disorder.
The resentful stalker type is somewhat different in that they target strangers or acquaintances whom they perceive to have mistreated them in some way (or because they represent an organisation that has provoked their wrath). The stalking is motivated by a desire to right the perceived wrong. These stalkers are often very self-righteous and feel justified in their actions. Over time the stalking becomes a way of regaining a sense of power and control. Often these stalkers present with personality disorders or severe mental illness with paranoid delusions.
The incompetent suitor stalker wants an intimate relationship but lacks the social skills and/or desirability to establish one successfully. This group targets strangers or acquaintances whom they find attractive and the stalking usually commences in a gauche attempt to get a date. They can become angry and aggressive if their attempts are rebuffed, but they persist in spite of all attempts to dissuade them in the belief that they will eventually succeed. Some in this group are extremely egocentric and do not understand why someone would refuse their advances. Many do not suffer from any mental disorder, but disorders that impact on social skills, such as autism spectrum and developmental disorders, are not uncommon.
The intimacy-seeking stalker is in pursuit of a relationship too, and also targets strangers and acquaintances. However, their pursuit is marked by intense feelings of love for the target and they seek love in return. Often such feelings are driven by the symptoms of a mental illness characterised by delusions about the target (who, for example, they may believe is their husband or wife). In some cases the stalker is just intensely infatuated and believes that the longed-for love will eventuate if only they persist. Severe personality disorders are not uncommon in this group.
The predatory stalker targets strangers, or less frequently acquaintances, with the goal of achieving some sort of sexual gratification. The stalking forms part of a wider array of sexually deviant behaviours and usually takes the form of spying, following, loitering and sometimes sexual assault. This group differs from the incompetent and intimacy seeking because they do not want a relationship with the victim – they simply want sex or sexual gratification. The most common diagnoses in this group are sexual disorders, depression and substance misuse.
Who are stalkers?
Most people have the potential to engage in stalking, although some are more susceptible than others. Stalking is a behaviour, and like any other behaviour, people will do it if they think it will achieve an important goal. People who stalk almost always do so in response to a highly emotional situation which, they believe, involves the target. The emotions associated with the situation might be negative – for example, anger, frustration, feelings of betrayal or hurt – or they might be positive, like hope, lust and happiness. The common characteristic is that the emotions are very strong and so demand a response from the target to change them in some way. The related behaviours are generally directed towards the victim because the situation that has triggered the emotions is linked to that person. Depending on whether the target responds in the way intended or desired, the stalker might then feel the need to continue to try to influence them.
In the context of all of that, the stalker gets very focused on their own emotions and desires and that often means that they don't pay attention to the target's thoughts or feelings. It's important to recognise that many people who stalk would not think of their behaviour as stalking (which of course does not mean that it isn't). As Troy McEwan notes, most people who stalk tend to focus on each behaviour individually without seeing the impact of the pattern of behaviour on the victim. So for them it is 'just a phone call' and then 'just a few text messages', whereas for the target it is a barrage of attempted contacts. Of course, there are also cases where the stalker is well aware of the impact of their actions. When the stalking is motivated by a sense of mistreatment and feelings of anger, there is also often a sense that the stalker thinks the victim deserves to feel as bad as they do, so they keep targeting them in a never-ending attempt to get even.
Overall, more men stalk than women, and they do tend to stalk in slightly different contexts. More men stalk after a relationship has broken down – research finds they account for about 80 per cent of this kind of stalking. A smaller proportion of female stalkers target ex-partners; in some research undertaken in Australia and Sweden, about 60 per cent of male stalkers were targeting an ex-partner compared with about 40 per cent of the female stalkers. Women were more likely to target a neighbour, a former friend or family member, or a professional contact (such as their doctor or lawyer).
If you remove the ex-partner stalkers from the equation, there are still more male stalkers overall, but the ratio of men to women becomes more even. You also get a lot more stalkers who are targeting victims of the same gender, including a significant proportion of women stalking women (50 per cent of female stalkers in the research compared with 13 per cent of men who targeted men).
However, while there are differences in overall patterns of stalking between men and women, there doesn't seem to be much difference in the kinds of behaviours used by stalkers of either gender. There has been a reasonable amount of research looking at violence by female stalkers, and that suggests that rates of physical violence are much the same, regardless of whether the stalker is male or female. Women also seem to be equally threatening and cause as much property damage. The only thing that does seem to be slightly different between male and female stalkers is that the women stalkers are more often diagnosed with mental illness or personality disorder. However, that might just reflect the fact that women are more often diagnosed with these things in the general population, rather than being something specific to female stalkers. Also, rates and information vary according to where the sample is drawn from.
Psychologist Gary Rubin explains that, in his opinion, 'there is some evidence that females having conflict with other females in the workplace outweighs that of male–male conflicts. Further, women stalking women far outweighs that of men stalking men. When a man walks into a nightclub, he is very likely to scan the room and look at the women first; when a female walks into a nightclub, she will generally look at other women first too. In other words, women may regard other women as potential competition. One explanation for the level of female–female stalking may be that although women are slowly being given better work opportunities, a fewer proportion of them gain senior positions than men and this may create more situations of conflict, threat and tension between women in the workplace. Onlookers may perceive this conflict as just a common spat between two women who are equally participating, but it can often be a bullying situation. This can then lead to further distress for the victim because the bullying behaviour is not taken seriously and the target does not receive the support they need.'
There is no evidence about whether the stalker has a conscience, says Troy McEwan. 'A more psychological question is whether stalkers have issues with empathy. Again, there has been little research done on this but, based on my experience and on research with other offender groups (such as sexual or violent offenders), I think that people who stalk probably would not have broad empathy deficits. Rather, I think it is much more about getting so caught up in their own wants, needs and desires, and the very strong emotions that go with these things, that they stop thinking about the impact on the other person. Of course, there are also cases in which the purpose of the stalking is very clearly to cause harm, but even in these cases, it is unlikely that the stalker has a general empathy deficit. Usually it is much more specific than that – they specifically might not be empathising with the victim because, in their head, they believe that the harm they are causing is justified by the perceived harm the victim has caused them. That of course doesn't excuse or justify their behaviour at all, but it goes some way towards explaining it.'
The stalking of celebrities and public figures does differ in some ways from stalking of people who are directly known to the perpetrator, but it is a matter of degree rather than being a completely different phenomenon. Certainly, those who stalk celebrities are in many ways similar to people who stalk strangers who are not celebrities. Stranger stalkers generally experience much higher rates of severe mental illness than other stalkers, and the symptoms often directly contribute to the stalking. This is particularly true of those who target public figures. Most of what we know about stalking of celebrities comes from studies of people who stalk and harass royalty or politicians; this work has shown that as many as four out of five people who target members of the British royal family seem to suffer from severe forms of mental illness. Similarly, in Troy McEwan's experience of working with stalkers who have targeted public figures, such as newsreaders, politicians and sportspeople, she has found their behaviour has usually been driven by either delusional beliefs about the target (for example, that they are related to them or have a relationship with them), or a severe personality disorder that leads the stalker to misinterpret their relationship with the public figure. This means that in these cases a central aspect of stopping the stalking behaviour is helping the stalker to access appropriate psychiatric and psychological treatment so that the mental disorder that is contributing to their behaviour can hopefully be resolved.
Why do people stalk others?
Stalking can arise from a multitude of situations and can be perpetrated by all sorts of people.
The most common kinds of situations that contribute to stalking are those that cause very strong negative emotions – usually associated with a sense of mistreatment and betrayal. This might be associated with an ex-partner, but equally could involve a service provider, a neighbour or even a stranger. Ex-partner stalking can also be motivated by strong feelings of anxiety and sadness at the end of the relationship, with the stalking being a desperate attempt to resume the relationship rather than have to face its loss. The other, less common, kind of situation is one in which the stalker perceives the victim in a very positive way and the stalking – at least initially – is motivated by positive feelings, such as hope that a relationship might start, happiness at having found someone, and so on.
Most people who stalk seem to do it only once in their life. Research shows that around one-third of stalkers reoffend with further stalking, about half targeting a new victim and half the same victim as they have before. Although this is concerning, it does mean that about two-thirds do not go on to do it again. It really is something about the situation in which the stalking started and continued that contributes to the behaviour, and changing that situation can stop them from stalking again.
Dr Rachel MacKenzie is an internationally recognised expert in the field of stalking, having conducted research in the area, being widely published and working with both victims and perpetrators of stalking for many years. When assessing a stalker, one of the questions she asks is 'What did you hope to achieve?' Rachel says that when assessing the stalker in a forensic setting, it is rare that they have achieved the goal that first underpinned the harassment.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Stalked"
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Table of Contents
1 What Is Stalking? 9
2 How Victims Are Affected 23
3 Targeting the Young 29
4 Lies and Accusations 43
5 A Crazed Fan 55
6 In the Same Business 65
7 Physically Threatened 79
8 Suffering from Childhood 83
9 Dangerously Jealous 93
10 The Big Mistake 101
11 If You Are Being Stalked 107
12 Laws Against Stalking 119
Appendix 1 Why Do They Do It? 129
Appendix 2 The Incidence of Stalking Around the World 135
Appendix 3 Resources 143
Further Reading 159