| Fact Sheet
Mindy Mechanic, Ph.D.
National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center
University of Missouri at St. Louis
Stalking: Define the Crime
a repetitive pattern of unwanted, harassing or threatening behavior committed
by one person against another. Acts include: telephone harassment, being
followed, receiving unwanted gifts, and other similar forms of intrusive
behavior. All states and the Federal Government have passed anti-stalking
legislation. Definitions of stalking found in state anti-stalking statutes
vary in their language, although most define stalking as "the willful, malicious,
and repeated following and harassing of another person that threatens his
or her safety" (1).
common is Stalking?
Violence Against Women Survey (NVAW) is a landmark study that collected
information about stalkingm a nationally representative sample of 8,000
women and 8,000 men across the United States (2). The survey found that
8% of women and 2% of men have been stalked at some time during their lives.
This means that 1 out of every 12 women, and 1 out of ever 45 men have been
stalked during their lives (2).
most stalking. Four out of every five stalking victims are women (2). While,
high-profile celebrity stalking cases generate considerable media attention,
they are relatively rare. Most stalking occurs between people who know each
other. Less than one-fourth of women, and about one-third of men are stalked
by strangers. Women are most likely to be stalked by a current or former
intimate partner during the relationship, after it ends, or at both points
is stalking related to domestic violence?
The majority of
women who are stalked by current or former intimate partners also report
having been physically assaulted these partners, and a sizable percentage
(1/3) also report having been sexually assaulted by the same partners who
stalked them (2). These important findings suggest that contrary to popular
notions about who gets stalked, currently or formerly battered women have
the greatest risk of being stalked.
kinds of stalking behaviors do victims experience?
victims most commonly report being followed, spied on, or watched at home,
at work or at places of recreation (2). Many also report receiving unwanted
phone calls, letters, or gifts, and having restraining or protective orders
violated (2). Battered women stalked by their current/former abusive partners
report: being harmed, having mail stolen, being watched, receiving unwanted
calls at home, being followed, and receiving unwanted visits from their
current or former abusive partners (3). Battered women experience multiple,
serial forms of violent and harassing stalking behaviors perpetrated against
them, sometimes as often as every day (3).
Stalking Victims Threatened with Serious Harm?
on the sample of women studied, different rates of being threatened with
serious harm are reported:
Less than half
of female stalking victims in the NVAW study reported being directly threatened
by their stalkers (2). In
contrast, 94% of battered women in another study reported being threatened
with serious harm by their batterer-stalkers.
Are Stalkers Mentally Ill?
are not psychotic, (i.e., have hallucinations/delusions) although many
do suffer from other mental problems including depression, substance abuse,
and personality disorders (4).
do Stalkers Engage in this Behavior?
for stalking is not primarily sexual, but is more like to include anger
and hostility towards the victim, often stemming from actual or perceived
rejection of the stalker by the victim (4). Victims perceive control and
obsessional behavior as primary motives of the stalker (2).
to the NVAW survey, slightly more than half of female stalking victims
reported their stalking to the police (2). Overall, only 13% of female
stalking victims reported that their cases were criminally prosecuted.
Police were more likely to arrest a stalker when the victim was a woman
(2). Police were also more likely to refer female than male victims to
victim service agencies for support and counseling (2).
are the Costs and Consequences of Stalking?
stalking experience a number of disruptive psychological consequences
of stalking, including significant fear and safety concerns, as well
as symptoms of depression, anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder
stalking victims do not seek mental health services (2). Approximately
one-third of female and one-fifth of male stalking victims sought professional
victims reported missing an average of 11 days from work, and 7% indicated
that they never did return to their jobs (2).
homicide occurs in only 2% of stalking cases, when it does occur, the
victim is most likely to be a former intimate partner (4).
How Can You Help a Victim or Yourself If You are a Victim?
support and validation because threatening and harassing behavior
alone, without accompanying violence are often minimized or discounted.
victim to check out the applicable state anti-stalking statutes.
victim to develop a paper trail documenting evidence of stalking.
Caller ID records, logs of phone calls, copies of threatening letters,
pictures of injuries, or of the stalker sitting outside the home,
are examples of evidence that may help build a case.
enforcement officials about the stalking and provide them with this
evidence to support a case. If law enforcement officials refuse to
conduct an investigation, consider contacting the prosecuting attorney’s
office, or a local victim assistance agency. A victim may be eligible
to obtain a restraining or protective order.
even restraining orders do not always prevent stalking from escalating
into violence. Develop a safety plan. Inform friends, neighbors, and
co-workers about the situation. Show them a photo of the stalker.
obtaining an unlisted phone number for private use, and set up an
answering machine to receive calls to the published number.
access to a reserve set of: money, credit cards, medication, important
papers, keys, and other valuables in case you need to leave quickly.
Have a safe place in mind that you can go in an emergency.
phone numbers of assistance agencies easily accessible.
to travel alone and always vary your routes. Consider carrying a cellular
phone with you.
Victim assistance agencies are excellent sources of support and
provide detailed information about safety planning.
Meloy, J.R., & Gothard, S. (1995). A demographic and clinical
comparison of obsessional followers and offenders with mental disorders.
American Journal of Psychiatry, 152, 258-263.
Tjaden, P., & Theonnes, N. (1998). Stalking in American: Findings
from the national violence against women survey. Washington, D.C.: U.S.
Department of Justice. NCJ Report No. NCJ 169592.
M.B., Weaver, T. L., & Resick, P.A. (1999). Intimate partner violence
and stalking behavior: Exploration of patterns and correlates in a sample
of acutely battered women, under review.
J.R. (1998). The psychology of stalking. In J.R. Meloy (Ed.) The psychology
of stalking: Clinical and forensic perspectives. San Diego, CA: Academic