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Stalking: The Veiled Epidemic: Page 2 of 4

Stalking: The Veiled Epidemic: Page 2 of 4

Why do stalkers engage in repeated bouts of unwanted contact with the victim—in spite of the risk of substantial repercussions? Stalkers are driven by conscious and unconscious motivations, as well as proximal and distal factors. Factors that underlie stalking behavior typically include the desire for (re)unification with the victim and/or for retribution/punishment.5 Stalking behavior may also presage a planned attack or may occur secondary to delusional beliefs.5

Concepts from attachment, behavioral, cognitive, and psychodynamic theories shed additional light on the cause of this maladaptive behavior. Many stalkers lack experience with successful intimate relationships, and some evidence suggests that stalkers have a relatively high prevalence of disruptions in early childhood attachments.5,9,15 Because stalkers typically have deficient coping skills, continued rejection by the victim can serve a behaviorally reinforcing function.15 Such rejection provides the stalker with acknowledgment and allows him to remain “linked” to the victim.9,15 Psychodynamic considerations involve themes of narcissistic fragility and instability of the stalker’s self-construct; ideation and devaluation of the victim; projection of negative self-attributes onto the victim; and vacillation between a desire for unification with the victim versus a yearning to seek vengeance or enact punishment.15,16

Many classification schemes for stalkers involve an examination of the stalker’s motivations. In the typological framework developed by Mullen and colleagues,5 5 stalker subtypes are recognized, which, in decreasing order of prevalence, are as follows:

• Rejected stalker: stalking begins following rejection by a known victim, with the goal of achieving reunion, exacting revenge, or a combination thereof

• Intimacy seeker: stalker desires to establish intimacy with the victim

• Incompetent suitor: stalker seeks gratification of his needs

• Resentful stalker: stalker acts out of a sense of feeling harmed and strives to frighten the victim and cause distress

• Predatory stalker: this individual engages in instrumental stalking behavior, in preparation for a planned attack such as rape

Commonly exhibited stalking behaviors

Stalkers tend to engage in multiple and varied behaviors, which can be divided into 3 main groups: communication with the victim; approach behaviors; and harming measures.17

Communication methods include making phone calls and sending letters or messages or cyberstalking—an increasingly common method of communicating with and/or harassing the victim.3 Approach behaviors involve following or spying on the victim (experienced by 34% of victims in one study), waiting at (29%), or appearing in locations where the victim is known to be present (31%).3 Harming measures include spreading rumors (36%), making threats (30% to 45%), damaging property (24% to 40%), physical assault (18% to 36%), sexual assault (2% to 9%), and murder (0.25% to 0.5%).3-5,8 While most threats are not carried out, between 25% and 50% of threats progress to assaults.5,8,18,19 Most assaults do not involve the use of a weapon or serious injury to the victim.3,4,9 Victims most likely to be harmed are former intimate partners of stalkers, and public figures are less likely to be harmed than private persons.4,18

Duration of stalking period

Data from the 2006 Supplemental Victimization Survey3 indicate that in 41% of cases, stalking lasted for 6 months or less, and in an additional 31% of cases, for less than 1 year. However, 17% of stalking cases persisted for 2 to 5 years, and 11% persisted for 5 years or longer. Other data have revealed that stalkers who targeted strangers usually did so for shorter periods (0.8 months) than those who targeted non-strangers (11.2 months),8 whereas current or former intimate partners have stalked for significantly longer periods (2.2 years) than have non-intimate partners (1.1 years).2


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