Monday, June 24, 2024

STALKING EXPLAINED

WHAT IS STALKING
The Oxford dictionary defines stalking as “the action of pursuing or approaching (wild animal, enemy) stealthily”. The term stalker in relation to criminal conduct involving the pursuit by one person of another is not defined. According to the SA Law Commission the concept of stalking appears to have evolved and assumed an artificial meaning with harassment of another person as the central idea. The concept of stalking has expanded from initially referring to prowling to include the use of digital and telephonic mechanisms to survey or harass a person.

If one were to define stalking broadly in a modern context, it would refer to any type of harassing and intimidating conduct that causes a person to fear for his or her safety
According to O’ Connor, stalking is a kind of subversive, obsessive, and recurring conduct related to a broader set of behaviours called harassment, intimidation or threatening. Harassment usually refers to psychologically degrading or abusive actions of generally but not exclusively, a sexual or racial nature. Intimidation by and large refers to intentional humiliation from insulting words or derogatory gestures or looks. Threatening normally refers to communications intended to strike trepidation or fear in a victim. Stalking is a more specific type of these general behaviours.

Bennett and Hess define a stalker as someone who “intentionally and repeatedly follows, attempts to contact, harasses and/or intimidates another person.” 90% of murders committed by intimate partners involve stalking. Stalking is gender-neutral behaviour, with both male and female perpetrators and victims. However, women appear to be the primary victims and men the primary perpetrators. The behaviour also occurs worldwide and has no boundaries. Gerberth emphasizes serial killers and serial rapists use stalking as a tool, especially in cases where the target is a stranger to them.

Stalking almost always involves following and watching a target in order to learn their routines. This can be done at the victims home or business premises, with the use of technology or using physical reconnaissance methods. All communication between the stalker and the target are usually non- consensual.

There is usually some threat made, explicit or implicit, that harm will come to the victim, the victim’s property, family, friends or pets. Primarily there is an obsessive component to the conduct and this is commonly manifested through an unrelenting and extreme preoccupation with the target.

METHODS USED BY STALKERS
According to KL Walsh stalking is characterised by “a series of discrete, individual acts, each one building upon the next”. It involves a behaviour that extends over a period of time rather than being a single occurrence of the behaviour. Methods used by stalkers to harass victims may involve a number of actions which in isolation may be unlawful, for instance making obscene phone calls, making threats and committing acts of violence such as assault. On the other hand, stalkers frequently exhibit behaviour which in isolation is not unlawful and could be considered socially acceptable. This seemingly harmless behaviour for instance following someone or sending gifts, can be frightening if done continually and against the will of the person on the receiving end. When considered in conjunction with, and in the context of the relationship between the stalker and the target, seemingly innocent behaviour becomes wrongful and dangerous and often criminal.

There are times when, a stalker may escalate and become more threatening and violent as time goes on. The stalking behaviour may go from what may initially be irritating, distressing but legal behaviour to dangerous, violent and possibly fatal acts. Stalking is often a precursor to crimes such as assault, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, criminal intimidation, sexual offences and possibly murder.

Various methods are employed by stalkers. They may include but are not limited to excessive phone calls, unwelcome calls made at inopportune times (especially late at night or in the early morning hours) at home or at work, sending of unwanted electronic messages, postcards or facsimiles and keeping the victim under surveillance.

An obsessed stalker will usually make declarations of love, frequently voices obscenities or threats. Surveillance may take many different forms. The stalker might observe or spy on the target, or simply loiter or lurk outside the target’s home, work, school, or where they participate in recreational activities regularly. Certain stalkers communicate their familiarity with or knowledge of the details of their target’s movements so as to inform the victim that he or she are being watched.

Stalkers often persistently leave or send unwanted and inappropriate gifts and/or objects intended to instil fear in their targets. This is aimed at either pleasing or harassing the target. This conduct might occur in conjunction with the stalker revealing intimate details about the target to their friends or colleagues aimed at embarrassing them, making false accusations, intercepting the target’s mail and bringing spurious legal actions against them. Stalkers exhibiting a violent disposition might sexually or physically assault their victims. Damage to property is also common to violent stalkers. Behaviours could include, but are not limited to, slashing tyres, graffiti paint, scratching paintwork (vehicles) or vandalising property.

The difficulty of predicting what a stalker might do to his or her victim, and when he might do it, poses a problem in developing an effective response to the menace of stalking. According to KL Walsh

“Some stalkers may never escalate past the first stage. Others jump from the first stage to the last stage with little warning. Still others regress to previous stages before advancing to the next. It is not uncommon to see stalkers intersperse episodes of threats and violence with flowers and love letters. . . . A few stalkers will progress to later stages in only a few weeks or even days. In other cases, stalkers who have engaged in some of the most serious stalking behaviours may go months or even years without attempting a subsequent contact.”

WHO STALKS
There is no monolithic concept of stalking and a distinct model of a stalker does not appear to exist. Stalkers range from lovesick teens to cold-blooded killers and may exhibit a variety of psychological syndromes including but not limited to erotomania, schizophrenia, paranoia, bipolar disorder, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The offender might be attempting to re-establish a past relationship, be attempting to begin a fresh relationship with someone who they believe is in love with them or would be if the target would give the stalker an opportunity. It is also possible that the stalker might be a serial rapist or murderer who has compiled specific criteria for an ideal victim and is seeking that victim out.
Stearns describes the underlying psychodynamics of stalking as follows:

“An identifiable prototype of a stalker does not exist; people stalk for a multitude of reasons. The mental state of individuals who engage in stalking remains a largely unexplored and uncertain area of psychology. However, approximately seventy percent of stalkers suffer from some mental defect. Ascertaining the mental defects that plague stalkers remains integral to formulating an effective approach towards stalking. Once the defect is identified, treatment can be mandated which may prevent the stalker from engaging in his deadly game of cat and mouse. Without treatment, the stalker’s behaviour may never cease until he kills the object of his obsession.”

Gerberth identifies two explicit types of stalker personalities: the Psychopathic Personality Stalker and the Psychotic Personality Stalker.

Psychopathic Personality Stalker is always male. They constitute the most prevalent population of stalkers They more often than not come from abusive homes and dysfunctional families where violence was the standard way to settle family disputes. The offender and his mother were frequently victims of domestic abuse. The offender needs to be in control and is easily frustrated and short tempered. They cannot and do not take responsibility for their actions. These offenders generally insist on male dominance and demonstrate a hyper-macho exterior.

They frequently harbour resentment toward women and engage in abusive relationships. They will respond with violence, if a woman attempts to end the relationship. Criminal behaviours frequently indulged in by these perpetrators includes but is not limited to vandalizing property, poisoning or killing pets, sending packages or deliveries, anonymous telephone calls, anonymous threats and other harassing behaviours.

The Psychotic Personality Stalker is gender neutral. They can be male or female. This offender usually becomes obsessed and/or preoccupied with systematized delusions. They have frequently been diagnosed with psychological disorder’s which may include but are not limited to paranoia, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The victim is usually a stranger and is a delusional fixation. These offenders typically contact their victims in order to reveal their existence and activities to the targeted person. Their criminal conduct includes telephone calls, letters, gifts, visits and surveillance. This is a subtype of erotomania and the offender believes that they are in love with their target or vice versa.

From the aforementioned, it becomes apparent that Psychopathic Personality Stalker is totally aware that their conduct is criminal, therefore, a criminal motivation is evident. Various other motives may exist with the Psychotic Personality Stalker who is undoubtedly suffering from a psychosis of some type or has been diagnosed as having a specific disorder. The psychotic type offender may involve both criminal and non-criminal motivations and thus they would be more difficult to profile.

On reviewing the literature on stalking there appears to be at least five categories of stalkers which include:

Delusional Erotomania: The Stalker is delusional and believes that the target, usually someone famous or rich, is in love with them. The victim generally does not know the stalker. They fantasise about and seek idyllic love. Their goal is not to cause harm to the target. This group typically consists of women targeting males, and is the least dangerous of the groups.

Borderline Erotomanics or Love Obsession: This category makes up almost half of cases studied. These offenders have developed intense emotional feelings towards other individuals whom they know do not reciprocate their feelings. O’ Connor points out that, “the offender is a stranger to the target but is obsessed and mounts a campaign of harassment to make the target aware of the stalker’s existence. Ninety-seven percent of these stalkers were male, between the ages of 30 to 40 years of age and their victims between the ages of 20-30. The stalkers learned of their victim through the media and did not know them in actuality. Twenty-five percent of these stalkers made threats to their targets, but only 3 % carried them out.” These stalkers have a tendency to vacillate between feelings of love and hate towards their targets. They might express significant narcissistic or abandonment rage when their victims do not return their affection.

Former intimate stalkers These stalkers have had some personal, romantic or intimate relationship with the target and are known to them. The trigger for their stalking behaviour is commonly the breakdown of the relationship. Alternatively they may engage in stalking behaviour if and when they feel mistreated by the victim. Their motive is usually the resurrection of the broken relationship or to seek revenge. A high number of stalking cases involve “former intimate” stalkers. They commonly follow through with threats of harm and because of this pose the most likely potential threat of violence to the victim. According to the SA Law Commission, “research by Prof Lourens Schlebusch, head of medical psychology at the University of Natal’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, this is one of the most common forms of stalking. He is quoted as saying that stalking is on the increase in South Africa and the most likely stalker is an ex-lover or friend. He attributes this increase to relationship stress and easier accessibility to the victim through internet, e-mail and cellphones.” This group is socially immature, unable to develop lasting relationships, showed extreme jealousy, insecurity, paranoia, and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.

Sociopathic stalkers Stalking behaviour is a frequent characteristic of serial murderers and serial rapists modus operandi. The distinguishing characteristic of sociopathic stalkers is that they don’t seek to start or continue an interpersonal relationship with their victim. They first put together the physical and psychological characteristics of the “ideal victim” and then search for individuals who fit their criteria. They stalk one victim after another in a serial manner.

Persons with false victimisation syndromes This type of offender usually thinks very highly of the target and often hero worships them. The stalker may go to great lengths to emulate the targets habits and life style. When the stalker believes that they do not measure up to this individual and thinks that they have been wronged or rejected by the target, the offender takes revenge on the target by harassment and intimidation. The behaviour is rationalised by the offender maintaining that he or she is the victim and that the target is somehow at fault. These offenders are typically of the same sex as their targets

Other categories of stalkers include debt collectors, who use telephonic and physical intimidation to frighten people into settling debt. Bullies who intimidate their peers often resort to certain stalking behaviours. Disgruntled employees or clients of private organisations who feel they have been wronged in some way and use harassment to get revenge on the organisation. Counselling staff are often stalked by both their male and female clients. Unfortunately this risk usually extends to their families as well and it can be very unsettling and disruptive for the professionals involved. Cyberstalkers also deserve a mention here and internet users may be subject to a campaign of digital harassment.

WHO CAN BE STALKED
Stalking is not subject to boundaries and unfortunately anyone can become the target of a stalker. It can come down to simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The stalking of media personalities like Meg Ryan has attracted a vast amount of publicity but most victims of stalkers are just normal people being harassed either at home or at work.

VICTIM IMPACT
According to the SA Law Commission, the impact of stalking on victims is diverse. Victims report considerable disruption to their daily functioning irrespective of whether they experience associated violence or not. Many victims highlight a restriction on their social activity as they are afraid to leave their homes. This frequently leads to increased work absenteeism. Other consequences include but are not limited to a reduced enjoyment of life, the economic impact related to upgrading security systems, changing telephone numbers and e-mail addresses, closing social media accounts, screening calls or even in extreme cases being forced to move out of your home or change your job.

Both women and men who feel that they have become a victim of a stalker should contact the Botswana Police immediately for assistance. This behaviour usually escalates and can result in disastrous consequences for the victim and their families. Please do not be afraid to reach out to the Botswana Police who are there to assist you and keep you safe.

I am available to assist in any criminal matters. Expert Profiling is contactable on Tel: 390 9957 e-mail – [email protected] or [email protected] or on Twitter @LauriePieters

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