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Gender and Stalking
Stalking, a recent manifestation or an old issue with a medusa’s head of slithering faces? Although legislation has criminalized many of its varied forms
What is stalking
Stalking has been defined by the Oxford English dictionary as to “Harass or persecute (someone) with unwanted and obsessive attention:” This form of activity was criminalized under Maltese law in 2014 (Malta, 2014) where stalking is defined as:
As with the legislation criminalizing stalking per se, the concept of stalking is also a very recent affair to the general public. The media reporting of the stalking of high profile public figures and dramatization by the film industry of this form of activity has been instrumental in turning an activity that was previously simply frowned upon into a social problem (Morewitz, 2004). Due to the topic’s relative youth, a great interest has arising to research the issue of stalking in recent years (Morewitz, 2004).
What makes a stalker and who are their victims? Stalking can develop when a person with attachment difficulties or a history of failed relationships resorts to harassment in order to either try to create a relationship or in retaliation to a failed one. The emphasis on being the proactive male during courtship and dating may encourage harassment while distrust in a partner or spouse suspected of adultery may also attract similar behavior (Morewitz, 2004).
Also persons coming from a different societies with different social norms and customs may not deem their behavior as being aberrant and may engage in forms of harassment without realizing its negative impact. The same follows for persons who are victims of stalking, but, due to their social background may not realize that they are actually being harassed (Morewitz, 2004).
Other issues such as age, sexual orientation, gender and ethnic background effect the kind of activity used in order to harass (Morewitz, 2004). A persons social norms will promote a particular form of harassment while different methods will be used in other societies (Morewitz, 2004).
Stalking is about the perpetrator trying to exert power over the victim in order to take control of their relationship with the said victim.
Stranger and acquaintance stalking
Acquaintances may be persons who were previously in an amorous relationship, neighbors, work colleagues, friends or known to each other in the same social circles. Violence between a victim and perpetrator seems more likely in these cases where the persons are known to each other rather than where they are strangers to each other (Morewitz, 2004). This said as a stalking incident between two strangers’ progresses the relationship between the two may start to resemble that of a failed couple. Violence can ensue in these cases as the persons gain more confidence or knowledge of each other (Morewitz, 2004).
Females are more likely to be the victims of stalking incidents rather than males, evidence suggests that males are likely to be stalked by homosexual acquaintances or strangers (Morewitz, 2004). When one considers the prevalence of date stalking or the stalking of persons who were previously in an amorous relationship, a National Violence against Women (NVAW) survey found that 14% of women who reported stalking and harassment incidents were stalked by previous partners or persons whom they may have dated. The prime motivation for stalking in these cases is either the wish to establish a relationship with the victim or as a form of revenge for either the loss of the relationship or for being rejected (Morewitz, 2004).
Individuals with previous violent behavior and/or drug abuse are also more likely to be violent perpetrators in date/relationship related stalking, either due to the drug related behavior clouding the person’s judgment or due to the pattern of behavior related to their criminal history (Morewitz, 2004). Previous exposure to violence also predisposes persons to violent acts. Where persons have been exposed to violent behavior through their family or via their peers, this said a direct association between date stalking and previous violent history cannot be made. The most dangerous group of stalkers according to the NVAW survey would be obsessed, estranged lovers (Morewitz, 2004)
The explosive use of the internet in the past decade by both adults and children has opened a whole new playground for deviant behavior. Sexual predators stalk both children and adults for financial gain or to engage in deviant behavior. Other forms of harassment in the form of cyberbullying, threats via email and social media when repeated also constitute to stalking behavior (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2014). Cyberstalking has been considered as the most dangerous form of internet harassment as it may lead to physical harassment. In fact, legislation in the United States defines Cyber harassment as being “based on a posing credible threat of harm” (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2014).
Characteristics of stalking
The diverse nature of the different forms of conduct that can be attributed to stalking behavior excludes the possibility of creating a list of conduct that can be considered as being stalking. (Finch, 2001). The unusual conduct employed by stalkers, such as “giving the victim over 500 pairs of scissors” means that some acts may be so rare that they will only ever be reported once (Finch, 2001). In order to circumvent this issue the British Crime Survey of 1998 established fourteen general categories of conduct that were common to stalking behavior (Figure 1- Types of stalking conduct) (Finch, 2001). These categories were loosely defined as follows…
While emphasis is made on the type of behavior, it is important to note that the behavior is repeated numerous times by the perpetrator and need not be confined to a single kind of behavior. In fact it is rare that a victim would experience only a single behavior from a perpetrator (Finch, 2001). Many times it is the repeated nature of the conduct rather than the conduct itself that constitutes the behavior as being aberrant. An example of which may be a victim who receives flowers on a daily basis from an individual. While receiving flowers may be flattering on an occasion, the repeated act while showing that there is no interest in furthering the relationship with the perpetrator would constitute to harassment of the victim and be considered as stalking.
Another element to the repetition of the conduct is the duration with which it is conducted. Calling a person from time to time may be considered as normal behavior, but persisting in keeping the call going beyond the victims comfort can also be considered as a form of harassment.
An important characteristic of stalking is that it is unwanted behavior. Although possibly not unlawful, persistent behavior that is not wanted by the recipient constitutes to a form of harassment. Thus lawful or legitimate behavior in sending gifts to a person becomes illegitimate once the act becomes repeated and unwanted (Finch, 2001).
Finally, stalking is characterized by the reaction of the victim. While some persons may react to the unwanted behavior in a passive manner, others, due to the stresses of the situation may resort to violent responses in order to stop the harassment (Finch, 2001). These violent responses may occur due to many factors including a lack of response from authorities or the police in order to stop the abuse, the length of time the harassment has taken place or even with the extremity of the perpetrator’s conduct (Finch, 2001).
Categorizing different forms of stalking
While research has often tried to categorize the different forms of stalking the findings in research studies by Heloy found that stalking could be classified into three categories based on the victim/perpetrator relationship, acquaintance, sexual partners and strangers (Finch, 2001). This method of classification eliminates the possibility of any overlaps between categories (Finch, 2001).
What motivates the stalker
The reasons why stalkers continue their behavior is difficult to comprehend. While their behavior can span any period, they are also not affected by any attempts to stop their behavior (Finch, 2001). So what drives a person to persist in delving into anti-social behavior that seems to reap no benefit (Finch, 2001)? A common variable found in those convicted of stalking offences were mental disorders.
While persons learn how to get together and establish new relationships as well as break away from those that have for any reason have come apart, stalkers find difficulty in both making and breaking away from relationships (Finch, 2001). Thus relational stalking can be perpetrated by both strangers and acquaintances as it involves both the creating and the dissolving of interpersonal relationships (Finch, 2001). A stalker may resort to stalking either to create a relationship that the victim does not want or, in order to try and maintain a relationship that the victim is either trying to dissolve or has already dissolved and is trying to move on.
While perpetrators of relational stalking seek to create a relationship with the victim, revenge stalking is committed to purposely distress the victim (Finch, 2001). This form of stalking can follow relational stalking where the perpetrator, due to feeling isolated and excluded resorts to vengeful acts instead of seeking closure (Finch, 2001). A stalker may also end up in a circle of behavior where first they try to pursue the relationship then resort to revenge on being refused and turning back to a romantic pursuit when they feel that they have committed vengeful acts (Finch, 2001).
Revenge stalking is not committed solely for amorous pursuits but also in cases where hostility is the core reason for the behavior. In these cases the revenge stalker is motivated by the thought that they are being undermined or maltreated by the victim (Finch, 2001). They act in a malicious manner in order to get even with the victim (Finch, 2001).
Stalking is an old phenomenon that has only recently been recognized as a form of antisocial behavior that requires the intervention of the law. Previously thought to be just a nuisance, it has now been recognized to inflict undue emotional and psychological stress unto the victim. Forms of victimization vary from revenge stalking to relational stalking and are perpetrated by strangers, acquaintances, or persons from a previous amorous relationship. The kinds of acts committed in stalking may not be illegal per se but, due to their repetitive nature and being unwanted by the victim cause undue stress and are considered as being a form of harassment. Both victims and perpetrators may resort to violent acts where a victim may find that this is their only option as peers or authorities downplay the behavior or where there is no intervention in the perpetrators activity and this culminates in violent behavior.
Babcock, R. (2000). The psychology of stalking. Infield and Platford.
Finch, E. (2001). The Criminalisation of Stalking. London: Cavendish Publishing Limited.
Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J. (2011, 12 6). Gender and Stalking: Current Intersections and Future Directions. Sex Roles, 418-426. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0093-3
Morewitz, S. J. (2004). Stalking and Violence. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
National Conference of State Legislatures. (2014). STATE CYBERSTALKING AND CYBERHARASSMENT LAWS. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/: http://www.ncsl.org/research/telecommunications-and-information-technology/cyberstalking-and-cyberharassment-laws.aspx