In 2009, the US Justice Department released the results of the largest survey ever done in the USA on stalking. The report stated that 3.4 million Americans had identified themselves as having been stalked during a one-year period. Seventy eight percent of them were female, twenty two percent were male .
“Harassment or stalking exists when old lovers or partners don’t want to let go of their prey.”
In this study, stalking was defined as a course of conduct directed at a specific person on at least two separate occasions that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. The most common forms of stalking were unwanted phone calls (66 per cent), unsolicited emails or letters (31 per cent) or having rumors spread about them (36 per cent).
Nearly 75 per cent of the victims were familiar with their stalker, who in most cases was an ex-partner.
A spokesperson for the US National Victim Center recently stated un-categorically: “All stalkers have personality disorders.” Forensic psychiatrist Dr Park Dietz agrees. “None of the people who engage in stalking behavior are normal individuals.” It is estimated that more than around 50 per cent – some say as high as 90%- of non stranger stalkers are psychopaths; the rest are malignant narcissists or have a borderline personality disorder. But all of them are highly narcissistic and aggressive. And all of them are engaging in antisocial and criminal behavior.
Criminologists maintain that most psychopaths who go on to stalk their ex-partners have the same basic inadequate personality structure as serial killers. What kind of personality is that? Former detective Robert Keppel, who made his reputation investigating the Ted Bundy case, says it’s “people who have abnormally short tempers, who snap at those around them during stress, who are prone to violence as a first resort . . . and who are almost pathological about exerting control over others and over events around them”.
The majority of domestic stalkers express their hostility towards the enemy — the ex partner who rejected them — without committing homicide. They stay at what’s called a ‘compensatory ‘level of violence. Nevertheless, according to forensic psychologists, they are still ‘terrorists’: whether stalking an ex-wife, or spreading fear through a city with a string of serial rapes or murders.
What separates the serial rapist or serial killer from the domestic stalker is nothing more than how he chooses to act out his rage and frustration. The choices the psychopath makes determines his position on the continuum of violence. The threshold is “frighteningly narrow and the numbers of people on the edge so great,” said Keppel.
In the Justice Department study, the average period of stalking was two years. Eleven per cent of victims reported having been stalked for five years or longer. The most vulnerable were women who had been recently divorced or separated from their partner.
Mary Lou Leary, executive director of the US National Center for Victims of Crime and a former prosecutor, said that what she found most remarkable about stalking in comparison to other crimes was 1. the persistence of the predatory behavior and 2. its long-term deleterious effects on the target.
“When you consider the impact that stalking has on a victim’s life, five weeks is forever — five years is incredible,” she said. ‘They often have to give up their current life, leave their jobs, their homes, establish a whole new identity.’
Stalking his target, and watching her unobserved, makes a psychopath feel powerful. Every psychopath who ends up stalking his ex-partner was acting out a less intense version when they lived together. He was monitoring her every movement, keeping an eye on her schedule, reading her emails, checking whom she is with. Why? In the words of criminal profiler John E. Douglas it’s because of “Manipulation. Domination. Control”. This is what obsesses every psychopath. And psychopaths who stalk their ex-partners are driven by an obsession to regain manipulation, domination and control over their escaped prey.
Unlike celebrity stalkers — who are mentally disturbed individuals driven by delusions of a romantic relationship with the celebrity— non stranger stalkers are rational and cunning. The target is someone with whom they once had a relationship. When it ended they purposefully and maliciously tried to destroy her life, whether emotionally or physically.
Non stranger stalkers know right from wrong. They expect to get away with their crime. The stalker embarks on a campaign of relentless harassment, threat and pursuit, fuelled by rage that his prey rejected him.
Lawyer Rhonda B. Saunders has found that among stalkers, “the stalkers of ex-intimates make up the most dangerous and malevolent group.” She is a US prosecutor who was instrumental in bringing anti-stalking legislation to California. Her mission is to provide legal protection for victims of stalking.
Stalkers deny an ex-partner has the right to leave the relationship, before they say it’s ‘game over’. Rejection in their eyes is a declaration of war. More than 80 per cent of men who murder their wives stalked them beforehand. Yet stalking didn’t become a crime in the USA until 1990.
Stalking as a crime involves three criteria:
1. Intent to harm or intimidate or create emotional distress in the victim.
2. Implied or explicit threats.
3. A pattern of harassment over a period of time
Nearly 90 per cent of stalkers are men. Seventy-eight percent of stalking victims are women. Most of those victims are stalked by ex-partners. And in the US, 30 per cent of all homicides against women are committed by current or former partners.
While domestic stalkers seek privacy and control over their ex-wives, all too often friends — sometimes, sadly, even some family members — allow them that privacy, by distancing themselves from by the woman being stalked, lest they be seen as ‘friendly’ to her.
Indifferent witnesses often rationalize that retreat as not wanting to get involved. Some even blame the woman. who ‘must have done something to make him angry’. It’s the same fear of intervening that we see with high school bullying, or psychological violence in the workplace. And when psychopaths learn that their aggression won’t be challenged by those around them , their behavior becomes more extreme.
Those who turn their backs according to experts, are more likely to blame the victim than the abuser. She must be ‘weak willed’ or ‘masochistic’, and thus- the suggestion runs- have it coming.
“We blame her as the batterer did,” said Andrea who survived an abusive marriage. “We ask why she stayed, though of course were not prepared to stand between her and the batterer so she could leave.”
If the victim was masochistic, says Dr Marie- France Hirigoyen who counsels victims with PTSD issues, she wouldn’t be so relieved to be out of an abusive relationship.
Those who are stalked are usually the opposite of weak-willed, say experts in the field. The stalking behavior happens because the victim wouldn’t give the stalker what he wants, which is to manipulate and dominate her; she had rejected him. ‘The women I know who have been stalked have been in relationships with people who have power and control issues,’ says one victims’ rights advocate.
Stalking is a pretty safe game for psychopaths , because there is so little risk of punishment. Though stalking is illegal, many judges still give offenders a slap on the wrist, rather than a stiff jail sentence. Despite the fact it is the victim who turned to the court for protection, the stalker — ironically — is often the one who is protected from the consequences of his illegal behavior.
Stalking is a contest to regain dominance. Most psychopaths are not prepared to let the partner who rejected them go, without making her life a misery first. To prevent more intimate partner homicides, experts say courts need to do their job better, and lawyers and judges should be better informed about stalking and domestic abuse. In 1993, the Nevada Supreme Court closed down all courts in the state for one day, and ordered the judges to attend a training program on domestic violence. This is something more family courts should be prepared to do.
Sadly, protective orders often prove useless in preventing violence. In any case of long-term stalking that ended in homicide there was usually a restraining order at some point. It was simply ignored by the stalker. Inconceivably, often judges today still fail to punish those who violate restraining orders. As one cop who has seen this happen too often complained with frustration, ‘How can we say we’re living in a free country if so many women are being stalked and the law doesn’t protect them?’