We all have heard stories of someone who was stalked. There are of course, the stories of celebrity stalkers – their stalkers are primarily unknown to their target. Then there are the stories of the friend who had an ex that just wouldn’t leave them alone. There’s definitely a difference between someone who is just having trouble accepting a break up and someone who is being stalked. As you’ll hear in the podcast episode that accompanies this article, I have a personal story of being stalked by someone unknown to me. In this article, I’ll present you with some relevant facts and figures on the history and prevalence of stalking, how to find out what the laws are in your state, some of the types and psychological profiles of stalkers and some ways to protect yourself and get help if you are the target of a stalker.
A brief history of stalking legislation
Stalking has been around as long as people have been having relationships, but the laws protecting those targeted have only been around since the early 1990’s. According to the National Institute of Justice, stalking is defined as “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated (two or more occasions) visual or physical proximity, non-consensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear”.
California was the first state to enact stalking legislation. In 1990, California Legislators developed Penal Code 646.9 as a result of a series of murders that took place in situations of domestic violence in which restraining orders were already on the books. The law was enacted to provide target persons with more legal recourse when restraining orders were disobeyed.
Right around that time, there were also 2 widely publicized celebrity stalking cases – one lead to the death of a young actress and the other left another actress the victim of a violent stabbing attack. The murdered actress was Rebecca Schaeffer – her stalker obtained her address from a private investigator. She was killed by her stalker in 1989.
Prior to that, Theresa Saldana was pursued and violently stabbed in front of her home in 1982. Saldana subsequently became a stalking victim advocate. She founded an advocacy organization in the late 1980s, “Victims for Victims” and told her story through a TV movie. Her advocacy also led to the 1994 Driver’s Privacy Protection Act which was a result of her attack. This legislation prevents the disclosure of personal information by the DMV to persons other than as designated by the holder of the information. This sounds to be akin to what we currently hold as Protected Health Information in the healthcare industry.
After California, the rest of the states followed suit.Whilst the guidelines may be similar, each state may have different provisions regarding status of a restraining order, age and electronic stalking criteria.
You can find your the laws pertinent to your state at the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC).
Also on the NCVC site is a wealth of information including resources if you are, or think you are, being stalked: how to get help and even a log sheet so that you can keep good records of the unwanted contact.
All 50 states have stalking laws on the books.
Some stalking facts according to the National Center for Victims of crime:
- 7.5 Million people are stalked each year in the United States
- 15% of women and 6% of men have experienced stalking in which they were fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
- 61% of female victims and 44% of male victims are stalked by a current or former intimate partner.
- About half of the victims report their stalking happening before age 25.
- 78% of stalkers use more than one means of approach (i.e. calling, texting, emailing, following).
- Weapons are used to harm or threaten victims in 1 out of 5 cases.
- Almost 1/3 of stalkers have stalked before.
- 46% of stalking victims are fearful from not knowing what will happen next.
- 20% of victims fear the stalking will never stop.
- 1 in 7 victims move as a result of their victimization.
- The prevalence of anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression is much higher among stalking victims than the general population, especially if the stalking involved being followed or having one’s property destroyed.
- 76% of intimate partner female homicide (femicide) victims have been stalked by their intimate partner.
- 67% were physically abused previously by the partner.
- 89% of femicide victims who had been physically assaulted had also been stalked in the 12 months prior to their murder.
- 54% of femicide victims reported stalking to police before they were killed by their stalkers.
- Less than 1/3 of states classify stalking as a felony upon first offense.
- More than ½ the states classify stalking as a felony upon second or subsequent offenses or when the crime involves “aggregating factors”
The Coaching Through Chaos Podcast guest expert on this subject, Retired Detective Mike Proctor is one of the foremost experts on profiling and protecting oneself from stalkers. He spent over 30 years on the job as a law enforcement officer and was involved in one of the first documented stalking cases. He was a principal in developing a stalking protocol for law enforcement agencies and has spent his days profiling the mindset and behaviors of stalkers. Though an expert through all his on the job experience, he remains modest. He differentiates himself as a hands-on expert noting that he has participated in over a hundred stalking cases over the years, but has not clinically studied stalkers the way psychologists do at various research institutions. His books are written to help law enforcement, stalking victims and advocates to understand the mind of the stalker and to better protect themselves. Proctor’s most recent book is “Antidote for a Stalker” (2013). If you ever wanted to know anything and everything about stalkers, that book is the one to read.
Type of Stalkers (Proctor, 2013)
- The Domestic Violence Stalker (DV): most prevalent group, starts in intimate relationship that is subjected to DV
- The Acquaintance Stalker (AS): non-intimate knowledge of the stalker by the target – this can be someone they know well who may have been a friend, or it can be someone they met just once or twice.
- The Stranger Stalker (SS): considered the most frightening type because of the lack of knowledge of who they are which leads to a fear of what they are capable of doing. The podcast episode that accompanies this article tells the story of my experience with a Stranger Stalker.
Proctor then details subsets of types of stalkers. These are meant to help understand the behavior a bit more closely by signaling additional patterns of behavior.
Catherine Zeta-Jones was the victim of Triangle Stalking. The stalker, a woman, had a delusion that she was in a love relationship with Michael Douglas, the husband of Zeta-Jones. The stalker wanted to get Zeta-Jones out of the way so that she could be with him.
- The Triangle Stalker (TS): This is an example of when there is a target person who is in the way of the stalker (i.e stalking the wife to get at the husband as in the cast of the stalking of Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas. Zeta-Jones was targeted to get her out of the way for the female stalker to go after Micheal Douglas).
- The Predator Stalker (PS): This is exemplified by stalkers that stalk their victim for a period of time before they inflict violence on them. The most infamous example of this is the BTK (bind, torture, kill) killer. He stalked his victims before he eventually killed them.
- The Third Party Stalker (TPS): This is rare, but it is when the actual stalker brings in an accomplice to help him/her stalk their intended victim or inflict violence on them or their property to instill fear (i.e. Proctor details the story of an abusive husband who hires someone to damage his wife’s personal property on several occasions after she left him).
- The Retribution Stalker (TRS):This is exactly as it sounds – this stalker believes they need to get back at, or get retribution for harm they perceived was done to them. This is common in workplace settings (i.e. a laid off worker may stalk the former boss and enact a scenario of revenge on them).
- The Neighborhood Stalker (TNS): In this case the stalker and the stalking victim are neighbors. These have typically been difficult for law enforcement. These can be erotic-type stalking (i.e being obsessed with someone with love fantasies, or it can be the typical “bad-neighbor” scenario – stalking them with malicious intent with hatred and distrust fueling the interactions). Both have the potential to be very dangerous.
- Juvenile Stalkers: Minors who engage in stalking behavior- very often these are “love-based” in their origins – either its’ gone bad or gone unrequited. These are becoming more and more prevalent in recent years.
- Campus Stalkers: These are their own subset so that they are on the radar of campus police, instructors and officials. They can be very dangerous and there is a marked increase in these incidents over the last decade.
There are, of course, psychological disorders that are commonly associated with stalking behaviors. An entire chapter is dedicated to the personality types most associated with stalking behavior. Det. Proctor details case studies of all these types and subsets in “Antidote for a Stalker”. He provides an inside look at what these look like and gives true case examples of them. If you are as fascinated with true crime stories and psychological profiling as I am, you’ll really find the book an exciting read.
The Stalkers Bag of Tricks
Det. Proctor dedicates a chapter to what he calls the “Stalker’s Bag of Tricks”. These are all the ways a stalker can get to their victim. Among other things, he cites: vandalism, surveillance, targeting their animals, court harassment, identity theft, cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and workplace violence stalking. This is when I think if anyone is wondering if they are being stalked, it becomes very clear by way of the means through which the stalker initiates contact with the intended.
What to do if you are being stalked
Det. Proctor stresses the importance of the following
- Get law enforcement involved.
- Document everything.
- Notify your workplace,
- Get your family and friends up to speed on what’s going on – definitely don’t keep it a secret. There are times when someone thinks they may have given a stalker the wrong signal – please don’t worry about that. Once stalking has commenced, it is dangerous and you have a right to be protected by the law.
- Stop all contact with the stalker. This may seem live a no brainer, but, as in the case of acquaintance stalking, one can believe that if they are nice and polite enough to their stalker, they may get the point and leave them alone. Don’t try this. A stalker is someone who is potentially dangerous and is most likely aware that you do not wish to be pursued. I say “most likely” because they could have an erotomanic delusion convincing them that you are in love with them – these can be highly dangerous.
- Develop a safety plan
- Review your home for safety measures
- Get a restraining order if you qualify
- Utilize your Neighborhood Watch program if it is available
- There are times when, depending on their ages, it can be important to tell your kids what is going on for their protection and yours.
There is so much information packed into “Antidote for Stalker”. I encourage you to check it out for yourself. Retired Detective Mike Proctor can be found at his website detectivemikeproctor.com. He is available for teaching and speaking engagements on this subject.
https://www.victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/stalking-resource-center This is the National office for Victims of Crime. There are great stats, PDFs and other resources on stalking education and help.
http://www.justice.gov/ovw Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women
http://stalkingawarenessmonth.org/resources Great resources on education and help
http://www.safehorizon.org/page/facts-about-stalking-26.html Includes a crime Victims Hotline and resources for help
http://homepage.psy.utexas.edu/homepage/Group/BussLAB/stalkinghelp/ The goal of this web site is to provide stalking victims, mental health professionals, and law enforcement personnel with scientifically validated, continuously updated information to help prevent stalking and its negative consequences.