Most everyone has experienced a painful break-up at one point in their lives, so it is easy to sympathize with someone else who is having difficulty letting go – who continues phoning, or sending flowers, letters, and gifts to an estranged partner in an attempt to reconcile with him/her. Many of us have also had romantic crushes on another person, so we can relate to the kinds of tactics people sometimes use to get the attention of their objects of affection.
When you are on the receiving end of these types of pursuit, it can be very flattering; but, when it crosses an invisible line, and makes you feel increasingly uneasy, then that is your instinct telling you something very important – that you are being stalked, and you might very well be in danger.
Trust Your Instincts:Listen to your gut feeling. If you are a target of unwanted pursuit, and the situation makes you feel afraid, then you probably have good reason to be afraid. If you can relate to any of the below emotional signs in yourself, read on to learn more about the law, potential health consequences for victims of stalking, the types of stalking behaviors, and what you can do to protect yourself from potentially becoming another statistic:
Do you feel …
- resentment toward your pursuer or others who enable his/her behavior?
- fear of what your pursuer might do?
- vulnerable, unsafe, and not sure of whom you can trust?
- confused by your pursuer’s intentions and uncertain about how you should be feeling?
- frustrated and isolated because those around you can’t understand why you might be feeling afraid?
- hopeless and powerless to make your pursuer leave you alone?
- that your personal safety at work/home has diminished?
- that you’ve lost control of your life due to the constant pursuit?
- powerless to change the situation?
- overly anxious, nervous, and impatient?
- depressed, overwhelmed, and easily brought to tears?
Stalking Is Illegal:Subsection 264 of the Criminal Code states:
(1) No person shall, without lawful authority, and knowing that another person is harassed or recklessly as to whether the other person is harassed, engage in the conduct referred to in subsection (2) that causes that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them.
(2) The conduct mentioned in subsection (1) consists of (a) repeatedly following from place to place the other person or anyone known to them; (b) repeatedly communicating with, either directly or indirectly, the other person or anyone known to them; (c) besetting or watching the dwelling-house, or place where the other person, or anyone known to them resides, works, carries on business, or happens to be; or (d) engaging in threatening conduct directed at the other person or any member of their family.
In plain English, below are some examples that better describe the Stalking/Criminal Harassment behaviors referred to in subsection 264 of the Criminal Code:
- repeated, unwanted contact by telephone calls/hang-ups, letters, cards, faxes
- repeated, unwanted contact over the Internet in chat rooms, newsgroups, or through email (also known as "cyber stalking")
- sending unwanted gifts of any kind (pleasant gifts such as flowers, candy, toys, books, jewelry, pictures, et cetera; or, strange gifts such as bullet casings, lockets of hair, bloody clothing, et cetera)
- showing up uninvited wherever you happen to be
- stealing/opening your personal mail to find out more about you
- ordering/canceling goods or services on your behalf
- following you, watching you, maintaining surveillance on you
- threatening to harm you, your family, friends or pets
- harassing your family, friends, colleagues, or your employer
- convincing his/her friends to spy on you, or harass you (sometimes referred to as "stalking by proxy")
- filing multiple frivolous court claims against you in order to harass or simply keep in touch with you
- vandalizing your property
- breaking into your home/office
- kidnapping you, holding you hostage
- assaulting you
If convicted of this offense, men/women can face up to five years in prison. However, in order for their conduct to be considered Stalking/Criminal Harassment in a court of law, it must first meet the following five key elements:
- The offender engaged in the conduct described in subsection 264(2):
One overtly threatening attack can justify a charge of Criminal Harassment, such as verbally or physically threatening another person’s physical safety or life. However, statistics have shown that stalking behavior need not be overtly threatening in order to be potentially dangerous later on; therefore, repeated contact that poses an implicit threat to the victim is also grounds for a charge by police. When using the word “repeated,” this means that the offender carried out any of the above-mentioned behaviors more than once or twice.
- The offender did not have lawful authority to engage in the prohibited conduct:
Sorry – but you can’t charge creditors with stalking, even if you fear their repeated phone calls! Unfortunately, they have lawful authority to collect on any debt if your payments are in arrears.
On a more serious note: unlike the creditor, a past union or marriage between the offender and his/her victim does not constitute lawful authority. This means that an estranged husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, brother/sister, et cetera, does not have the right to continually contact you if you have asked to be left alone. Everyone has the right to end a consensual relationship if and when they choose to end it; so, if your ex won’t leave you alone and this frightens you, you have the right to protection under this law.
- The offender knew that the victim was harassed, or was reckless/willfully blind as to whether the victim was harassed:
A lack of intent to harass or cause fear is not a defense. The issue is the effect the stalking had on the victim.
When prosecuting Stalking/Criminal Harassment cases, the Crown does not have to prove that the offender knew the victim feared for his/her safety, or that the offender was warned the behavior in question was a criminal offense. The victim does not even have to be forceful in rebuffing the defendant’s attention. In other words, it is expected that the offender should have known that repeatedly bothering his/her victim would, reasonably, have the affect of making him/her feel harassed.
To be safe, victims of stalking should contact the police early on, file a formal complaint with them, and request that an officer contact the offender with a warning. If this does not put a stop to the offender’s behavior altogether, it will at least tell the stalker that his/her victim has a protective barrier in place, and it will also help the Crown Prosecutor’s case in convicting the offender later on.
- The conduct causes the victim to fear for his/her safety or the safety of someone known to them:
Fear for safety is not restricted to a victim’s fear for his/her life or physical safety. If a victim fears for his/her mental, psychological, and/or emotional safety, this is enough to warrant a charge of Stalking/Criminal Harassment.
- The victim’s fear must be reasonable in all the circumstances:
Determining reasonableness of fear requires that a subjective test be done to learn the effects the offender’s harassment had on the victim: What is the entire history between the victim and the accused? What was the sequence of events that led up to the victim’s present state of distress? Has the victim provided physical evidence and/or a detailed log of these events? Does the victim appear to be a credible witness who is telling the truth, or someone who is lying to police in order to avenge the accused?
In cases where there is one or more overtly threatening assault on the victim, reasonableness of fear can be more easily determined; however, history tells us that escalation of any of the above behavioral patterns is cause for concern. The very fact that the accused engaged in the repeated, unwanted pursuit of his/her victim is a strong indicator that something is very wrong. Another sign is the victim’s current state of health in comparison to where they started.
The Health Effects of Stalking on Victims:
In the beginning of this article, we discussed some of the universal emotions victims of stalking report feeling. The sad truth is that the potential health consequences don’t stop there – not by a long shot. Not only can this type of harassment affect an individual’s mental and emotional wellbeing, but many also experience serious physiological reactions as indicated below:
- Potential Effects of Stalking on a Victim’s Mental and Emotional Health:
Denial and self-doubt Self-blame
Insecurity Shame and embarrassment
Frustration Low self-esteem
Self-consciousness Shock and confusion
Emotional numbness Isolation/disconnection from other people
Being easily startled A loss of interest in once enjoyable activities
Feeling suicidal A loss of trust in others and in one’s own perception
- Potential Effects of Stalking on a Victim’s Physiological Health:
Sleep disturbances Nightmares/flashbacks
Problems with intimacy/sex Low concentration levels
Lethargy Phobias and panic attacks
Digestive problems Fluctuations in weight
Dermatological breakouts Headaches
Dizziness Shortness of breath
Self-medication with alcohol/drugs Heart palpitations and sweating
After suffering from prolonged stalking, or one severe/threatening incident of Criminal Harassment, a victim’s symptoms may even be triggered by other people, objects, or situations that remind them – either consciously or unconsciously – of the trauma they experienced. This is a sign that they may be suffering from Acute/Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and that they require immediate medical care through psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of the two.
As we are about to learn, when discussing the typologies of stalkers, another real “health concern” for victims of stalking is the possibility of sexual/physical assault or murder. This threat is very real. It should never be taken lightly and escalates the importance of reporting any stalking incidents to police right away.
There are three main types of stalkers: Erotomaniacs, Love Obsessional Stalkers, and Simple Obsessional Stalkers (also known as Ex Intimate Partner Stalkers). What they have in common is an unhealthy fixation on their targeted victims. What separates them is their motivation in pursuing those victims.
Typologies of Stalkers:
Some commonalities to watch for in stalkers are as follows:
- They often abuse alcohol and/or drugs
- They generally have a low self-esteem coupled with an obsessive personality
- They have had few personal relationships
- They have a desire for power and control over their victims
- They will most likely deny that they have a problem, or that they are doing anything wrong, and will try to minimize the reactions their victims have to their behavior
- They will rationalize their behavior by blaming their victims, or anyone else who tries to intervene
- They will often reject arguments by their victims, or others, to cease their stalking behaviors and seek psychological help from a medical professional
The differences between the three main stalking typologies are as follows:
Erotomania StalkingErotomaniacs are the most well known type of stalkers, as their targets are generally public figures or celebrities, and, consequently, the media often profiles their cases. In actuality, this type of stalker is the least common of the three typologies and, historically, the least dangerous.
Erotomaniacs are delusional, most of them suffering from some sort of mental disorder such as schizophrenia. They stalk because they believe they have a relationship with their target, even if they’ve never personally met him/her.
A prime example of this type of stalker is Margaret R. Ray – the woman who pursued the popular late night talk show host, David Letterman, with the belief that she was his wife, and their love was mutual.
Love Obsessional StalkingLove Obsessional stalkers are similar to Erotomaniacs in that their victims can be complete strangers to them; however, these stalkers sometimes also target casual aquaintances such as coworkers or neighbors.
Unlike the Erotomaniac, they do not have the delusion that a relationship already exists, and most suffer from a personality disorder rather than a mental illness. They are motivated to stalk in an attempt to establish a more personal relationship with their object of affection. They may go so far as to invent detailed fantasies of the relationship they want with that victim (such as, creating scrapbooks filled with pictures of themselves and the victim); and, if they cannot have a positive relationship with their target, they will often settle for a negative relationship instead.
One of the most notorious Love Obsessional stalkers is Mark David Chapman – the man who claimed to be John Lennon’s biggest fan, but then shot him to death outside his home. Chapman was so desperate to have any kind of relationship/association with Lennon that when his affection was not reciprocated, he settled for violence instead. In a very tragic sense, he got his wish: he will forever be associated with Lennon.
Another case of Love Obsessional Stalking that actually precipitated the creation of anti-stalking legislation in 1993 was the Laura Black case. Laura Black was an average, everyday person being romantically pursued by one of her male coworkers. When she did not reciprocate his advances, and he subsequently lost his job due to his repeated harassment of her, he responded by returning to the workplace in a murderous rage. This resulted in Laura’s death, and the death of several of her coworkers, before he finally turned the gun on himself and committed suicide.
(a reader wrote and said:
LAURA IS NOT DEAD. HER STALKER IS NOT DEAD. HE IS ON DEATH ROW.)
Simple Obsessional (sometimes referred to as Ex-Intimate Partner) StalkingPolice regard Simple Obsessional stalkers as the most common and potentially dangerous of all the typologies. They account for more than 60% of all reported stalking cases, and arise from the end of a consensual relationship between a husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, or other domestic partner.
These stalkers are highly disturbed due to the loss of their partner, and pursue that person in an attempt to continue controlling him/her after the relationship has ended. In many of these cases, there was a history of domestic abuse – emotional, verbal, and/or physical abuse – in the relationship, making the potential for violence even greater. The “If I can’t have you, then no one can!” attitude is a common – and dangerous – trait in this type of stalker. What might have begun as an attempt to reconcile with his/her estranged partner can ultimately result in a murder/suicide.
What To Do If You Are Being Stalked:Say no ONCE then do not have any further personal contact with the person pursuing you. Do not reply to any future phone calls, not even to tell him/her, “Leave me alone!” If you do, chances are the only thing that person will understand is that it takes “x” number of phone calls to get you to answer, and he/she will continue pursuit in full force with the hopes you will respond again.
The reality is that, in most cases, a victim of stalking will not be able to correct the situation on his/her own. Very few stalkers desist from pursuing their targets until after law enforcement officials have intervened. Therefore, below is a list of precautions you can take to better your chances of getting the help you need:
- Do everything you can to avoid all contact with your stalker
- Inform those close to you (family, friends, coworkers) about what is going on
- Obtain a restraining order or peace bond
- Make sure you have quick access to critical telephone numbers and transportation
- Arrange a safe alternative place to go if needed
- Keep your doors locked at all times (house and vehicle)
- Park your vehicle in well-lit areas, and do not go out to the parking lot alone
- Change your routine (such as traveling a different route to work each day) in order to avoid any activities that may be predictable to your stalker
- Report all incidents of stalking to your local police
- As the police require evidence in order to charge an offender with stalking, be diligent in keeping all physical evidence you have received (such as letters, gifts, voice mails, and emails), and keep a written log of the intangibles (such as dates, times, and locations where you saw your stalker following or watching you, and the names/numbers of other witnesses)
The most important thing you can do to help yourself, or your loved ones, in stalking situations is to be informed, and make sure that those around you are also informed. You do not have control over a stalker’s behaviour, and it is nearly impossible to predict who may become a target of stalking. But if you know the symptoms to watch for, and are aware of the law, then your chances of resolving the issue early on will be that much greater.
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Kim S. is a published author, award-winning speaker, and creator/presenter of The Awareness Series speaking series. Her mission is to deal head-on with stigmatized social issues such as workplace harassment, domestic abuse, depression, and single parenting. Each of these presentations is a must-see, delivered from the most alluring viewpoint there is: that of the survivor.