Stalking is described as a crime that can be defined as a form of harassment. It is a repeated deliberate act of following or observing an individual over time with the intention to harm or intimidate.
In the United States, the definitions can vary but generally stalking has three common elements. These include a pattern of unwanted intrusion in a person's life, a real or potential threat that can be proved and a feeling of fear in the threatened individual. Stalking is a relatively new concept and despite the fact that such type of behavior has existed for centuries, it had not been classified as a crime until recently. The first stalking legislation was passed in California in 1990.
In psychology, stalking is usually referred to as obsessional following. There are different behavioral patterns, ranging from aggression and assault to telephone calls. Another common trait is the frequent presence of the stalker in the vicinity of the victim. Most stalkers are not physically aggressive and do not pose a real threat to the victim but there are exceptions to this trend. The typical profile of a stalker is a male, without any social competences and often with a mental disorder.
Psychiatrists distinguish between several types of stalkers:
- Rejected stalker – this type describes people who have separated from their partner and are trying to reverse the rejection or bring back their partner. They often have the feeling that they have been under-estimated or treated unfairly;
- Intimacy seeker – this refers to people who are resolute that they are destined to be with the object of their love, regardless of the victim's wishes. Many people in this category are under the impression that the victim loves them back. Such a delusion can often be attributed to a mental disorder;
- Incompetent suitor - is most likely a man who has had no or very few successful relationships. Usually this type of stalker has is socially inept and relies on his perseverance to attract the victim's attention;
- Resentful stalker – these people usually express anger and believe that they have been humiliated by their victims and often want to control or intimidate them;
- Predatory stalker – these are potentially the most dangerous because they often have the actual intention to attack the victim. They collect information and carefully plan their attack, a sexual assault in most cases.
A more recent type of stalking is referred to as cyber stalking. This kind of stalker may hack the victim's email, controlling their inbox and outbox. They are also likely to follow them in social networks. In some cases, cyber stalkers have created a web page to post insulting or humiliating material about the victim.
In 1997 the first national study of stalking took place in the United States. The National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAW) was a telephone poll of 8,000 women and 8,000 men who showed that 8% of the women and 2% of the men have been stalked at least once in their lifetime. An estimated one million American women and 400,000 men are stalked annually. Data shows that 52% of the victims were between 18 and 29 years of age at the time of the first incident and 12% were under 18.
In the majority of the cases victims are stalked by people they know, such as ex-partners. According to the research by NVAW, 77 percent of female victims and 64 percent of male victims were stalked by someone they knew, while and 59 percent of female and 30 percent of male victims were stalked by their intimate partner. The data also reveals that one-third of the female and one-fifth of the male victims needed counseling.
According to statistics quoted by the British National Stalker Programme (NSP), 93 percent of stalking victims admit that their personal relationships have suffered seriously. Many of them also feel that their performance at work or school has deteriorated as a result of the stalking. In addition, 34 percent suffered from psychiatric problems a year after the stalking had come to an end. In many cases victims suffer from headaches, anxiety, guilt, shame, eating disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A feeling of insecurity and inability to control their own life are among the most serious consequences for victims.