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Network for Surviving Stalking

For Release at 1pm, Friday 23rd September 2005

  Key findings from www.stalkingsurvey.co

September 2005

1,300 victims of stalking completed an on-line questionnaire at www.stalkingsurvey.com between October 2004 and September 2005. 250 responses were excluded from the analyses because they were incomplete, because they were not considered to describe cases of ‘stalking’, because respondents were evidently not serious or were suspected to be stalkers, or because respondents were judged to be delusional. The key findings from the survey as detailed below are based on 1051 responses.

  Demographics

  • The majority of victims were female (86%). This figure is commensurate with previous research. It should be noted that men are less likely to define themselves as stalking victims than are women
  • The largest proportion of respondents resided in the United Kingdom (60%), followed by the USA (33%)
  • Surprisingly, no notable differences were found between the UK and the USA groups. Both groups detailed very similar experiences, from the types of stalking behaviours they experienced, to the effects on themselves and others, and the response of the police and other agencies
  • As demonstrated by previous research, a large proportion of victims were professionals (36%). However, victims from across the entire socio-economic spectrum were seen, indicating that anyone can become a victim of stalking
  • The average age of victims at the start of the stalking was 33 years. The youngest victim was 10 years old when the stalking began, the oldest 71. The average age of stalkers when they began their campaigns was 38 years. The youngest was 13, the eldest 79. Stalkers and their victims tend to be older than the perpetrators and victims of most crimes

Prior relationship

  • Half the sample had a prior intimate relationship with the person who became their stalker. A further one third had some prior acquaintance with the stalker, e.g. through work or school, or the stalker was a friend of a friend, or a neighbour. One in 10 stalkers began their campaigns as total strangers to the victim. This underlines the fact that virtually anyone can become the victim of a stalker, and stalkers can be found in most social situations. Put simply, the only way to guarantee not becoming the victim of a stalker is to avoid the social world
  • Where the stalker and victim had shared an intimate relationship, the majority of victims said that their stalker had abused them whilst the relationship was intact. Only one in six of these victims said their ex-partner had not been emotionally and/or physically abusive.

It couldn't happen to me

  • Most victims (over two thirds) said they had heard of ‘stalking’ prior to their own victimization. Half (rightly) believed it to be a severe harassment problem but a third thought (wrongly) that only the mentally ill stalked. Still others had believed stalking to be a media scare story or something that only celebrities experienced. One clear finding was that before they were targeted, victims simply didn’t believe that stalking was something that could ever happen to them. They had felt that they would be able to deal with it before it became serious, or that it only happened to people who encouraged it

 Stalkers employ many methods

  • The ‘top three’ stalking behaviours were: unsolicited telephone calls (reported by 72% of victims), spying on the victim, (67%) and threatening to commit suicide (62%). Less common - but still relatively frequent - stalking behaviours included: breaking into the victim’s home (19%), sexual assault (18%), abuse of pets (15%), threatening to harm the victim’s children (13%). Still less common methods included defamation of character and identity theft. Typically, stalkers will employ a diverse range of tactics and will only very rarely engage in a single stalking activity

 Stalking is life changing

  • A third of victims explained that they had lost jobs and relationships, or had been forced to relocate as a direct result of being stalked. The same victims reported that only 8% of their stalkers had suffered similar significant life changes. This was despite the fact that 22% of stalkers had legal proceedings brought against them, else were detained under the Mental Health Act. So, stalking has more profound negative effects on the victims than the stalkers

 Physical and emotional effects

  • Just 4% said their stalker did not frighten them. More than half (58%) said they were ‘very frightened’ by their stalker. Males as well as females talked about the fear that their stalker instilled in them
  • 92% reported physical effects and 98% reported emotional effects. These included: anxiety, sleep disturbances, anger, distrust, suicide attempts, depression, paranoia, appetite disturbances, agoraphobia, injuries inflicted by the stalker, self-harm, rape by the stalker and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Physical and emotional effects were severe and long lasting
  • Half of the victims said they were stronger people as a result of being stalked, but a third said their personality had changed forever, and a sixth said they would be unable to trust other people again
  • Half said they had become hypersensitive as a result of being stalked. For instance, text messages and e-mails from unknown sources and unexpected sources were wrongly attributed to the stalker

 Financial and social losses

  • Serious financial and social losses were also reported. Half changed their telephone numbers, half gave up social activities, half saw their performance at work affected, a third relocated. Others gave up friends and family, or changed their identity
  • A third paid to fix or replace property destroyed by the stalker, and a fifth paid for legal advice. Others changed or replaced their car, installed security systems, or lost their jobs
  • Half the sample said they lost money as a result of being stalked. Financial losses ranged from 20 to 4 million. Most lost under 5,000, half lost 1,500 or less. Those reporting losses of 200 were most likely to describe losses due to stalker vandalism and therapy-related expenses, while those with losses of 1,500 or more were most likely to ascribe these to legal costs

 Victims are not the only casualties

  • A quarter of victims said that the stalker also targeted their children. A third said their family and friends were also stalked, and a fifth said work colleagues were harassed
  • Virtually anyone could be targeted by the stalker: strangers who the stalker believed were somehow connected to the victim, people who moved into the victim’s house after the victim moved, police and solicitors working on the case, the stalker’s own family…
  • The average number of people directly affected in a stalking case was 21. Such persons included: the victim’s children, the victim’s partner’s parents, strangers, the victim’s neighbours, and the victim’s work contacts

 The stalker’s helpers

  • Stalkers were adept at findings out information concerning the victim, and at convincing third parties to aid their stalking campaign
  • 40% obtained information from the victim’s friends, 27% from the victim’s workplace, 27% from the victim’s family, 17% from public records. Stalkers would obtain information from anywhere they could: via surveillance and tracking equipment, from private detectives, from the internet, from taxi and delivery firms, from people who had passing acquaintance with the victim, and many more sources (some unknown to the victim and police)
  • Many victims noted that their stalker could be very charming when obtaining information from third parties. Stalkers also easily duped others into passing on information about the victim
  • A third said others had helped their stalker knowingly, and a third said their stalker had been aided unwittingly. Of those who knowingly aided the stalker, some were paid and others were manipulated by the stalker into believing that the stalker did not have a sinister motive

Not being taken seriously

  • Half of all victims were told that they were over-reacting or being paranoid when they first began to express fears to family and friends that they were being stalked. Perhaps partly because of this, 57% said that when their stalking began they didn’t go to the police for fear of being ignored or laughed at.
  • A sixth were told by others that they were lucky to be receiving such attention.
  • Half began to feel they were going mad or perhaps imagining the stalking. This rarely occurred where family, friends and the police took the victim seriously from the outset.

The police

  • No marked differences were seen between UK based and USA based victims in terms of the police response they reported, and their views concerning the police. Given legislative and practical policing differences between the two nations, this may be considered surprising. It has been known for some years however, that stalking is an international phenomenon and victims in many countries report very similar experiences
  • 42% of all victims reported their stalker to the police. Of these, 61% said the police were ‘very helpful’
  • 40% were satisfied with the Crown Prosecution Service. The majority of victims whose case did not reach court cited insufficient evidence as the primary reason
  • Some victims noted that their stalker was an extremely manipulative individual who was able to convince the police that the stalking was a non-existent or trivial matter. Still other stalkers made counter-allegations of stalking
  • Victims felt that overall, the police in the UK were sympathetic towards the needs of stalking victims, but could benefit from training or guidance on the nature of stalking and the many tactics employed by stalkers
  • UK victims whose stalking experience began in 2003 or later were more likely to rate the police positively. For instance, a majority (70%) said that when they reported their stalker to the police, the police did ask about all occasions of stalking. This compares to 56% in pre-2003 cases
  • Victims felt that arrest was the best police response to stalking. However, many noted that arrest, charges, a restraining order and even jail failed to stop their stalker
  • Many victims noted that police responses should be tailored to the needs of individual cases, given the fundamental differences between different types of stalkers

 Starting and ending stalking

  • Victims were asked what they believed triggered the stalking. Half of the respondents cited rejection (most often the rejection of partners or potential partners). The next largest group said they had no idea why they were being stalked, followed by those who cited jealousy (romantic or general), arguments (usually with strangers or acquaintances), and finally, mental illness in the stalker
  • From those cases where the stalking had ended, no clear pattern was detected as to the most effective ways of curtailing the activities of stalkers. The largest proportion of victims whose stalking had ended said this was due to the delivery of a police warning (one in six). However, a similar proportion said their stalking had only ceased when they moved to a secret location. The largest proportion simply did not know why the stalker had stopped. For this reason, 18% of all victims did not know whether they were still being targeted.
  • Similarly, there was no clear pattern between how far a case had gone through legal channels and whether the stalking had ended. Some stalkers stopped after a police warning or a solicitor’s letter, or after an injunction or restraining order had been imposed. Others did not. Being jailed stopped some stalkers but not others. Stalkers are not a homogenous group. Because different stalkers will have different motivations for stalking, they will react differently to the imposition of various sanctions
  • 40% said that from the perspective of victims, stalking never ends. Even if a stalker appears to stop the stalking, many victims noted that there is no guarantee that it will not resume

What victims want

  • Victims want to be taken seriously by the agencies, to be believed. This was their principal wish
  • Victims want to see an increase in awareness so that the general public take stalking seriously, and to erode stereotypes (e.g. that only celebrities are stalked or that stalkers are ‘sad’ but harmless individuals who are seeking a romantic relationship)
  • Victims want practical help and practical advice, such as: advice on collecting and preserving evidence, how to change telephone numbers and routines, security advice, help with CCTV or personal attack alarms, advice on available legal responses, advice from psychologists, referrals to other agencies. Again, many noted that there are different stalker types and expressed hope that any advice would recognize this fact. For instance, a violent ex-partner stalker would require a different intervention to a non-violent delusional stalker
  • 80% wanted stalkers to be tagged
  • Victims of stalking want a helpline to provide practical advice

 23rd September 2005

Author: Dr Lorraine Sheridan, Chartered Forensic Psychologist and Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology, University of Leicester

E-mail: lorraine.sheridan@le.ac.uk

 

UNIVERSITY OF LEICESTER, UNIVERSITY ROAD,
LEICESTER LE1 7RH, UK T: 0116 252 2522 F: 0116 252 2200
 

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