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Types of stalker

September 12, 2002 at 16:00
Dr Lorraine Sheridan, Lecturer in Psychology, University of Leicester 

University Road
LE1 7RH 
telephone: + 44 (0)116 223 1012
fax: + 44 (0)116 252 2067

Session organiser: BA Psychology Section and University of Leicester Dept of Psychology

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Details of the presentation

Types of stalker Lorraine Sheridan 


  • a new taxonomy of stalkers 
  • aimed explicitly at law enforcement practitioners with a view to assessing and managing individual real world stalking cases


  • it can help investigators to prioritise from the large number of potentially important factors present in any given case 
  • the system should enable its users to better understand the motivations behind various stalking activities. 
  • this is especially important given that the same behaviours may present different levels of danger when perpetrated by different stalker types. (E.g. an 'infatuation harasser' and a 'sadistic stalker' may both send unwanted flowers and letters, follow their victim, and attempt to glean information from the victim's friends and relatives. However, the motivations for these acts differ markedly). 
  • once law enforcement officers are aware of these differing motivations, they will be equipped with relevant information pertaining to the context for the behaviour, the degree and nature of the threat (if any) faced by the victim, and the criteria for selecting and adopting case management strategies. 


The methodology employed consisted of three distinct stages.

Stage one - 124 Stalking cases

  • An Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) accredited psychological profiler was consulted to assist in the construction of the typologies. 
  • The author and the profiler had access to a database of 124 stalking cases. 
  • The questionnaires explored:
demographic data for the victim and the stalker, - full details of the stalking: how it began; qualitative changes and constants over time, - how the stalking ended (if applicable), - perceived exacerbating and alleviating factors, - the primary emotions experienced by victims and how these evolved over time, - the reactions of significant others in the victim' life, - the response of the professional agencies involved.

Stage two - Stalker taxonomy

·The profiler and author each reviewed the entire 124 case data set with a view to producing a system of classification that would be most applicable to law enforcement practitioners. 

·Two guiding principles. (i) that there should be no pre-set number of stalker categories; 

(ii) no pre-agreement on the relative proportions of the data that would go to form each category. In other words, it was accepted that some forms of stalking may be far more prevalent than other forms.

Stage 3 - Assessing the taxonomy

·Two non-forensic psychologists, independently categorised each of the 124 cases according to the system. Inter-rater concordance rates were then calculated, and these all exceeded 92.7%.


·Four major stalker typologies, two of which are comprised of two further sub-sections. 

·The system was geared toward law enforcement practitioners and as such, the characteristics of each category are followed by unambiguous suggestions for case management. The extent to which each category was represented in the sample of 124 cases is shown in parentheses following their respective titles. These were calculated on the basis of the mean average ratings of the four raters who took part in phase 3 of the analysis.

Typology 1: Ex-partner harassment/stalking (50%)


·bitterness/hate = linked to relationship's history (past orientation) ·hot-headed anger/hostility (cf. sadist's cold need for control) ·prior relationship involving domestic violence which turns to more public violence and verbal abuse ·overt threats, particularly where placed in conjunction with recrimination and reference to perceived issues of contention ·recruitment of friends and family to perpetuate a campaign of hate ·motivating issues relate to custody/property/finance (associated issues of power/control/freedom) ·new relationships engender jealousy and aggressive behaviour ·third party abuse (verbal and physical), e.g. family members of and known supporters of the victim ·partisanship on both sides ·nature of harassment characterised by: high levels of physical violence, high levels of verbal threat, property damage ·triggers for harassment both spontaneous (e.g. following a chance encounter) and pre-meditated (e.g. sitting in a car outside the victim's home) ·activity tending towards being anger driven and impulsivity with corresponding lack of concern about coming to Police attention ·perpetrator age emerged as diverse and reflective of time of onset of strife in relationship

Case management implications

· high risk of violence · high risk of property damage · generalised anger, but the results show a need to take seriously any specific threats made · any unnecessary retaliation - financial, legal, physical or verbal - should be curbed to an absolute minimum · victim should avoid wherever possible frequenting same venues as offender · in extremis consider re-location with physical distance being even more important than secrecy 

Typology 2: Infatuation harassment (18.5%)


· target is 'beloved' rather than 'victim' · beloved is all pervasive in thoughts · world and events are interpreted in relation to beloved · beloved is focus of fantasy · focus of fantasy romantic and positive · intense yearning (cf. anger) · particular emphasis on hope of what might be (future orientation) · beloved sought out with non-malicious ruses e.g. billet-doux under windscreen wiper, hanging around and pretending it's a chance encounter, quizzing friends and associates regarding any aspects of the beloved · low levels of danger · harassment not characterised by threats, macabre gifts and negative intervention (cf. sinister and intrusion of sadist below) · perpetrator age typically teenage or mid-life 

Case management implications

Young love

· Elevation of the cognitive perspective - careful and thorough explanation regarding the law and how upsetting the whole thing is to the victim - adoption of sympathetic stance in explaining how the relationship has been misconstrued

Midlife love

· Again cognitive elevation but with: - possible exploration of placing physical distance between parties e.g. a work transfer - also address possible difficulties resulting from 'storge' or discord in existing relationship through counselling

Typology 3: Delusional fixation stalking (15.3%)

Where dangerous


· stalker tends to be incoherent yet victim fixated (orientation toward the present) · victim tends to be at high risk of physical violence and sexual assault · perpetrator likely to have come to the notice of police and mental health e.g. borderline personality disorder, episodic schizophrenia · perpetrator likely to have a history of sexual problems and offences, including stalking · activity is characterised by the incessant bombarding with telephone calls, letters, visits to workplace · behavioural patterns lacking in coherence, appearing in diverse places, at irregular times · content of material sent by and conversation of perpetrator => unsubtle, sexual/obscene, and disjointed semantically · stalkers tend to couch their statements of love in terms of sexual intent towards victim (cf. romantic stance of infatuated harasser) · stalkers held belief in relationship even though there has been no prior conversation · victims are male or female and tend to have some form of elevated/noteworthy status: - professionals (e.g. GPs, University lecturers) - celebrities (ibid.) - unfamous but local and attractive figures Case management implications

· not responsive to reason or rejection · refer to a forensic psychiatrist for assessment (although likely been assessed already)

Where less dangerous


· stalkers hold the delusional conviction that there is an extant, idealised relationship (present and future orientation) · stalker scarcely knows victim · activity not characterised by threats - just the stated belief that the victim wants to be with him (cf. sadistic stalkers' similar statements but with sinister twists such as "in heaven" or simply as a means of accentuating the victim's feelings of despair that nothing works) · stalker not amenable to reason from the victim (cf. (i) infatuation harassment where clarity can attenuate the behaviour and (ii) sadistic stalking where the perpetrator consciously exploits non-response to victims' appeals as a means of demonstrating helplessness) · stalker capable of a complete construction of a fantasy of an extant, reciprocated relationship as though victim was in accord and consensual · in the event of an eventual submerged perception that relationship is not fitting with the perpetrator's deluded perception - with rationalisation that it is someone else's fault (e.g. victim's husband putting demons in her head) · in the event of an individual being identified as thwarting the relationship, there is contingent element of danger - particularly where that individual is perceived by the stalker as being dangerous to victim · victims tended to be female professionals

Case management implications

· victim should seek legal remedy · victim should be advised not to respond as far as possible · if absolutely necessary to respond to the offender, the victims should be advised to do so with a clear negation of the situation and non-angry requests for him to go away · again if absolutely necessary to respond to the offender, the victim should never argue and keep the encounter down to a minimum · legal agencies should be aware that the stalker is not responsive to reason or rejection

Typology 4: Sadistic stalking (12.9%)


· victim is an obsessive target of the offender, and who's life is seen as quarry and prey (incremental orientation) · victim selection criteria is primarily rooted in the victim being: (i) someone worthy of spoiling, i.e. someone who is perceived by the stalker at the commencement as being: - happy - 'good' - stable - content and (ii) lacking in the victim's perception any just rationale as to why she was targeted · initial low level acquaintance · apparently benign initially but unlike infatuation harassment the means of intervention tend to have negative orientation designed to disconcert, unnerve, and ergo take power away from the victim - notes left in victim's locked car in order to unsettle target (cf. billet-doux of infatuated harassment) - subtle evidence being left of having been in contact with the victim's personal items e.g. rifled underwear drawer, re-ordering/removal of private papers, cigarette ends left in ash trays, toilet having been used etc. - 'helping' mend victims car that stalker had previously disabled · thereafter progressive escalation of control over all aspects (i.e. social, historical, professional, financial, physical) of the victim's life · offender gratification is rooted in the desire to extract evidence of the victim's powerlessness with inverse implications for his power => sadism · additional implication => self-perpetuating in desire to hone down relentlessly on individual victim(s) · emotional coldness, deliberateness and psychopathy (cf. the heated nature of ex-partner harassment) · tended to have a history of stalking behaviour and the controlling of others · stalker tended to broaden out targets to family and friends in a bid to isolate the victim and further enhance his control · communications tended to be a blend of loving and threatening (not hate) designed to de-stabilise and confuse the victim · threats were either overt ("We're going to die together") or subtle (delivery of dead roses) · stalker could be highly dangerous - in particular with psychological violence geared to the controlling of the victim with fear, loss of privacy and the curtailment of her social world · physical violence was also entirely possible - especially by means which undermine the victim's confidence in matters normally taken for granted e.g. disabling brake cables, disarming safety equipment, cutting power off · sexual content of communications was aimed primarily to intimidate through the victim's humiliation, disgust and general undermining of self-esteem · the older the offender, the more likely he would have enacted sadistic stalking before and would not be likely to offend after 40 years of age if not engaged in such stalking before · victim was likely to be re-visited after a seeming hiatus

Case management implications

· should be taken very seriously · acknowledge from outset that the stalker activity will be very difficult to eradicate · acknowledge that there is no point whatsoever in appealing to the offender - indeed will exacerbate the problem · never believe any assurances, alternative versions of events etc. which are given by the offender · however, record them for use in legal action later · the victim should be given as much understanding and support as can be made available · the victim should not be given false or unrealistic assurance or guarantees that s/he will be protected · the victim should carefully consider relocation. Geographical emphasis being less on distance per se, and more on where the offender is least able to find the victim · the police should have in mind that the sadistic stalker will be likely to:

(i) carefully construct and calculate their activity to simultaneously minimise the risk of intervention by authorities while retaining maximum impact on victim,

(ii) be almost impervious to intervention since the overcoming of obstacles provides new (iii) and potent means of demonstrating the victim's powerlessness (ergo self-perpetuating) and, (iiii) if jailed will continue both personally and vicariously with the use of a network.

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Last updated: 12 September 2002 17:00
Created by: Rachel Tunstall

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