The increase in the amount of “stalking” that occurs between boyfriends and girlfriends is an alarming trend. This essay will examine the typical pattern of a stalking relationship between a couple who had been previously romantically involved with one another, followed by an analysis of the behavior in order to explore what causes it as well as possible solutions. According to the Unite States National center for Victims of crime, about 1 in 12 women will be stalked during their lifetime, while 1 in 45 men will suffer a similar experience (Mullen, 2000). It is thus a common crime that needs to be explored.
Stalking can be defined as one or more characteristic types of behavior which occur over a period of time. These include repeated physical following, “spying” on a person’s actions over time, contacting the person (phone, letter), contacting of family members and so-called “cyberstalking” in which a person is ‘followed’ through the Internet. A single case of stalking may include all of these types of behavior or perhaps just one, or any combination thereof. Over time, the stalking may move from one type to another, may decrease in severity only to increase again. Thus the “typical” stalking crime is difficult to characterize.
The most common form of stalking between girlfriends and boyfriends is that which can be categorized as “rejected stalking” (Mullen, 2000). In this type of stalking one member of a romantic relationship breaks the connection off and the spurned member then pursues the victim “in order to reverse, correct or avenge the rejection” (Meloy, 2000). Most cases tend to be rejected teenage boys stalking their former girlfriends, although at times the girl can be the perpetrator. This type of stalking is not as serious as others, such as the “predatory stalker”, for whom the stalking is merely a prelude to a violent attack. The rejected stalker is someone for whom the stalking is an end in itself, even though it may start with some forlorn hope of restoring the relationship.
The typical stalking relationship between teenage romantic couples starts with an apparently intense relationship in which “love” is spoken of, and the couple are often physically involved with one another (Davis, 2001). The actual “romantic” part of the relationship tends to be short-lived, as one of the couple decides that the other is too intense or too serious about the romance and they seek to leave the other. It is at this point that the problems start. The left lover may seek to get back with his girlfriend (this essay is assuming the statistically more common situation of boyfriend stalking girlfriend) through methods that have been used for millennia, and would not be regarded as stalking: flowers, promises, letters, phone calls.
The exact moment at which these attempts for a reconciliation move into the realm of stalking is somewhat hazy (Gross, 2000). After a time the behavior moves from attempting something positive to being personally destructive. The behavior becomes obsessive and continues even when the stalked person repeatedly tells the other to stop any kind of contact. Indeed, the more that the stalking victim pushed away from the stalker, the more the stalker continues to claim that he “loves” the other and wants to be with her (Meloy, 2000). The behavior will continue, essentially for its own sake, until the stalker is either stopped by law enforcement authorities or loses interest in the behavior. A very few cases end tragically in either violence or murder, although these are not the most common type of culmination.
One of the basic problems with analyzing stalking is that it is made up of a series of acts which, on their own at least, would not rise above the level of ordinary behavior, let alone to something potentially criminal that may lead to violence. A single phone call, or even several phone calls, after a relationship has ended, is quite normal. Sending a few e-mails, or letters if the person still indulges in this practice, are similarly benign. Even going to a place where a person suspects the former lover will be has been used to attempt to regenerate a relationship (sometimes successfully) for centuries.
It is the obsessive repetition of such behaviors that leads to a definition of stalking. A certain proportion of stalkers have exhibited signs of obsessive-compulsive behavior in the past (Meloy, 2000) and, when male, have tended to have a history of criminal behavior and/or substance. The inability to deal with life in a moderate manner seems to characterize these people, Also, at is extreme, a psychopathic view of the world in which people become merely objects to be used (and abused) as the stalker sees fit, can be identified.
Some psychologists have linked stalking behavior with various types of paranoid disorders. For example, the “rejected stalker” that is being dealt with here involves the clinging to a relationship by a co-dependent partner who possesses delusions of permanent entitlement (Meloy, 2000). Thus the boyfriend thinks that he is entitled to have a girl as his girlfriend because she was once his girlfriend. A sense of ownership occurs here, with an emphasis upon a narcissistic personality that cannot believe that someone would come to the point of not wanting them. In many ways the stalking becomes a reflection of the stalker’s dissatisfaction with something within his own personality: the girl/woman being stalked is merely the canvas onto which those dissatisfactions are being projected.
The psychological effects on the stalking victim can be severe. As Proctor (2000) suggests the talker “disruptively breaks into the life world of the victim . . . the separated acts that make up the intrusion cannot by themselves cause mental abuse, but do taken together”. The effects upon the victim may include denial, self-doubt, low self-esteem, depression, emotional numbness, isolation,
decreased ability to perform up to standard at work/school and post traumatic stress disorder (Davis, 2001). There are also a number of physical effects including sleep disturbances, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations and self medication with drugs/alcohol (Davis, 2001). The combination of physical and psychological stress caused within the victim of stalking can lead to an apparently unbearable life, and suicide rates are much higher for those being stalked than within the general population.
Possible solutions to stalking include a number of different focuses. First of all, various privacy laws can stop the invasion of privacy involved with stalking. These include nationwide methods such as making driving records secret to strict anti-stalking laws that can make the actual accumulation of acts which make up stalking a felony. Restraining orders are controversial as to their efficacy in stopping stalking (Davis, 2001). If a stalker is really determined they are unlikely to have much effect and indeed may cause violence through the sense of frustration and being victimized. However, for the majority of stalking cases that are thankfully more minor than these, a restraining order may provide a cooling-off period in which the stalker loses interest in the object of his desire. Technology is enabling a different sort of stalking to occur, both within and after a relationship. For example, The Register reports that “a service has been launched in the UK which allows you to track any mobile phone around the glove and follow its movements from your own computer” (register, 2006). While the company, World-Tracker, claims that it first sends a text message to the phone number that will be tracked asking whether the person wants it to be tracked, there is evidence that this has not always occurred. Furthermore, the company has no idea who is giving permission – it might be the stalker who has got access to the phone who is sending the message. This service enables a person to indulge in a form of virtual stalking in which they can track the movements of the partner/ex-partner to within a few feet constantly as long as they have their mobile phone with them.
On a case-by-case basis psychotherapeutic intervention may help to stop a stalker if, and unfortunately these are rare cases, he realizes that what he is doing is a problem. If law enforcement become involved a stalker can be given a suspended sentence with the proviso that he take a psychological therapy course that will enable him to deal with the underlying causes of his behavior (Meloy, 2000). This approach can be very effective: there is the element of threat of jail as an incentive to stop the behavior, and also help in stopping it through an objective professional who will help rather than condemn the stalker. At the same time the person being stalked may need psychological counseling to alleviate the effects of stalking which may long outlast the actual incidence of it.
At a wider societal level, perhaps more education of young people within schools of the nature of emotional relationships and the kinds of extreme feelings (both positive and negative) that they can engender would be useful. In this way those who are on the receiving end of the break-up of a relationship will have the tools to deal with it, or will at least know where to turn in order to find help from the outside. Too often the stalker and his victim are left within an isolated type of world in which no-one, even within the closest family, knows precisely what is happening on either side. Family need to take an interest in their children, even as they grow into the seemingly greater independence of adolescence. In fact they may be more vulnerable both to being tempted into the criminal behavior of stalking and to become involved within relationships in which they will be stalked. Several websites offer information and advice for both those who are being stalked and those who may have fallen into the behavior themselves. The Cornell University College of Human Ecology (cornell, 2007) offers such a free service.
Interestingly, the Cornell site suggests that the word “stalking” is often used in too broad a sense. They suggest that the term intrusive contact should be used because the word stalking means “to follow someone without them knowing, is one form of intrusive contact” (cornell, 2007) but goes on to say that in fact a range of behavior actually occurs. There are thus degrees of stalking according to Cornell, and they should not all be given the physically threatening connotation that the word ‘stalking’ suggests.
The fact of the matter is, as Cornell suggests, that “every relationship is different and every breakup is different” (Cornell, 2007), thus implying that stalking will occur in a whole range of ways that cannot be fully described or prevented. This website provides some practical advice on how to avoid letting this “intrusive contact” get out of hand. One of them, interestingly, is to actually maintain some form of contact with the ex-partner but within “clear and reasonable limits” (Cornell, 2007). The authors suggest that :you might be willing to talk to your ex on the phone but unwilling to talk face-to-face . . . you could be willing to have conversations for 15 minutes or less, but not for longer” (Cornell, 2007).
These might appear to be ways of not making one’s ex too angry, but the problem arises of whether this is essentially a way of surrendering to the need for continued contact when the individual in fact does not really want it. Will this type of compromise in fact enable the stalker through in fact providing hope for their desires to “get back together” with the person being stalked? Again, there are no clear answers to these questions. The fact of the matter is, as the Cornell site suggests that “reasonable limits are those that do not inappropriately restrict what your ex can do” (Cornell, 2007).
Such attempts to restrict movement, perhaps based upon a restraining order, may in fact make the situation worse, The –ex may feel that they are being persecuted, and perhaps actually have some rational arguments upon their side. At times restraining orders may be taken out in order to gain vengeance against a former partner, or to provide a degree of certainty that an individual will never see them even though they live, work or go to school in the same town (Young, 1999). This type of abuse of attempts to stop stalking and/or domestic violence has two unfortunate consequences. First, it may make the stalker even more mad at the victim. Second, it may turn someone who in fact was not a stalker into an individual who wants ‘vengeance’ against the person who has taken out an order against them.
Thus it must be remembered that a certain amount of strife – perhaps including arguments, unwanted conversations and even vaguely threatening situations – has been a part of the end of relationships for thousands of years. Not every “bad breakup” needs to be brought into the legal province, as this may in fact exasperate the situation rather than making it any better. It is a sad fact that if a person really intends to do physical harm to another a restraining order is highly unlikely to stop them from doing so.
So if all ‘stalking’ is regarded as life-threatening, as some of the more unrestrained websites suggest (stalking, 2007). The idea that the ‘typical’ stalking situation is one in which there is genuine danger of a murder being committed is simply untrue. Alarmist propaganda will not serve to help the cause of tackling a genuine problem: it makes rational people reject the whole project if it appears to be based more upon emotion/a political agenda than on rational consideration of an actual crime.
To conclude, stalking is a serious and growing problem. Young people are starting “serious” relationships at younger ages and becoming exposed to emotions that they do not know how to handle in a mature manner. New technology, such as the Internet, makes it much easier for a stalker to silently ‘follow’ his victim in cyberspace or to contact him/her using e-mail and other methods. Solutions are available for stalking, but they should be holistic and multifaceted in nature. Protection of the victim should go hand in hand with treatment for the perpetrator.