By Nicole Beaver
It’s the time of year for candy, flowers, and cards that prove your affection to your one true love or one-time date. Or maybe all the candy is for you (and for that, I don’t blame you). Unfortunately, romance always seems to bring to mind the possibility of things going downhill and, as witnessed both in pop culture and real life, it can have some nasty consequences. I’m talking about stalking, something that horror films and Dateline episodes have employed since the term was coined. It has only been in the past twenty years, however, that laws have been put in place to protect individuals who are being stalked, but if you ask me, they’re still a little shabby. So as the holiday of romance rolls around, this article is dedicated to those who love something (or someone) but can’t set them free.
Stalking is defined as “repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other behavior directed at a specific person that would cause reasonable fear.” In a 2014 study done by Statistics Canada, they found that almost 2 million Canadians were affected by stalking in the five years preceding the 2014 General Social Survey on Victimization. This represented about 8% of women and 5% of men aged 15 and older. Often, victims said that the stalking took the form of threats or intimidation against someone else they knew (reported by 39% of victims), repeated and/or obscene (and sometimes silent) phone calls (31%), and unwanted emails, texts, or social media messages (28%). In addition to the stalking they experienced, one‑third of victims endured physical intimidation or threats of violence consistent with Criminal Code definitions of assault (32%). One in five (18%) stalking victims were actually harmed physically. Those numbers sure seem like a lot, huh? That leaves us with one question: what drives a person to become completely obsessed with another human being? Researcher Katrina Baum at the National Institute of Justice in Washington conducted a national stalking victimization study in 2009. Victims were asked what they thought motivated their stalkers to pursue them. Of 3,416,460 victims, 36.6% considered stalker motivations as “retaliation, anger or spite” while 32.9% replied “control.” This is true in some cases, such as a stalker who is a former partner. These stalkers are actually three times more likely to come after their ex!
Studies have proven that, in fact, mental illness is a prevailing factor along with substance abuse. You’ll be relieved to know, however, that while psychosis and personality disorders play a role in creating a stalker, those who experience forms of mental illness are not usually at risk of this happening. Stalkers are often separated into five different categories to help identify what they are most likely or unlikely to do and what role mental illness plays in it. These subtypes are as follows: rejected, resentful, intimacy-seeking, incompetent suitor, and predatory.
Intimacy-seeking and resentful stalkers have symptoms of psychosis in common as motivations. Here’s some quick facts about these subtypes:
- Intimacy-seeking is more prevalent, as it arises out of loneliness and a lack of a close confidante. Victims are usually strangers or acquaintances who become the target of the stalker’s desire for a relationship. Frequently, it involves delusional beliefs about the victim, such as the belief that they are already in a relationship even though none exists (erotomanic delusions).
- Resentful stalkers arise when they feel as though they have been mistreated or are the victims of some form of injustice or humiliation. Victims are strangers or acquaintances who are perceived to have mistreated the stalker. The perpetrator develops paranoid beliefs about the victim and uses stalking as a way of “getting back” at them. The motivation for this form of stalking is fuelled by the desire for revenge or to “even the score,” and the stalking is maintained by a sense of power and control that the stalker gains by inducing fear in the victim.
Personality disorders and depression, on the other hand, are common symptoms amongst those who fall under the rejected and predatory subtypes.
- Rejected stalkers come following the breakdown of a close relationship. Victims are usually former sexual partners; however, family members, close friends, or others with a very close relationship to the stalker can also become targets of rejected stalking. The initial motivation of a rejected stalker is either attempting to reconcile the relationship or exacting revenge for a perceived rejection.
- Predatory stalking arises in the context of deviant sexual practices and interests. They are usually male, and the victims are usually female strangers in whom the stalker develops a sexual interest. The stalking behaviour is usually initiated as a way of obtaining sexual gratification but can also be used a method of obtaining information about the victim as a precursor to sexual assault.
That last one is more common in Hollywood than it is in real life. Victims are more likely to be assaulted by someone close to them as opposed to a stranger.
Finally, the Incompetent Suitor stalker. This one often doesn’t have mental illness playing a part, but it is, sometimes associated with cognitive limitations or poor social skills that are common in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder or an Intellectual Disability. As someone who is autistic, I can assure you that this does not happen frequently, but when it does, it can be scary and annoying. We’re actually more likely to be stalked than to stalk!
- Incompetent Suitor stalkers usually stalk for brief periods of time, but when they do persist, their behaviour is usually maintained by the fact that they are blind or indifferent to the distress of victim. They often do so because they have “crushes” on their targets and do not understand or know that what they are doing is wrong.
This is obviously just a brief summary of the psychology behind stalking. I do want to assure you that not every potential suitor is a stalker, so don’t be overly concerned with accidentally becoming involved with one. I know many dedicated, loving, and sweet people who suffer from mental illness that have the biggest hearts and still understand how a relationship works. These people have often undergone therapy and are somewhat stable. If you are being stalked or have reason to suspect that you are, start collecting evidence. Save screenshots and phone calls–anything and everything. Even if you don’t think it will work, be vocal about your discomfort if your stalker is close to you. Don’t hesitate to tell people, either. You may not want your friends or family to worry or feel that it’s none of their business, but you’re going to need all the support you can get. The people you love deserve to know what’s happening, and they’ll want to ensure your safety.
Readers, this is where I’ll leave you for now. I wish you all luck in your romantic endeavors and hope you have a happy Valentine’s Day! And to all of us who are single, happy Single’s Day on the 15th! 75% off chocolate rules!