heard of stalking. You hear about it on the news and read about it in magazines,
especially in the celebrity and entertainment reports. But hardly anyone could
rattle off a working definition of it, and not enough of us take stalking
seriously as a crime we could all become victims of.
Center for Victims of Crime operates a Stalking Resource Center (SRC), which can
be accessed through their website at
www.ncvc.org/src. They define stalking as "a course of conduct directed at a
specific person that places a reasonable person in fear for her or his safety."
To grasp the seriousness of this crime, consider that the SRC states that 1 in
12 women and 1 in 45 men will be stalked, adding up to 1.4 million victims a
isn't stalking, but a pattern of following someone, showing up at his or her
work, home, classes, favorite coffee shop, etc., can be. Taking and collecting
personal items, including mail and garbage, and making repeated, harassing phone
calls to someone can be part of a stalker's patterns. Stalking often escalates
from shadowing and harassing behavior to personal contact, threats, and
Stalking may be
many things and difficult to pin down in one easy definition, but it is always
frightening to the victim. Stalking victims have to struggle first with their
own self-doubts, since many of the things stalkers do are not, taken singly,
illegal or confrontational or violent. Stalking victims have to come to grips
with a baffling, slow-motion crime that defies logic. Stalking victims then
often have to overcome the disbelief of others, even some in law enforcement.
Luckily, awareness in law enforcement is increasing.
victims have to deal with the terrifying uncertainty of where the pattern might
be leading. Since what a stalker does is so hard to understand, it's very
unsettling to imagine how or when it will end. And stalking victims are saddled
for the rest of their lives with a compromised sense of trust, privacy, and
peace of mind, even if their stalkers never lay a hand on them.
Who is the
are men, and most cases involve men stalking women. Most stalkers are between 18
and 50 years old (a large demographic), and are smarter-than-average. Most are
loners and "homebodies," tentative about normal social interactions and
intimidated by others. Because they are generally starved, by their own actions
or other circumstances, for a real relationship with another human being, any
positive attention or encouragement can trigger or intensify an obsession with
the person providing it.
In cases where
a spurned lover or would-be lover becomes a stalker, he is trying to force into
being the relationship he misses or couldn't get. And there are the most
disturbed of stalkers, those who are acting on the instructions from voices
inside their own heads.
Who is the
former lovers, or individuals who have rejected the amorous intentions of a
stalker are chosen for obvious reasons. This doesn't mean they could predict
that it would happen, but such cases are more easily analyzed because of either
the high-profile life of the celebrity victim or the definite break-up or
rejection in the past of the victim who has rejected the stalker.
The trick is to
recognize stalking when it happens and get help before it can ruin-or end-your
life. As I've said, stalking is often an escalating enterprise. Obsessions can
fade, but they can also intensify. If a stalker isn't getting the response,
attention, or the relationship he wants, he may resort to breaking into your
house, kidnapping you, threatening you with violence, or worse.
If you are the
victim of a stalker, you must go to the police and to any other authorities who
might be able to help, including those at your school or your job. Make sure
your family and friends know about what's happening. Document what the stalker
does. Avoid direct contact with the stalker.
Depend on the
authorities and your support system for help, and do everything you can to
protect yourself, including installing an alarm system and avoiding going places
alone. Believe me, it's a dangerous game. But there is now anti-stalking
legislation on the books in every state, following California's 1990 example. So
a stalker doesn't have to physically harm you to commit a serious crime.
There are other
concrete steps you can take, and you can find out more from your local police,
from stalking support groups, and from the Stalking Resource Center. Among the
good advice offered by the SRC is this, from the Seattle Police Department: If
you're being harassed by telephone, rather than disconnecting the number and
getting an unlisted one, you should get a second, unlisted line and leave the
first one connected to a machine that can gather evidence. A stalker may
escalate contact if this mode of contact with his victim-in this case, the
phone-is no longer available to him.
this is the kind of thinking that stalking victims have to engage in to endure,
end, and survive their experience. It's unfair. But it's a reality. The Stalking
Resource Center is available at 1-800-FYI-CALL. If you're being stalked, or know
someone who is, please call.
John E. Douglas, a former
FBI agent and pioneer serial killer profiler, is one of the most successful true
crime authors in the country. He is the author of the New York Times number on
best-seller Mindhunter, which first introduced the public to the idea of
psychological profiles as a tool in hunting down killers. Douglas served as
technical advisor for the film Silence of the Lambs, much of which was based on
his work. For more information visit