Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center

Definition of Stalking

Stalking is defined as a willful course of conduct involving repeated or continuing harassment made against the expressed wishes of another individual, which causes that individual to feel emotional distress including fear, harassment, intimidation or apprehension.

The legal definition of stalking is defined primarily by state statutes. However, virtually any unwanted contact between a stalker and their victim which directly or indirectly communicates a threat or places the victim in fear can generally be referred to as stalking.

Best estimates indicate that as many as 200,000 Americans are currently being stalked; moreover, 1 in 20 women will become targets of stalking behavior at least once during their lifetimes. With the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill by the U.S. Congress, which mandated the tracking and compilation of stalking crime statistics, experts will be able to determine the prevalence of this crime for the first time.

 

Types of Stalking

Stalking is a gender neutral crime, with both male and female perpetrators and victims. However, most stalkers are men. Best statistics indicate that 75-80 percent (75-80%) of all stalking cases involve men stalking women. Most tend to fall into the young to middle-aged categories. Most have above-average intelligence. Stalkers come from every walk of life and every socio-economic background. Virtually anyone can be a stalker, just as anyone can be a stalking survivor. 

 

Examples of Stalking Behavior

Common behaviors and tactics used by stalkers include, but are not limited to:

  • Following or appearing within one’s sight.
  • Approaching or confronting someone in a public place or on private property.
  • Appearing at one’s workplace, home, or school.
  • Entering onto property someone owns, leases, or occupies.
  • Contacting someone by phone, postal mail, email, text, social networking sites, etc.
  • Placing or delivering an object to property that someone own, leases, or occupies.
  • Verbal threats.

Stalkers may attempt to woo their victim into a relationship by sending flowers, candy and love letters, in an attempt to "prove their love." However, when the victim spurns their unwelcome advances, the stalker often turns to intimidation. Such attempts at intimidation often begin in the form of an unjustified, jealous and inappropriate intrusion into the victim's life. Often these contacts become more numerous and intrusive over time, until such collective conduct becomes a persistent pattern of harassment. Many times, harassing behavior escalates to threatening behavior. Such threats may be direct or indirect and communicated explicitly or implicitly by the stalker's conduct. Unfortunately, cases that reach this level of seriousness too often end in violence and/or murder.  These tactics are used by stalkers as a means of reasserting their dominance over the victim.

The evolution of the stalker's thought pattern progresses from, "If I can just prove to you how much I love you," to "I can make you love me," to "If I can't have you, nobody else will."

While this progression in behavior is common, no stalking case is completely predictable. Some stalkers may never escalate past the first stage. Others jump from the first stage to the last stage with little warning. It is not uncommon to see stalkers intersperse episodes of threats and violence with flowers and love letters.

It is this unpredictability that makes developing an effective response strategy so difficult in any particular stalking case.