Stalkers provide an exceptional challenge for victims

The layperson may not consider stalking as a serious crime. In fact it may be thought of as a new crime only involving famous people. However, it is far from being a new crime and has even been termed an ‘old crime’ (Flynn, 1993; cited in Fritz, 1995). The reality really being that it is an old behaviour only recently having been made into a crime. It is only the awareness of the crime in recent years that has increased. This has also helped shape the perception of it being new and primarily a celebrity problem.

The unfortunate thing is that the initial increased awareness came about by a tragic incident in 1989 when an actress, Rebecca Schaeffer, was murdered by a stalker (McGuire and Wraith 2000). Be that as it may it did spark increased interest into researching the phenomenon which brought to light several concerns, including the challenges for victims, police and the legal system. When trying to assess the various challenges posed for the victims, police and legal system it’s hard to look at them as separate problems. The reality is that all the interest groups have issues that are interrelated.

That is how we are going examine them throughout the essay. The majority of the research focuses on the incidence of stalking. A national survey in the US by National Institute of Justice (Tjaden and Thoennes, 1998) and the stalking questionnaire in the British Crime Survey 1998 (Budd and Mattinson, 2000) found that women (8-16%) reported being stalked as some stage in their lifetime with (2-7%) males reporting the same. It is also concluded that males are more likely to do the stalking with the exception of the erotomanic category with females taking up the majority.

These statistics may not bode well for men who may wish to report being stalked; it could result in not being taken seriously. Men may feel that their gender is a handicap, (Hall, 1998). The main problem that arises is the exact definition of stalking itself and what type of stalkers exist. After all the statistics stated may not be wholly accurate as different people consider different behaviours as stalking. Research has established that stalkers can be placed into two loosely defined categories, those with mental disorder and those without, (McGuire and Wraith 2000)

Several professionals have tried to establish the different types of stalkers that exist. The more commonly used divisions are those proposed by Mullen, Pathe, Purcell and Stuart (1999). They stated that there was the rejected type, which is the most common and associated with domestics. There is also the intimacy seeker, incompetent suitor, resentful type and the predatory type. Creating subtypes for stalkers increases the difficulties for courts, policing and even the creation of legislation.

For instance the rejected type outlined by Mullen et al (1999) is not always considered as an example of stalking. With this category involving mainly ex-partners it is often viewed as a domestic situation, often neglected on the policing front. Police are regularly unwilling to intervene as it (stalking by ex-partners) is viewed as a domestic issue, (Mullen and Pathe, 1994a). The difficulty for police is when to decide to actually intervene. This could result in distressing effects for the victim who quite clearly feels it is a serious matter.

Victims of this type of stalking are the most likely to seek police and legal assistance, (Mullen et al, 1999) Having said that not only is there a problem with the typologies of stalking but there are problems with the actual definition of what constitutes stalking. The use of separate categories is important, as it tries to outline the fact that there is no agreed single profile for a stalker and that stalkers could exhibit a range of behaviours and psychological traits, (Keinlen, Birmingham, Solberg, O’Regan and Meloy, 1997). But it does create the added problem of establishing a universal definition.

One method of defining whether stalking is distinguishable from law abiding behaviour is to determine whether the accused intended to cause fear of harm to the target, (Dennison and Thomson, 2002). However with the erotomanic types, who are considered quite delusional, the stalkers are in the belief that they are meant to be with their victim. They really do not feel that what they are doing is wrong and trying to restrain them or take them to court would further confirm the belief of the validity of their relationship (McGuire and Wraith 2000).

A problem may arise when in the process of legal action against a stalker. The judicial system may be partly effective in handling those stalkers fully aware of their behaviour and thus stop them to going further (McGuire and Wraith, 2000). Be that as it you still have a small percentage who break any restraining orders imposed by the courts and possibly create problems for the victim, these few could be safely assumed to have a mental disorder (McGuire and Wraith, 2000). This further introduces the need to have a good clinical profile of stalkers to help filter out those who potentially have a mental disorder.

Several of the definitions that exist, the majority being legislative laws worldwide, include phrases such as, ‘persistent and unwanted attention’, ‘threatening’, ‘loitering’, ‘telephoning’ etc. The definition does always change and adapt, trying to keep up with new technology being used as mediums to implement stalking behaviour e. g. Internet. This new technology has brought about the phenomenon of cyber stalking. A detective in Fresno, USA called Frank Clark outlined the difficulty of this new technological approach. It’s all so new that the courts, the cops and the prosecutors don’t know what to do”, he goes on to say that a lot of what may be thought of as stalking via the net ” does not even qualify for harassment legally….. most of what’s going on is offensive, but not an offence”, (http://www. polishedprose. com, 2003). As it can be seen defining stalking can create some huge problems. First off it is hard to say whether the statistics from the National Institute of Justice and British Crime Survey are accurate. People may be classing very minor events or behaviours as stalking.

When looking closer at the statistics it was seen that 880, 000 people were victims of stalking in the UK (British Crime Survey 1998). However if you narrow the definitions 770, 000 suffered distress and upset and 550, 000 fear of violence (Petch, 2002). Therefore not everyone had felt that stalking needed to involve fear of violence, which a few laws state need to be the case. The problems outlined above in reference to typologies and definitions are that it creates challenges in three groups of people, victims, police and the legal system.

Some examples of problems for these categories have already been stated but there are far more issues at hand. Already known is that some forms of stalking could be a possible product of a mental disorder but it can also cause ” mental disorders in victims”, (Petch, 2002). Having said that, the study of victim impact is quite small in proportion to other stalking studies, (Pathe and Mullen, 1997). What research has been done has resulted in some interesting findings that may cause some challenges to other areas, e. g. the legal system. The experience of stalking has been labelled psychological terrorism, (Hall, 1998).

The majority of the findings have shown that victims completely change their lives and constantly live in fear as a result of the experience (Hays, Romans and Ritchhart, 1995). These could all consequently contribute to deteriorating mental health of the victims and in fact through the study by Pathe and Mullen (1997) this is near enough what was found. Their research suggested that 83% of victims experienced a rise in anxiety levels yet more importantly a significant proportion (37%) managed to fulfil the criteria for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The increased anxiety exhibited in the victims can create further problems for not only victim but the police and the legal system also. Some recent studies have examined the issue of false victimisation. The majority of cases involving false victimisation actually come from people who have experienced stalking in the past, (McGuire and Wraith, 2000). The result of an experience of stalking can be hypersensitivity to the behaviours they constitute as stalking. As an unfortunate consequence to this the victims may ” misconstrue” innocent behaviour as stalking resulting in false accusations (Pathe, Mullen and Purcell, 1999).

This poses problems for the police and legal system. The victim although making a potentially false claim of stalking may be wholly in the belief of being stalked. It creates the problem of whether the police believe the accusation and how the legal system responds to the accusation as in effect it’s the victim’s mental health at risk. The police seem to be an awkward situation as it is with the issue of stalking. The main issue would seem that they need more training in the area of stalking and the victim impact.

Pathe and Mullen’s (1997) study of victim impact found that victims often felt the law enforcers (police) were constantly saying ‘you’re just over-reacting’. This could reinforce the feeling within a victim that they are to blame for the stalking behaviour. It seems the whole attitude of the police and other law enforcers is somewhat lacking in understanding. For instance in the stalking situations whereby the victim knows the perpetrator it may be seen that the stalker may be ‘entitled’ to carry out their behaviour as the victim may have ’caused’ such behaviours, (Sheridan, Gillet, Davis, Blaauw and Patel, 2003).

Such beliefs are known as Just World Hypothesis (Lerner, 1980). Sheridan, Davis and Boon, (2001a) carried out a survey of 95 stalking victims examining police attitudes at initial complaint and subsequent complaints. It was found that at initial complaint there was an equal amount of positive and negative response from police. However the problem arises when looking at follow-up complaints that were considered worse in terms of police attitude. Admittedly the police have huge responsibilities to all parties, from victims to the courts.

Police need to be trained to show empathy through understanding for victims, to reassure and demonstrate that they are taking the issue seriously, to assist court proceedings etc. Such guidelines have been produced by the police to deal with stalking cases (Brown, 2000). The legal system itself did not make stalking a criminal offence until 1991 where California created the first legislation. This had only come about due to a murder of an actress, Rebecca Schaeffer. In the UK the legislation was created in March 1997 under the name of ‘Protection from Harassment’.

Before this Act police felt powerless to assist victims, (Petch, 2002). The best that could be done before this act would be to grant injunctions to restrain acts that were considered a threat to mental health and from which personal injury resulted (Home Office, 1996). It was found that these injunctions were ineffective and often broken by the stalker. There were other Act’s that could be used to prosecute the stalker such as Malicious Communications Act 1988, but they did not really address the main issues (Petch, 2002).

Some stalkers may even be using the legal system as a method of getting closer to the victim, (Petch 2002). When the 1997 Act was drawn it did not specifically outline the definition of harassment, this leaves it up to jurors and magistrates as ‘reasonable people to decide’ whether any given behaviour amounted to harassment (Petch 2002). The effectiveness of the Act was assessed 3 years after implementation, (Harris, 2000). Harris (2000) had found that the Act was being used more than first expected.

As previously outlined the people most likely to stalk are ex-partners (Mullen et al, 1999) and when examining which cases are being dealt with it promising to see that more attention is given to this particular type of stalking. The British Crime Survey (Home Office, 2000) found that 82% of cases being dealt with by police tended to be intimate or acquaintance stalking whilst only 2% was were stranger stalking. Petch, (2002) states that the Act was originally drafted to deal with the issue of stranger stalking, however it is being used in preference for cases whereby the stalker and victim know each other.

Therefore in conclusion it can be stated that stalking does provide challenges for the victim, police and the legal system. The challenges are all intertwined in the sense that challenges posed for victims involve the police and legal system and vice versa. More research needs to be carried out into victims, policing and the legal system. More guidelines for police could be created in helping to break the attitude of domestic issue’s. Overall it looks like it is going to take a few more years before the stalking issue is resolved to the point that the challenges for victims, police and legal system are reduced.