Darren Morton, a security specialist and former detective, offers his expert opinion on stalking: how to recognise that you're being stalked, and what to do if you are.
It's well acknowledged our greatest fear is the unknown, a base animal instinct that's been essential to our survival through the ages. This instinct, along with other key senses, are what we use on both a conscious and sub-conscious level to manage our personal security and safety.
But what do we do when that "unknown" factor is actually another human being?
As a former police detective, I am only too aware that, when pushed, humans are capable of anything, both for good and evil.
Stalking is a serious criminal offence, one that happens throughout New Zealand daily and affects thousands of New Zealanders each year.
As one of those crimes that often goes unreported, the exact numbers are unknown, however I believe an educated assumption of thousands to be an accurate estimation. Many victims either do not identify the issue or alternatively do not report it through fear of antagonising the offender.
Like many crimes, stalking does not distinguish between ages, race, socio economics, gender, employed or unemployed, married, partnered or single, or even whether you know the offender. It has the potential to affect everyone.
While women have a higher chance of being stalked, men are often victims too.
While a small percentage of stalking is conducted overtly, in the main to intimidate, the majority of stalking is undertaken covertly.
Either way, it invades the most personal aspects of the victim's life and can both psychologically empower the offender while at the same time traumatise the victim and their families.
With much of the cause centring on the often-psychological instability of the offender, make no mistake that this is a serious crime, with a wide range of potential outcomes.
This article is designed to not only outline a general background on both stalking and stalkers, but also to provide techniques to help you manage a stalking situation. Because the base of this crime involves such a wide variety of human psychological conditions we cannot delve into each condition, however a general approach to managing stalking is provided.
What is stalking?
Officially, stalking is defined as "the malicious and repeated following or harassing of another person". From a legal perspective, it is included in NZ law under "harassment" and "private nuisance", offences that sound much less traumatic than that of actual stalking.
The base offence committed by a "stalker" will generally default to harassment and this is covered under Section 8 of the Harassment Act 1997 and is punishable by a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years.
The sad thing is that it is often the associated acts perpetrated by the offender that hold the greater penalties, acts that often include serious assaults, burglary, sexual offences and in extreme cases, homicide.
Stalking can include persistent unwanted contact, following the victim, phone calls and gifts. As with many aspects of our lives, technology is part of stalking and the increasing trend is that of cyber stalking.
Cyber stalking is classed as "the repeated use of electronic communications to harass or frighten someone" and includes contact by way of emails, text messages and any of the numerous social media mediums.
I believe the reason cyber stalking is on the increase is technology encourages less personal interaction within society, so many people aren't learning the face-to-face skills that assist them to manage relationships, deal with feelings and resolve rejection and/or anger.
Why do people stalk?
There are many reasons why a person stalks another. Some of the more common reasons include:
• Infatuation with the intended victim;
• Honest belief a special relationship exists between them and the victim;
• To intimidate the victim;
• As a form of protest;
• Precursor to the commission of a crime;
• To either control or remain in control of the victim
• To achieve fame in an otherwise "meaningless" life (often linked to celebrity homicides)
• To advertise themselves to the victim, to make them stand out from a crowd in the hope the victim will build a relationship with them.
Who are stalkers?
So we now move to trying to understanding who stalkers are and what makes them such a potential threat. By having this understanding, we remove a part of that "unknown" element, enabling us to identify what we are dealing with and therefore how best to mitigate or manage the situation and our safety.
It is important to note anyone can be a stalker. Male, female, family, neighbour, work colleague, former partner, associate or stranger.
The make-up of a stalker is not a simple black and white topic, it is the opposite, a totally grey area made up of a wide range of social, personal and mental health issues that all come together, to varying degrees.
Psychologists the world over have managed to condense the stalker psyche to between five and seven "types". Stalkers may be classified under one, or a combination of any of the below types.
The six main recognised types of stalker are:
The Rejected Suitor
This stalker is normally an ex-partner, lover, family member or friend who has been rejected at some level by the victim. "Domestic stalking", the main type experienced in New Zealand, falls into this category.
About 80% of these stalkers have some form of personality disorder and their narcissistic tendencies create an honest belief this is a relationship "that is supposed to be", hence their persistence even if rejected.
Their approach to the victim will often swing between reconciliation and revenge, the latter when they feel the relationship is not progressing as they expect.
This section of stalkers are, in the main, men who react badly to a relationship ending.
They are often persistent and violent and will look for some way to punish the victim.
Court orders and the like will be seen only as a means to prevent them dominating the victim, resulting in enhancing the stalker's will to prevail. That said, court orders are necessary to provide the victim with some form of legal support primarily to assist future police action.
Domestic related homicides and murder suicide scenarios often fall into this category.
The Intimacy Seeker
The intimacy-seeking stalker's aim is to establish a relationship with their "true love" regardless of the fact no relationship exists, or that the victim is simply not interested.
In this case the stalker will create a relationship that to them, is "as real as it gets".
They believe they have a special and unique relationship with their victim. Even when faced with the reality of their victim having a husband or partner, they will only see the individual as an imposter. Their grasp of reality can be limited.
Studies have determined that more than half of intimacy seekers are delusional, believing their love was reciprocated. Nearly a third had a personality disorder and a delusional belief their persistence would ultimately be successful.
Intimacy seekers justify their behaviour with an honest belief that they must be together with the victim at almost any cost, so often legal action against them is ineffectual.
The Incompetent Suitor
While this type of stalker can be male or female, the incompetent suitor is more typically a man, one who has been rejected after asking a woman or partner for a date.
They are often found to be socially inept, and once rejected, can commence stalking the victim in the hope their persistent behaviour will be seen in a positive light and convince the victim to begin a relationship.
They are individuals who want a date or relationship but do not have the required social skills. This type of stalker is becoming more prevalent with the increase in social media and online dating sites.
Not having the face to face social skills required to form natural relationships, they tend to gravitate towards social media and online dating to fill that void where any interaction is done remotely.
The Resentful Stalker
These individuals express anger in response to a perception that they have been humiliated or treated unfairly by the victim, the object of their obsession.
As mentioned previously, stalkers may possess one of these stalking types, or they can have, or progress to, a combination of types. The resentful stalker may purely be an individual responding to an initial general act of humiliation or unfair treatment by the victim.
The second possibility is this resentful type of stalking may have commenced as one of the other four types detailed here, but as a result of the victim humiliating the stalker within their social network or on social media for his previous actions, the stalker's response would then start to include aspects of revenge.
In worst case scenarios, this progression can lead to crimes being committed against the victim aimed at 'punishing' the victim, crimes that can include damage to property, violence towards the victims' pets, assault, rape and homicide.
While this type of stalker thrives on having a sense of control and or power over the victim, often they will have a genuine belief that they are the victim in the whole affair. This in turn provides them with a perceived level of justification for their actions.
The Predatory Stalker
These stalkers are generally the smallest of the five groups but have a higher chance of being someone totally unknown. Past examples of this type of stalking have commenced by mere chance meetings between the stalker and the victim, such as sitting next to each other on a bus, meeting at a social event or even being seen walking in the street.
This type of stalker is generally intelligent, calculated and meticulous in their gathering of information about the victim. They can be personable and experienced in building trusting relationships.
They derive pleasure from this "planning phase" and will often fantasise about what they want to do to or with the victim. The actual offending will be conducted to their plan.
Many will have prior convictions for sexual related offences.
Too often, this type of stalking ends in violence when the stalker realises the only way they will get what they want is by force.
This offender targets high profile personalities and individuals, who in the main include celebrities or politicians. There reasons for stalking can be wide-ranging and can commence with them either being a fan or supporter, or in complete opposition to the victim.
In the case of being a fan or supporter, circumstances could arise where they feel betrayed, belittled, rejected, humiliated or otherwise let down by actions or statements made by the victim, whether or not those actions or statements directly impact the stalker.
In the case of opposition, they may support a celebrity or politician who is in competition with the victim and see themselves as being the only one who take the necessary action to effectively "get rid of" the competition.
This response can take the course of threats, intimidation, damage or, in extreme cases, violence.
The most extreme reason for celebrity stalking is to gain fame, or rather infamy.
Generally committed by individuals of low self-esteem with limited or no lifetime achievements, this offender stalks their victim purely to make a name for themselves.
Hollywood stars, musicians and politicians are often the preferred targets.
So, what is your chance of being stalked in New Zealand? And if you are, who will the offender be? These questions are hard to determine in New Zealand as, unlike other countries, there is no specific stalking data captured. Stalking has been blended into harassment and private nuisance legislation which covers a wide range of offences.
While data from the UK, US and Australia varies somewhat overall, their environments are similar to that of New Zealand so is being used to provide a general idea of what New Zealand may be experiencing.
This information shows:
• You are more likely to be stalked by a former or current intimate partner;
• In descending order, the other groups from where a stalker can come include acquaintances, strangers, current or former colleagues and family;
• Women are more likely to be stalked than men, with the global average being around 1 in every 4-7 women stalked, and 1 in every 6-13 males;
• Both men and women stalk;
Anyone can be a stalker. Age, race, social status, criminal history, education, relationship to the victim have no impact on who can be a stalker;
• Stalkers often suffer from low self-esteem, psychological illness, drug dependency, sociopathic tendencies, depression and delusions;
• The cause of a stalker's actions are more likely to be linked to a mental health issue rather than purely criminal intent;
• Some act of physical violence is reported in approximately 44% of cases worldwide, with an estimated 15% of cases resulting in a homicide;
• The average length for a stalking episode is between six months and two years, with the longest lasting 43 years;
• Any continued unwanted or concerning contact lasting more than two weeks should be considered a serious issue;
• There is no one way to resolve a stalking situation;
• Cyber stalking is on the increase globally
Affects of stalking on a victim
The psychological affect of stalking on the victim is often the most traumatic impact on the victim.
In the cases of stranger stalking, for the victim it's not knowing who is stalking them, where they are, why they are stalking or the final aim that is the most traumatic.
It is estimated that one in eight victims who are the subject of stalking miss work because of the stalking, and one in seven victims will move residences. Victims of stalkers have also shown to have higher rates of anxiety, fear, paranoia, isolation, insomnia and depression as compared with the general population.
The sad by-product of stalking was many victims lose the support of those around them, with friends and family withdrawing from the victim because they felt the stalking was consuming the victim and they could not see an end to it.
The affects can be lasting and can impact the victim long after the offending has stopped.
• Learn how to identify stalking behaviours and personalities
• Limit your pubic profile, particularly on social media
• Be proactive in maintaining your residential and personal security
• Alter daily or weekly routines
• Seek advice from the police or a stalking specialist if you have concerns
Basic steps to manage your safety if you think you are being stalked
• Advise the police of any suspected stalking as soon as you become aware of it;
• If the individual is known to you, let them know you are not interested and want them to stop. Do not do this in person. Phone, text or email them;
• Always be polite if interacting with them
• Keep a diary of all concerning activity, attempted contacts or advances;
• Retain any notes, gifts, emails or texts sent by the stalker;
• You should never put yourself in a position where you are alone with the stalker. If you need to meet them take a friend and have the meeting in a public place;
• Alter your daily or weekly routines
• Advise schools and day-cares of the issue as appropriate
• Remove or limit all social media profiles until the matter is resolved;
• Regularly change passwords on emails, social media and other mediums to prevent hacking;
• Do not refer to the stalking or stalker on social media in any derogatory way;
• Do not respond to unwanted advances or signs of affection;
• Do not accept any gifts
• Remove yourself from the general electoral roll;
• Lock your vehicle in a garage or ensure it is alarmed;
• Talk to someone you trust about your concerns, but don't tell everyone as this could get back to the stalker and force them to do something they may not normally have considered (violence). This is a particular concern if the stalker is part of your social circle;
• Screen all telephone communications by letting all calls go to voice mail;
• Consider changing your phone number
• Change your email address and or social media tags;
• Do not reply or communicate with the stalker once you have told them you are not interested. They will attempt to make you feel pity for them as a ruse to initiate contact or meet with you;
• Speak with your local district court or police regarding appropriate restraining orders
• Seek professional advice on counter stalking techniques. Exercise caution as the industry is full of self-professed experts.
• If you believe are in immediate danger, call 111.
The best way to prevent stalking is to be proactive. Be aware of your personal safety, adopt sound security and safety practises, seek professional advice if required (don't try to deal with it alone), and ensure you talk about your concerns with a family member, friend, the police and/or other professionals.
Remember humans are capable of anything. Don't become a statistic. Many stalkers have underlying psychological issues that you alone cannot resolve.
Darren Morton is the owner/managing director of the Executive Security Group. This article is written based on his experience as a police constable (seven years); detective (nine years); member of the witness protection squad (three years); Prime Ministers' protection officer (three years); celebrity protection officer; and 32 years in the security industry.