The psychological impact of stalking behaviour on victims

The psychological impact of stalking behaviour on victims

The psychological impact of stalking behaviour on victims

Research around stalking is still relatively in its embryonic stages, with the first anti-stalking laws being passed in 2012, making stalking a criminal offence in England and Wales. It is essential to understand stalking as a behaviour before it can be effectively tackled. Stalking as a whole may be difficult to define due to the wide range of victim experiences and lack of clarity in relation to what would be required to successfully prosecute such behaviour. However, whilst a universally accepted definition of stalking does not exist entirely unanimously in a legal setting, the general definition of stalking may be defined as:

         “a pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsession behaviour which is

           intrusive and causes fear of violence of serious alarm and distress”

Stalking includes 2 or more attempts of unwanted communication or contacts with another individual, in a manner that can be expected to cause distress and/or fear in that individual. Features of stalking include spying, remote surveillance, making unwanted phone calls, sending unwanted notes or letters, texts, emails and social media messages, graffiti, unwanted presents and gifts, harassment and threats of violence.

Only recently have we begun to understand and acknowledge the potentially devastating impact of stalking victimisation. Aside from the frequent legal pre-requisites of fear and the distress over possible injury and assault, victims of stalking can display a multitude of psychological, emotional, physical, social, and occupational effects as a direct consequences to being stalked. Whilst some victims of stalking may label these effects as “annoying” – for others, this may have a shattering effect on their livelihood and the livelihood of the loved ones surrounding them.

The impact of stalking will greatly differ between individuals, dependent on a range of factors such as:

  • The victims characteristics and innate personality
  • The victims past experiences
  • The victims current circumstances
  • Resilient
  • Their knowledge about the stalker
  • How others respond to their situation / whether the authorities take it seriously

Statistics:

  • More than80,000 stalking offences were recorded in England and Wales in 2020, figures from the Office for National Statistics show Almost 9 out of 10 victims (87%) reported being stalked by someone who was known to them
  • Roughly one third (34%) of people were targeted by a partner or ex-partner
  • 24% have been stalked by an acquaintance
  • 11% of cases, a work colleague was responsible
  • In three-quarters (76%) of cases, women were stalked by men
  • Victims reported suicide attempts, anxiety, depression and a loss of confidence and feelings of isolation. Some reported having to change jobs or even move home as a result of being targeted
  • Victims tend to blame themselves for the behaviour of their stalkers
  • 83% believe they feel responsible or have done something to trigger the behaviour, and 77% of people advised they feel shame

Stalking can be potentially very traumatic for the victim, and a plethora of literature has implicated the potential health consequences of stalking – such as an increased risk of mental health, depressive disorders, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Stalking may escalate into sexual or physical violence, and in extreme circumstances be a risk factor for homicide.

Below is a table which describes some of the effects stalking can have on an individual’s livelihood:

Effect on mental health

–        Denial, confusion, self-doubt, questioning if what is happening is unreasonable, wondering if they are over-reacting

–        Frustration

–        Guilt, embarrassment, self-blame

–        Apprehension, fear, terror of being alone

–        Isolation and helplessness

–        Depression

–        Anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia

–        Difficulty concentrating, attending or remembering things

–        Inability to sleep, or nightmares

–        Irritability, anger, homicidal thought

–        Emotional numbing

–        PTSD eg hypervigilance or flashbacks

–        Insecurity, or an inability to trust others, problems with intimacy

–        Self-medication of alcohol or drugs or using prescribed medications

–        Suicidal thoughts

Effects on physical health

–        Fatigue from difficulty sleeping, being constantly on guard, symptoms of depression

–        Effects of chronic stress including headaches, hypertension,

–        Gastrointestinal problems

–        Fluctuations in weight due to not eating or comfort eatng

–        Exacerbation of existing conditions – asthma, gastric ulcers, psoriasis

–        Dizziness

–        Shortness of breath

–        Sexual dysfunction

–        Health palpitations

–        Sweating

Effect on work / education

–        Loss of productivity owing to time off work

–        Treatment costs in the healthcare system

–        Deteriorating school / work performance

–        Increased sick leave

–        Leaving job or being sacks

–        Changing career

–        Dropping out of school – poorer education and career opportunities

Effects on social / lifestyle

–        Insecurity and inability to trust others impacting on current and future relationships and friendships

–        Problems with physical and emotional intimacy

–        Avoidance of usual activities eg going to the gym, going out

–        Isolation through trying to protect others, feeling misunderstood or psychological symptoms

–        Others withdrawing from the victim because they do not believe the victim, they are unable to cope with the victim’s mental state, or as a direct consequence of third party victimisation

Effect on finances

–        Loss of wages due to sick leave, leaving job or changing career

–        Costs incurred through legal fees

–        Expense of increasing home and personal security

–        Cost involved in repairing property damage

–        Seeking psychological counselling and medical treatment

–        Cost involved in breaking leases on rented properties

–        Expense of relocation

Factors that may prevent a victim from seeking help

Research by Sheridan (2005) found that 77% of victims suffer approximately 100 incidents before reporting to the police. This statistic demonstrates the prevalence and frequency of stalking, and the existence of barriers that prevent reporting. Factors include:

  • The victim does not understand that what is happening to them is actually stalking and is illegal
  • The victim may be trying to pretend it is not happening
  • The victim may believe that they should be able to deal with the situation, or thinking that the stalker will see reason
  • The victim may not want to get the stalker into trouble
  • The victim may fear that others will think they are over-reacting or that they will be blamed for somehow having encouraged the stalker in the first place
  • The victim may fear how the stalker will respond either to them or those that they love and care for
  • There may have been direct threats from the stalker
  • The victim may feel isolated in their plight, believing that there is nothing that can be done to help them, or not knowing who to go to
  • There may have been previous requests for help which were ignored by authorities
  • The victim may fear losing their job or the situation becoming more difficult when the stalking originates in the workplace
  • There may be financial limitations in regard to seeking legal advice or taking time off to seek help
  • There may be limited options in respect to changing their situation eg relocation to safer housing
  • There may be language or communication barriers

Stalking Laws and Legislation:

The HMIC report in 2016/17 demonstrated that the absence of a single definition of stalking is a significant factor to the low number of recorded crimes and prosecutions

Legislation:

Sections 1 and 2 of the Protection from Harassment Act (1977) has deemed harassment an offence and specify the defences and penalties.

1(1) A person must not pursue a course of conduct –

  • Which amounts to harassment of another, and
  • Which he knows or ought to known amount to harassment of the other

Section 2a creates the offence of stalking which is committed if a person pursues a course of conduct in breach of the prohibition on harassment in section 1(1) and the course of conduct amounts to stalking

2A(1) a person is guilty of an offence if –

  • The person pursues a course of conduct in breach of section 1(1) and (b) the course amounts to stalking

4A(1) a person (A) whos course of conduct –

  • Amounts to stalking and
  • Either
    1. Causes another (B) to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against B, or
    2. Causes B serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on Bs usual day to day activities

How can you support someone?

If you suspect a colleague, friend or family member is being stalked, here are some helpful tips you can share to keep them as safe as safe as possible:

  • It is importance to consider evidence gathering and challenging police investigations in domestic violence cases such as victim accounts
  • It is important to keep a 999/101 call log
  • Collect evidence such as photographs or videos, police officers evidence risk assessment , forensic medical evidence, interviews or significant statements, previous incidents etc
  • Challenge what could be a missed opportunity! Collect evidence of email activities, inappropriate or intimidating text messages/letters/answer phone messages/social media sites, objects used in incidents, forensics/DNA/handwriting.
  • It may be useful to collate videos or photographs or CCTV, as well as statements from family, friends or witness, including GPs and colleagues from school and work.
  • Keep a check on your CCTV, ANPR, financial smartcards, ring doorbells, sat navs, routers, mobiles, laptops etc
  • Ensure police logs are linked together on police systems
  • Consider applying for a Stalking Protection Order
The psychological impact of stalking behaviour on victims

Helplines:

If you would like to know more about how My Family Psychologist can help, call us on 07801 079555 or email luisa@myfamilypsychologist.com

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