The subject of stalking pervades our culture. Mainstream movies such as Fatal Attraction, Single White Female, The Cable Guy and more recently, the Netflix original You focus on the topic as do songs such as Every Breath You Take by the Police and Stan by Eminem. There have also been many high-profile real cases usually often involving celebrities. For example, John Hinkley Jr. shot President Reagan in 1981 to impress actress Jodie Foster. Other celebrities such as Madonna and Janet Jackson have been stalked. These cases receive a lot of media attention, but the reality is that stalking can happen to anyone. Many of us have known someone who has been stalked at some level.
What is stalking? Perhaps the most concise definition of stalking is offered by Linden Gross in her book Surviving a Stalker: Everything You Need to Know to Keep Yourself Safe. Stalking, she writes, “is defined as the willful, malicious, and repeated following and harassing of another person.” In his book The Gift of Fear, Gavin De Becker identifies “two broad categories: unwanted pursuit by a stranger, and unwanted pursuit by someone the victim knows. The former, he points out, is relatively rare.
Stalking can take many forms. There can be repeated phone calls, letters, emails, texts. Often there are repeated, intrusive and uninvited visits to the target’s work, school, home, favourite coffee place, gym, etc… Sometimes, the stalker does not limit his attention to one person. He might target her through people they care about – new relationships, co-workers, siblings, or children. It is difficult to say what compels someone to stalk another. Linden Gross describes the offender as “having a void that he tries to fill with the object of his obsession. Or, more accurate, the projected image of the relationship.”
The effects of stalking are serious. The targeted experiences fear and anxiety. Her life is disrupted as she might change and block phone numbers, avoid certain places, change jobs and even cities to avoid the stalker. Of course, the worse cases see the death of the targeted and or people they are associated with.
Stalking is a vast and complex topic and a growing number of experts have applied their insights to understanding and effectively dealing with stalking situations. Future blogs will explore some of their findings.
Gavin De Becker, The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence. New York: Random House Inc. 1997
Linden Gross, Surviving a Stalker: Everything You Need to Know to Keep Yourself Safe. New York: Marlowe and Company, 2000