February has become a time for romance and displays of love as many partners begin to look forward to Valentine’s Day to celebrate their feelings towards each other. However, there are certain groups of people who do not always take conventional routes in declaring their feelings for others. Instead, they undergo stalking which is a social problem that can have lasting consequences and psychological damage for both perpetrator and victim.
The level of distress is typically burdened by the individual who is stalked. Assessment and management of risk associated with stalking falls into three categories. First is determining if the stalking behavior continues or reoccurs if stopped. Second is to determine if the victim will suffer psychological or social damage such as suicidal behavior. Third is whether the stalking behavior will escalate to actual physical contact such as physical or sexual assault. Stalkers themselves shoulder their own risks in carrying out these behaviors. These risks include whether their preoccupation becomes socially and psychologically damaging, potential legal proceedings, and disapproval from peers.
Most stalking behavior lasts no more than two weeks. However, the longer it lasts the higher chance it will persist. Typical stalkers include ex-patients or clients, co-workers, ex-partners who are unable to accept a separation, or those with erotomanic delusions, in which one party believes the other is in love with them. Generally, those who do have erotomanic delusions are typically less likely to re-offend which is likely due to hospitalization and receiving of treatment.
A component of stalking is risk of threats and the potential for violence towards the victim. Those who are most at risk are individuals stalked by ex-partners. They hold the greatest likelihood of being physically assaulted. Although, the fear of violence is especially distressing and doubly true for individuals stalked by prior partners due to mixture of fears and prior intimacy. Previous convictions and substance use history, increase the risk of violence; whereas, psychotic illness diminishes risk of violence towards victims.
Risk management for stalking stems from a Stalking Risk Profile which has five domains. The first is the relationship between the stalker and the victim. There are various possibilities of arrangements of including prior partners, patients and health professionals, or just strangers encountered during day to day interactions. Motivation is the second domain which includes seeking reconciliation, revenge, a relationship, sexual relationship, or unknown. The third domain is consideration of the psychological, psychopathological, and social status of the stalker. Some of these factors include history of prior stalking, methods of stalking, and attitude towards the victim. Domain four is victim’s vulnerabilities such as nature of the relationship to the stalker and preexisting potential for depression or anxiety. Domain five is the legal and mental health context in that there is legal protection varying across jurisdictions, and clinicians need to be familiar with local laws to support victims and be aware of strategies available to the stalker.
The integration process involves first a needs analysis of known risks. Second is determining if imminent danger is present and if legal means should be used such as civil or criminal commitment of the stalker. Sharing the formulation of these factors is also important to aid in the treatment of the stalker or to improve the well-being of the victim to explain what drives the stalker. Stalking is a multifaceted issue which involves the determination of the physical and psychological damage that a stalker can inflict and what precautions can be taken to minimize this risk and support the victim through this time.
Mullen, P. E., Mackenzie, R., Ogloff, J. R.P., Pathé, M., McEwan, T., & Purcell, R. (2006). Assessing and managing the risks in the stalking situation, Journal of American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 34, 439-450
Andrew Goebel, MS, LPA (Temp)
WKPIC Doctoral Intern