Techniques for Ending Unwanted Pursuit
Having prosecuted stalkers for over two decades, I can corroborate the reports of what victims share about their experience: stalking is psychologically traumatizing and often terrifying without any direct physical contact — yet.
The concern for personal safety of self and loved ones is emotionally traumatic whether they are being stalked by an ex-flame, a disgruntled ex-colleague, or an unknown individual who could be anywhere in the world.
Stalking is a crime that we try to manage on the front end, with early intervention hopefully dissuading would-be pursuers from continuing the chase.
But we are not always successful.
There is, however, a large body of research about stalking, given its unfortunate frequency, and the fact that it is linked with other criminal activity.
Recent research addresses one of the most practical concerns stalking victims have: making it stop.
How to Stop a Stalker
Patrick Q. Brady examined the success of strategies to combat stalking in the aptly named "How to Stop a Stalker" (2022). Using data from the 2016 National Crime Victimization Survey, he found that victims who sought law enforcement assistance or restricted digital access had more success in halting unwanted conduct, whether pursued by intimate partners or others.
The success of various strategies was not universal, however, because factors that deter stalkers are related to victim characteristics, duration of stalking behavior, and access to resources.
Of eight safety strategies he examined, Brady (ibid.) found that contacting police had the strongest relationship with ending unwanted pursuit behavior.
Regarding factors that impact the results of contacting police, he states that there are improved safety assessments for stalking victims when officers took a report and warned the perpetrator — recognizing the importance of such a warning, because inaction by law enforcement can facilitate escalation.
Brady (supra) additionally notes that even the threat of legal intervention may function as a powerful deterrent, perhaps even stronger than actual punishment, because stalkers may recognize the potential consequences both legally and socially that can stem from an arrest.
On the other hand, Brady (supra) notes that deterrence is conditional, and a perpetrator who feels as if he or she has "nothing to lose" may not be fazed by threats of formal intervention, especially if officers fail to intervene effectively.
When Dissuading a Stalker, Duration Matters
Regarding other safety strategies, Brady (supra) recognizes contextual factors that may impact their effectiveness. He notes, for example, that after accounting for situational characteristics, enhancing security or changing personal information were no longer linked with ending unwanted pursuit.
But duration was important.
Brady (supra) notes that strategies of informal deterrence did not affect stalkers who had been pursuing their victims for a year or longer. He notes this is consistent with prior studies which demonstrate that longer periods of stalking is linked with a higher risk of threats, violence, and victim psychological distress.
School, Workplace as "Guardians"
We often talk about safety in numbers. When seeking protection from stalkers, there is also safety in institutional security.
Brady (supra) notes that stalking victims who are not working or going to school may be less likely to benefit from safety strategies, because schools and employers can serve as "guardians" who can both corroborate victims' accounts of perpetrator behavior when they witness or record it on surveillance cameras, and also use their formal authority to enforce criminal trespass laws against anyone threatening the safety of their consumers and employees.
The common denominator in this research seems to be the necessity of reporting the behavior. Whether sharing information with police, school authorities, or managers at work, there are ways to seek assistance from unwanted pursuit behavior.
For stalking victims, silence is not golden.
By sharing information, lives can be saved.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, Ph.D., is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patrick's Reports — More Here.
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