We expect crime victims to report. You come home to find your home broken into, your car vandalized or your purse and credit cards missing, you call the police. Yet with certain types of crimes, victims suffer in silence. This is especially true with stalking.
We encourage stalking victims to report their victimization, to ensure their own safety, as well as the safety of future victims. Remember that David Letterman’s stalker, who repeatedly broke into his home and claimed he was her husband, went on to stalk astronaut Story Musgrave — writing him letters and repeatedly calling him. One time she showed up at his home, banged on his doors, and turned on all of his faucets.
But stalking victims experience and respond very differently, often depending on gender. Research explains.
The Stalking Campaign
Acquadro Maran et al. (2020), discussing the differences between men and women who report stalking, note that the average “stalking campaign” when the victim was male was more than double than when the victim was female (over 26 weeks versus approximately 12 weeks). They note this may reflect the fact that most stalkers of men are women, and women tend to stalk longer than men do.
Acquadro Maran et al. explain that frequency of stalking behaviors are also different when the victim was a man or a woman. They found that in general, men reported fewer contacts than women did, which is significant because more contact has been linked with a higher likelihood of serious violence.
Regarding stalking behavior, they found that men were subjected to unwanted communication including phone calls or text messages, as well as vandalism, and women were subjected to unwanted approaches such as following, loitering or harassment, as well as intimidation, including threats. Acquadro Maran et al. note that this might be due in part to a perpetrator’s fear of a victim’s reaction or payback.
Regarding stalking behavior, men reported more acts of vandalism than threats, more intrusive communication, and having stalkers target a third person as well. This raises the important issue of considering secondary stalking victims, which can include spouses, partners, friends, and relatives — which also impacts a victim’s motivation for involving police.
Regarding motive, Acquadro Maran et al. found that contrary to prior research, most men were not stalked by women seeking to establish or re-establish a relationship. Interestingly, they report that men who reported stalking victimization were more likely to be stalked by an acquaintance than were women. Common motives involved quarrels with neighbors or other perpetrators.
Response to Stalking
Acquadro Maran et al. note that men and women respond to stalking behavior differently. In examining the different strategies men and women use to cope with stalking, they note that the main difference between male and female victims was that men were less likely to ask for assistance. But there are other differences. They cite prior research proposing a categorization of response strategies:
- Moving inward, including using drugs or seeing a therapist
- Moving outward, including seeking out social support
- Moving toward, encompassing behavior such as attempting to reason with the stalker
- Moving against, engaging in behavior such as threatening or harming the stalker
- Moving again, trying to escape the stalker.
Acquadro Maran et al. note that men are more likely to use a greater variety of strategies than women are. In most cases, men employ strategies of moving outward and moving toward, while women used moving inward and moving again.
And with respect to masculine behaviors, they note that male victims respond to stalkers in a fashion that is frequently direct, without the fear of confrontation that often characterizes the response of female victims. They also note that men are less likely than women to seek social support.
The bottom line is that we would like to encourage all stalking victims to report the crime, regardless of how they are weathering the unwanted pursuit. Educating victims what stalking looks like, as well as how to report it and access resources for assistance, is often the first step in addressing the unwelcome behavior.
This column was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, PhD, 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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