Jane’s stalker was a postal worker. He delivered mail to the office building where she worked. She saw him every day around noon because the mailroom was next to the room where she ate lunch; but she only thought his presence was due to professional duties. One day, however, she went to the post office to deliver a package and noticed a man behind the counter who gave her a strange look bordering on anger.
“He kept looking at me as though he were angry, as though he knew me.” At first, she believed she’d never seen the man before.
When she left the post office, the man followed her into the street, stopped her, and yelled, “You would never go out with me, would you?” He stood close to her and seemed not to be bothered by the semi-crowded street or her bewildered reaction.
For the first time, she realized that she’d seen this man before.
“I don’t know you, so I don’t know,” she stammered and finally offered to take his number—a choice that seemed better than the alternative of offering her own phone number.
“I wanted to do anything,” Jane said, “to avoid remaining in the company of this man.”
She thought the brief encounter with a crush-gone-too-far had passed. Little did she know, this was only the beginning.
Brianna Denison’s abduction, murder and the subsequent discovery of her body in a field has highlighted a type of violence that is mostly notable by its rarity. In the world of violence against women, the vast majority of cases involve an offender with whom the victim is familiar.
Stalking, however, is much more common, although, it has been one of the nation’s most hidden crimes. Statistics from the National Center for Victims of Crime say one in 12 women and one in 45 men nationwide is stalked in their lifetime, which means more than 1 million women and 371,000 men are stalked each year.
In Nevada, legislators struggled with definitions until 1993, when stalking officially became a crime. By the current definition, a stalker is “a person who, without lawful authority, willfully or maliciously engages in a course of conduct that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated or harassed.”
However, the crime is more complicated than its definition. Who tends to stalk? And who, generally, is the victim? Any person who tails another in the shadows, who leaves notes, or lingers in a mailroom is stalking. And again, people usually know—some intimately—their stalkers.
Most often, stalking is the result of a relationship gone sour: One person wants to leave, while the other can’t let go. Though this is not always the case, this fact is tied to the frightening statistic that most stalking crimes, initially, go unreported.
Committee to Aid Abused Women (CAAW) director Joni Kaiser says, “[Stalking] is a very scary thing for [people] until their stalkers are caught. It’s easier for battered women to talk because their batterers aren’t here.”
The threatening eyes never cease their vigilant and unwelcome watch. It’s no wonder fear ensures silence. But victims can feel threatened years after the stalker has moved on.
“Jane” agreed to share her story on the condition that her name be kept from this article. Her story is years old, but the fear remains. Her desire for anonymity, in and of itself, speaks volumes.
In the mind of a stalker
Some experts say that current statistics underestimate the number of stalking crimes in the United States. Actual stalking numbers are difficult to gauge for myriad reasons, some as simple as victims not reporting the crime to the police or victims fearing that reporting a crime will worsen the behavior. Many refuse to respond to phone surveys, again, afraid that speaking out about their experience will provoke additional actions from their stalker, who is often still free. Their fear, however, is warranted: Statistics from the National Center for Victims of Crime show that stalking can end in homicide.
There are three different types of stalkers, says Dr. Marisa Randazzo of Threat Assessment Resources International, a company that offers threat-assessment training, consultation and research to schools, corporations and law enforcement agencies.
A stalker’s motivation varies according to what type of stalker commits the crime. Up to 60 percent of stalkers are “simple obsessional” stalkers, which means they stalk people they know or have been intimately involved with. The stalker can’t stand “rejection,” which is to say, a recent divorce or an abrupt end to a relationship. Following rejection, they become hurt and humiliated, but those emotions can become anger, desire for control, and ultimately violence against the person who “wronged” them.
“There is usually some precipitating stressor that precedes and prompts the stalking,” says Randazzo. “It can be the break-up itself, or news that the former spouse/lover will marry, or the stalker losing his job or entering a new relationship. [Stalking] the victim is a way to control him or her.”
As an example of this type of behavior, she cites Sherri Peak’s 2006 case in Washington state. She was stalked by her ex-husband. Peak saw her ex everywhere: in parking lots, in traffic and in public places where she went to meet friends. No one believed her, but she finally had her car searched by an expert. He found two devices beneath the dashboard cover: a GPS device which pinpointed her car’s location and a cell phone which allowed her stalker to listen to her conversations. The two had been married, had shared a house and a life.
Other types of stalkers exist but are less common. The next category, which makes up 40 percent of stalking cases, are the “love-obsessional” types. These stalkers have never formed a relationship with the person they stalk but have only seen them in passing. Many celebrity stalking cases fall into this category.
Randazzo notes a case in which a woman stalked another woman.
“One of my colleagues prosecuted a case several years ago of a woman stalking another woman because she developed an obsessive love interest in the victim,” she says. “The victim discovered that any time she made plans on the phone, her stalker would appear at the same place. She started using her cell phone, thinking her home phone was somehow tapped, but the stalker kept showing up. The police searched her home and discovered that the woman stalking her had moved into the crawl space beneath the victim’s house—they found a sleeping bag, food and books. The stalker overheard her conversations through the phone line and vents. With this type of stalker, the motivation is often one of idealized love followed by rejection that turns to anger and devaluing the victim.”
These stalkers are not deterred by threats of jail time or a marred legal record. Often, they believe that some higher power—at times God, even—has told them that they have to be with their “love interest” to save them.
There is still yet another category of stalker—the “erotomaniac.” These are the least common type of stalker, with only 10 percent of cases falling into this category. These stalkers suffer from the delusion that the person they stalk—whom they, in reality, don’t know—is actually in love with them. “The slightest information—something the victim says or does—can be interpreted as a ‘sign’ that the victim loves him or her,” says Randazzo.
“The longest stalking case I’ve heard of lasted for 31 years,” says Randazzo. The first stalking incident happened when the victim was 17. The man was incarcerated. The second [incident] occurred when the victim heard from him again 25 years later.
Obsession for men
Whichever category the stalker falls into, their obsession has the potential to be deadly. Stalkers are not rational. Their perceived relationships with their victims are not logical or even legal. That begs the question: Do stalkers get over their obsessions?
Unfortunately, research suggests they don’t. Unless a stalker moves on and finds some new, positive influence, they will continue to stalk. Often, stalkers see human relationships in stark blacks and whites: There aren’t “friends” who were once “girlfriends,” but instead only girlfriends or nothing at all.
The low self-esteem that accompanies these feelings persists. Most stalkers don’t seek treatment for their condition unless they are forced to do so, and few recover from the obsession that caused the stalking behavior. Delusional stalkers can, in fact, be treated, but the effectiveness of treatment depends upon the type of stalker. Drugs can limit the brain’s capacity to produce illusions and can “cure” the obsessional or erotomaniac stalker. Prison sentences in and of themselves are not usually long enough to halt stalking behavior or crimes, so those who undergo only legal penalties without treatment are not likely to give up their fixations.
Stalking victims are not so easily healed, either. Victims who have been aggressively stalked are forced to move, change jobs and obtain unlisted phone numbers or even change their names.
They experience lasting anxiety and fear that their stalker will return—sometimes for years.
Jane thought she’d never see her stalker—the man who confronted her in a street, the man who delivered the mail—again.
But she saw him the next day. He’d linger for hours in the hopes of seeing her. She later learned he’d formed friendly rapport with the office secretaries so his hanging around wouldn’t set off alarm bells. No one thought it strange that he remained for hours.
Of course, she told her boss about the mailman and the strange scene in front of the post office. She also told him about this man’s habit of lingering to see her.
No one believed her. He continued to deliver the mail and to lurk.
She changed her daily routine to avoid him. She took lunch at different times and found other routes through the building, which allowed her to avoid the mailroom.
Initially, her plan seemed to work. She didn’t see him for two or three weeks. During that time, she looked over her shoulder, always fearing he’d be there.
Weeks later, she saw him on her walk to work. This time, he was in a mail truck.
“Get in the truck,” he said, driving next to her.
“No,” she responded, quickening her pace.
“Get in the truck,” he said again, louder.
She continued to walk.
He pulled his mail truck onto the sidewalk in front of her and got out, as if to grab her.
She screamed, ran and reported the action to the police. This time, she wasn’t the “crazy” one. She never saw the stalker again. She never heard what happened to him.
“I lived the next two to three months in fear,” she said, adding, “[and] my case is absolutely minor.”
By “minor,” she meant that she got away. So many others have not.