10:37 08 April 2005
One in eight British adults is being or has been stalked, with up to 45% of offenders turning violent and 40% of victims being forced to move home or job, according to a new report.
Typical stalking situations last a year or two, although 15% go on for up to five years and some for decades.
Two criminal psychologists, David Canter and Donna Youngs, who analysed statistics and case histories from the UK, US and Australia, found stalking was widespread and on the increase.
The study was commissioned by Chubb Insurance, which has introduced a policy to cover the harm caused by stalkers.
Professor Canter, who was stalked by a former secretary at Liverpool university, said many people underestimated the effect on victims and their families.
Many stalkers don't stop until the victim takes drastic evasive action - 94% have to make major changes in the way they live, which can mean altering their appearance, giving up work, installing security devices or selling their homes.
Despite headline-grabbing stories of celebrities plagued by obsessed "fans", most victims are professional women in their 40s, who are being stalked by younger men of lower socio-economic status.
One in six UK women have been stalked, although doctors, lawyers and social workers of both sexes are particularly vulnerable, and email and internet databases make it easier for stalkers to compile detailed information on targets.
Prof Canter said that in many cases the stalker was known to the victim. They might have had a romantic relationship that the stalker refused to accept was over, but often it was a one-sided crush. He has also encountered companies that have suffered vendettas at the hands of stalkers.
He advised victims to have no contact whatsoever with the stalker, put security measures in place if necessary, inform police, family, friends and colleagues, and keep records.
Three kinds of irrational pursuit
As seen in the 1991 film Sleeping with the Enemy, starring Julia Roberts and Patrick Bergin. In the film Julia Roberts's character was pursued by her violent estranged husband. This kind of stalker is most likely to physically attack victim and destroy property.
The victims tend to be former partners or former managers who sacked the stalker.
In 1981 John Hinckley, who had become obsessed with the actor Jodie Foster, shot the then US president Ronald Reagan as "the greatest love offering in the history of the world". Hinckley is the kind of stalker who steps over the line between admiration and obsession.
These kinds of stalkings are usually carried out by socially inept, maladjusted individuals who are incapable of real relationships.
As seen in the film Fatal Attraction, starring Glenn Close and Michael Douglas. Usually female, these stalkers target successful, older men, whom they genuinely believe they love.
They are not usually violent but they can be the most persistent and inflict wide-ranging psychological harm on the victims and their families.
The four main types of stalking behaviour
This can have implicit or explicit sexual undertones, and may involve obscene phone calls and stealing personal possessions, such as underwear or photographs.
The stalker carries out detailed "research" and intense "undercover surveillance" in a deluded bid to establish an intimate relationship with victim.
The stalker keeps as close a physical watch on victim as possible, including keeping tabs on their family and friends, in a bid to control them.
There is a desire to harm the victim or a belief that some sort of revenge is justified. The stalker will try to humiliate the victim personally and professionally. This kind of behaviour is most likely to escalate into violence.
How to deal with a stalker
Have as little contact as possible. Do not speak to them or try to reason with them in any way. Inform the police, and warn friends, family and colleagues - stalkers can be very plausible in their attempts to get to you.
Keep detailed records of harassment, you may need them if the case ever comes to court.
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