How long does stalking last?
Chartered Forensic Psychologist Dr Lorraine Sheridan is a world-reknown expert on stalking. The Network for Surviving Stalking is extremely grateful to her for tirelessly sharing her knowledge, research and experience with us to aid victims. In 2006 and 2009 Dr Sheridan worked in conjunction with NSS to produce the 2 largest surveys of UK stalking victims. What follows is part of the 2009 Stalking Survey (NB 1974 questionnaire responses were analysed)
Dr Sheridan writes “At the time of filling in the questionnaires, some of the victims were still being stalked. For others the stalking had thankfully ended, and still others did not know whether their stalking had ended. Stalkers have been known to revisit their victims and reignite the stalking campaign after a seeming hiatus. A third (33%) reported they were no longer being stalked. Half (50%) said they were still being stalked, and the remaining 17% were unsure. The following quotes are responses to the question ‘has your stalking ended?’ and illustrate this uncertainty:
“It never ends because, as the victim of stalking you never know if the stalker has decided to stop forever or if he will start again at some point in the future. Once you have been stalked, you always have that fear that it may happen again, especially when it has been over a long period of time that means the stalking has almost become a normal part of your life. I now find it natural to look out of my windows before closing the curtains, to look in my rear view mirror when I drive and to worry when the phone rings late at night. I can’t imagine that those feelings will ever go away even if my stalker does.”
“It can only really end when the stalker dies, you never know when they are going to appear and you exist like that, which means it has not ended for the victim even if there is no current activity taking place.”
“I still don’t know if the stalking has ended. Just last week some garden ornaments were damaged. Is it local kids? Stalker? Who knows?”
“For me, the stalking never really ended, as I am left emotionally scarred by the event. I will always worry about what became of this man, and whether he could track me down again. When he found me in university, it was after a period of about 18 months, by which time I had thought I was free of him for good.”
“They may go ‘quiet’ but they never stop. They just fester and plan in prison. They should get life or bring back hanging.”
Of course, even for those victims whose stalkers had stopped, the scars will remain forever:
“Technically the stalking has stopped but the repercussions are still with me today. I do not date and I do not trust.”
“If one person can do it to you, someone else can. You can move on and take even more precautions when out, but you never know who’s out there for you.”
“I’ve read about people who have recovered well. In my case, it has been years of repeated trauma and terrorism. I have a lot of faith in God and a loving family, but even soldiers get to come off of the battlefield sometime. I never have. I’m actually doing a little better, but every time there is a little reprieve or recovery, there is another incident. Terrorism and horror beyond description.”
“There are certain things that happen to a victim that has been stalked and if that person is you then you have to learn how to keep yourself safe and always be aware of your surroundings. A victim never lets their guard down nor ever learns how to go somewhere alone or without constantly looking over their shoulder. You never get that person’s looks out of your mind and any little thing that may resemble the stalker can put the fear back into your life in a split second.”
“The stress and anger it invokes is no doubt causing me permanent heart damage. The stress has changed my personality. People think I’m going mad and changing that perception will be very difficult if not impossible.”
Figures on duration
Of those whose stalking had ended, the average duration was 30 months (range one month to 43 years). For those who said their stalking was ongoing, the average duration was 40 months (range one month to 34 years and five months). For those who were unsure as to whether they were still being victimised, the average duration stood at 45 months (range one month to 45 years). The following table provide a full breakdown in those cases where the stalking had ended:
Durations in cases where the stalking had ended
Duration % of victims 0-1 months 2% 1-3 months 8% 3-6 months 11% 6-12 months 24% 1-2 years 19% 2-5 years 21% 5-10 years 11% More than 10 years 1% More than 20 years 1% More than 30 years 1% More than 40 years 1%
The duration of stalking tends to increase as the stalker’s emotional investment in the relationship increases. This is one of the many reasons why ex-partner stalkers are generally considered to be the most dangerous stalker type (compared with those who stalk acquaintances or strangers). Stalking is more likely to continue if victim and stalker shared a long relationship and particularly where they have children together.
The fact that stalking often continues for many months or years sets it apart from other interpersonal crimes. Stalking is by its very nature chronic, rather than acute. Most other interpersonal crimes are acute in nature (e.g. rape, mugging), occurring just once in a relatively small space of time. Because of the repeated and persistent characteristics of stalking, victims of stalking live in a state of persistent threat, regardless whether an explicit threat exists or whether there is any actual physical violence.