Stalker Types

Chartered Forensic Psychologist Dr Lorraine Sheridan is a world-wide respected expert on stalking. The Network for Surviving Stalking is very grateful to her for tirelessly sharing her knowledge and experience  with us to assist victims.   In 2006 and 2009 Dr Sheridan collaborated with NSS on the  2 largest surveys of UK stalking victims.   What follows is her work on stalker typologies. 

Stalker types

Dr Sheridan writes, ”Understanding what motivates different types of stalkers is key to understanding the nature of stalking behaviour. My research has identified four basic stalker types. Brief descriptions of each type follow, along with relevant case studies.”

Stalker Typology One:

Ex-partner harassment/stalking (50% of cases)

Characteristics:

  • bitterness/hate = linked to relationship’s history (past orientation)
  • hot-headed anger/hostility (cf. sadist’s cold need for control)
  • prior relationship involving domestic violence which turns to more public violence and verbal abuse
  • overt threats, particularly where placed in conjunction with recrimination and reference to perceived issues of contention
  • recruitment of friends and family to perpetuate a campaign of hate
  • motivating issues relate to custody/property/finance (associated issues of power/control/freedom)
  • new relationships engender jealousy and aggressive behaviour
  • third party abuse (verbal and physical), e.g. family members of and known supporters of the victim
  • partisanship on both sides
  • nature of harassment characterised by: high levels of physical violence, high levels of verbal threat, property damage
  • triggers for harassment both spontaneous (e.g. following a chance encounter) and pre-meditated (e.g. sitting in a car outside the victim’s home)
  • activity tending towards being anger driven and impulsivity with corresponding lack of concern about coming to Police attention
  • perpetrator age emerged as diverse and reflective of time of onset of strife in relationship

 

Case Study

A 28 year old woman left her husband after five years of marriage.  Although the husband had always been verbally abusive towards her, he had recently begun to act out violently.  After she had left, his first tactic was to attempt to convince her family and friends that she had made a terrible mistake by leaving him.  In this he was largely successful.  His wife however, stubbornly refused to resume the relationship.  He then sent her a barrage of gifts, flowers and romantic letters and poetry.  When this did not have the desired effect, he attempted to abduct their daughter from school.  His final tactic was to successfully abduct his wife, tie her to a chair, douse her with petrol, and threaten to set her alight until she agreed to move back in with him.  This she did, until his arrest two days later.

Stalker Typology 2: 

Infatuation harassment (18.5% of cases)

Characteristics:

  • target is ‘beloved’ rather than ‘victim’
  • beloved is all pervasive in thoughts
  • world and events are interpreted in relation to beloved
  • beloved is focus of fantasy
  • focus of fantasy romantic and positive
  • intense yearning (cf. anger)
  • particular emphasis on hope of what might be (future orientation)
  • beloved sought out with non-malicious ruses e.g. love letters under windscreen wiper, hanging around and pretending it’s a chance encounter, quizzing friends and associates regarding any aspects of the beloved
  • low levels of danger
  • harassment not characterised by threats, macabre gifts and negative intervention (cf. sinister and intrusion of sadist below)
  • perpetrator age typically teenage or mid-life

 

Case Study

Mr J, a 53 year old office manager with grown up children had been experiencing marital difficulties for some years.  He described himself as ‘depressed’.  When he appointed a new secretary however, he felt that he had been “given a new lease of life”.  He lost weight, traded in his estate car for a convertible and began to take a renewed interest in his appearance.  Eventually, he summoned up the courage to ask his secretary for a dinner date, which was politely refused.  Mr J continued to try and woo his secretary – regularly buying her flowers, taking an interest in all aspects of her life, appearing at her favourite pubs and nightclubs, even booking them on a two week holiday to the Maldives.  He was cautioned by police after the secretary complained to her father that she felt intimidated.  The secretary found a new job and Mr J attended marriage guidance.

 

Stalker Typology 3:

Delusional fixation stalking (15.3% of cases)

Characteristics where dangerous:

  • stalker tends to be incoherent yet victim fixated (orientation toward the present)
  • victim tends to be at high risk of physical violence and sexual assault
  • perpetrator likely to have come to the notice of police and mental health e.g. borderline personality disorder, episodic schizophrenia
  • perpetrator likely to have a history of sexual problems and offences, including stalking
  • activity is characterised by the incessant bombarding with telephone calls, letters, visits to workplace
  • behavioural patterns lacking in coherence, appearing in diverse places, at irregular times
  • content of material sent by and conversation of perpetrator => unsubtle, sexual/obscene, and disjointed semantically
  • stalkers tend to couch their statements of love in terms of sexual intent towards victim (cf. romantic stance of infatuated harasser)
  • stalkers held belief in relationship even though there has been no prior conversation
  • victims are male or female and tend to have some form of elevated/noteworthy status:

- professionals (e.g. GPs, University lecturers)

- celebrities

- unfamous but local and attractive figures

 

Case Study

 A 25 year old woman, Ms G, was approached outside her workplace by an unkempt individual who asked her for sexual favours.  She ignored him, but this came to be a daily event.  Ms G reported that he was regularly following her home, where he would stand in her garden and howl.  The stalker was preoccupied with a belief that the world would soon end and that his only hope of salvation was to be with Ms G when the end came.  His topic of speech would veer markedly however, between this subject and his sexual fantasies involving Ms G.  The case culminated when Ms G tried to reason with him one night in her garden, and he attempted to sexually assault her.  The stalker was placed in a psychiatric secure unit where he was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

 

Characteristics where less dangerous:

  • stalkers hold the delusional conviction that there is an extant, idealised relationship (present and future orientation)
  • stalker scarcely knows victim
  • activity not characterised by threats – just the stated belief that the victim wants to be with him (cf. sadistic stalkers’ similar statements but with sinister twists such as “in heaven” or simply as a means of accentuating the victim’s feelings of despair that nothing works)
  • stalker not amenable to reason from the victim (cf. (i) infatuation harassment where clarity can attenuate the behaviour and (ii) sadistic stalking where the perpetrator consciously exploits non-response to victims’ appeals as a means of demonstrating helplessness)
  • stalker capable of a complete construction of a fantasy of an extant, reciprocated relationship as though victim was in accord and consensual
  • in the event of an eventual submerged perception that relationship is not fitting with the perpetrator’s deluded perception – with rationalisation that it is someone else’s fault (e.g. victim’s husband putting demons in her head)
  • in the event of an individual being identified as thwarting the relationship, there is contingent element of danger – particularly where that individual is perceived by the stalker as being dangerous to victim
  • victims tended to be female professionals

 

Case Study

A married male formed a delusional fixation for a married female bank clerk whom he barely knew.  His delusional orientation moved over time through three phases.  Initially he behaved as if she would immediately leave her husband for him.  After several weeks he came to believe that she refused to leave the family home as she did not want her husband to be upset.  Several months later, the stalker’s orientation changed again.  Now he felt that the target’s  husband was putting voices into her head to prevent her from having a relationship with the offender.  The stalker did not threaten his victim or her husband at any point, but the fixation did continue for many more months and the offender’s own working and family life suffered considerably.

 

StalkerTypology 4:

Sadistic stalking (12.9% of cases)

Characteristics:

  • victim is an obsessive target of the offender, and who’s life is seen as quarry and prey (incremental orientation)
  • victim selection criteria is primarily rooted in the victim being:

(i) someone worthy of spoiling, i.e. someone who is perceived by the stalker at the commencement as being:

- happy

- ‘good’

- stable

- content

and (ii) lacking in the victim’s perception any just rationale as to why she was targeted

  • initial low level acquaintance
  • apparently benign initially but unlike infatuation harassment the means of intervention tend to have negative orientation designed to disconcert, unnerve, and ergo take power away from the victim

- notes left in victim’s locked car in order to unsettle target (cf. billet-doux of infatuated harassment)

- subtle evidence being left of having been in contact with the victim’s personal items e.g. rifled underwear drawer, re-ordering/removal of private papers, cigarette ends left in ash trays, toilet having been used etc.

- ‘helping’ mend victims car that stalker had previously disabled

  • thereafter progressive escalation of control over all aspects (i.e. social, historical, professional, financial, physical) of the victim’s life
  • offender gratification is rooted in the desire to extract evidence of the victim’s powerlessness with inverse implications for his power => sadism
  • additional implication => self-perpetuating in desire to hone down relentlessly on individual victim(s)
  • emotional coldness, deliberateness and psychopathy (cf. the heated nature of ex-partner harassment)
  • tended to have a history of stalking behaviour and the controlling of others
  • stalker tended to broaden out targets to family and friends in a bid to isolate the victim and further enhance his control
  • communications tended to be a blend of loving and threatening (not hate) designed to de-stabilise and confuse the victim
  • threats were either overt (“We’re going to die together”) or subtle (delivery of dead roses)
  • stalker could be highly dangerous – in particular with psychological violence geared to the controlling of the victim with fear, loss of privacy and the curtailment of her social world
  • physical violence was also entirely possible – especially by means which undermine the victim’s confidence in matters normally taken for granted e.g. disabling brake cables, disarming safety equipment, cutting power off
  • sexual content of communications was aimed primarily to intimidate through the victim’s humiliation, disgust and general undermining of self-esteem
  • the older the offender, the more likely he would have enacted sadistic stalking before and would not be likely to offend after 40 years of age if not engaged in such stalking before
  • victim was likely to be re-visited after a seeming hiatus

 

Case Study

Shortly after the death of her husband, a middle aged woman, Mrs T, formed an acquaintanceship with Mr H, a local man.  Her reliance on this man increased when she began to believe that someone was visiting her home whilst she was out.  She would regularly find that e.g. toothbrushes had been used, or that personal letters had been rearranged.  She was also upset that dead birds were frequently found on her doorstep.  Mrs T was finally admitted to hospital when she awoke to find the unearthed remains of her husband deposited on her doorstep.  Throughout this time, she described Mr H as “a tower of strength.”  Three months later, police evidence linked Mr H to the desecration of the grave.  During questioning, Mr H revealed that this had been his method of asking Mrs T “What it is that her husband has got that I haven’t.”

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