Stalking after a Relationship

A recent study examined coeds’ reported incidence of being stalked as well as the type of stalking that they experienced. The study also compared the traits of unwelcome pursuers to those of relationship partners.

* Stalkers Usually Aren’t Strangers *

Although stalkers are often portrayed as lurking strangers shadowing a random victim, stalking more typically emerges from a prior relationship ended against the wishes of one partner, who then begins stalking the other (Del Ben 2002). This more common type of stalking is rarely brought to the attention of law enforcement police (Tjaden 1998).

* Criminal and Clinical Stalkers *

Previous studies examining the personality traits of stalkers have typically drawn their data from the assessment of clinically or criminally identified stalkers. Using data from stalking cases that have been brought to the attention of clinicians or law enforcement may result in the perception of a more severely disturbed stalker as being the norm (Cupach 2004, Spitzberg 2002).

* Study Objective *

Since more typical type of stalker is someone who has been rejected from a relationship but continues to pursue the former partner, Spitzberg and Vesler (2007), the researchers behind this study, were interested in investigating whether there are basic differences in personality between a stalker and a partner in a normal relationship.

* Stalking Study Methods *

In this study 292 college students (approximately 2/3 female) were asked if they had ever been romantically pursued in a persistent and unwanted way. If they had, they completed the survey in reference to the person who harassed them. Respondents who had never experienced this type of unwanted attention were asked to base their survey answers on their most recent romantic relationship partner.

Study participants rated the person they were describing on three main categories:

* Personality Disorder Assessment: Subjects used a standardized psychological test to evaluate their partner/pursuer for the presence of traits associated with the most standard personality disorders.

* Stalker’s Social Skills: The partner/pursuer’s interaction competence or social skills were assessed using the Conversational Skills Rating Scale (CSRS), developed by Spitzberg.

* Obsessive Relational Intrusion: ORI is a particular type of harassment in which the pursuer’s objective is to become closer or more intimate with the victim, and may or may not cause fear or perceived threat. The extent to which the respondent had felt pursued in unwanted ways was assessed using the 28-item ORI victimization short form (Cupach 2004).

* How Common is Stalking? *

With respect to unwanted pursuit, 46.3% of respondents indicated that they had been obsessively pursued at some point in their life. Of those who had received this unwanted attention, 22.4% said the pursuit had made them feel threatened. Thirty percent of those who had been pursued indicated that they would consider the harassment to qualify as stalking.

* Post-relationship Stalking *

Ratings of personality disorder and ORI were higher for pursuers who had been in a romantic relationship with the victim, rather than just acquaintances or friends.

* Perceived Stalking and the Law *

It was also found that people’s perceptions of stalking and harassment differed from legal definitions. According to most statutes (Miller 2002), harassment must be perceived as threatening to be considered stalking. In this study, 8% of those reporting that they had experienced what they considered to be stalking did not perceive the harassment as threatening.

* Were the Respondents Stalkers? *

When the tables were turned, and respondents asked, “Do you believe that you have ever engaged in romantic pursuit in ways that a reasonable person might consider to be stalking,” nearly 13% of those surveyed indicated that they had stalked another themselves.

* Anti-stalking Support *

This article is a summary of one study on stalking. There are many resources available to assist and protect stalking victims, including the National Center for Victims of Crime (800) 394-2255.

* Sources *

Cupach, W. R., & Spitzberg, B. H. (2004). The dark side of relational pursuit: From attraction to obsession and stalking. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Del Ben, K., & Fremouw, W. (2002). Stalking: Developing an empirical typology to classify stalkers. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 47, 152 – 158.

Miller, N., & Nugent, H. (2002). Stalking laws and implementation practices: A national review for policymakers and practitioners (NCJ 197066). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.

Spitzberg, B. H. (2002). The tactical topography of stalking victimization and management. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 3, 261 – 288.

Spitzberg, B., Veksler, A. (2007) The Personality of Pursuit: Personality Attributions of Unwanted Pursuers and Stalkers. Violence and Victims, 22, 3.

Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (1998). Stalking in America: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey (NCJ 169592). Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.