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Stalking - what is it about?

Because of the personal experiences of our friend JENNIFER NITSCH, the JEN Foundation is committed to endowing an array of anti-stalking projects.

Los Angeles' police department called persons with an obsessive behaviour towards another person, mostly a movie star, "stalkers". However, not only celebrities fall prey to unwanted admirers. The continued harassment or pursuing of other persons, which may make them feel that they're no longer safe, has meanwhile come over private persons as well.

Stalking: Prowling, sneaking up, harassing, threatening, and using psychological and physical violence. To date, there is a wide array of aggressive methods available: Calling someone up, sending an e-mail, fax, letter, parcel or slip, or stalking someone at their home or workplace, etc.   Their consequences are not very hard to imagine, and what it particularly means for the victims. News and celebrity media contribute to the proliferation of the term "stalking" by frequent covering of cases.

Commonly, the primary focus is only on a few celebrities: Actors/actresses, politicians, artists, writers and the like. The stalker gone mad is hoping to get in contact with the victim by undertaking advances, then gets disappointed, turns to defamations and threats, and even to direct approaches or criminal activities.  Curative prospects are rather bleak, though - particularly if not properly treated. Among the more likely causes are schizophrenic psychoses or delusional disturbances such as love delirium.

Not least because of famous current cases (i.e., the 1989 murder of U.S. actress Rebecca Schaeffer through the hand of a stalker comes to mind), a number of bills have passed that try to deal with such harassments and have since been referred to as "anti-stalking laws" (such as in California 1991, Australia in 1993, and England and Wales in 1997). The lawmakers originally expected just a few hundred of such cases per year, but they soon had to realize that this number would be exceeded by many times, which evidently confirms the extraordinary frequency of occurrences of such problematic behaviour.

What has started as repeated, unwanted approaches will often turn into psychological blackmailing, encroaching of the victim's entire private and professional live. Stalker check up on and lay siege to their victim, mostly via phone, mail, e-mail, or text messages, but they will also not shrink from trespassing, sexual harassment, threats and even violence to get close to them.

Even though the stalkers' actions may not make them guilty - the permanent terrorizing of persons and the continued upholding of a concrete threat are gruelling. Besides physical pain and mental disturbances, such as sleeping disorders, states of fear and difficulties to maintain a clear focus, persons who have fallen prey to stalkers may also find themselves forced into changing their entire way of life, move to a different place and find a new job, just escape their pursuer for good.   Even when the person's obsessive behaviour towards another person stops - the victim will be left having a hard time trying to figure out how to get back to normal life and be free again in connecting with other people.

Since stalkers are often obsessed with a certain idea, talking to them about their doings will seldom yield any results. Even though victim and stalker were not known to each other, the very process of stalking establishes an interpersonal relationship. This is why those fallen victim to stalkers should observe some basic rules of behaviour, in order to not to encourage their chasers from pursuing their obsession. One of the more frequent consequences of stalking is the social isolation of the victim - a sense of guilt and the fear of exposing their situation to third parties often prevent them from committing their case to friends or trying to find professional help at an early stage. Particularly male victims seem to be hesitant when it comes to admitting someone into their confidence, as the psychological blackmail makes them feel weak and helpless.

It's therefore up to the police and the lawmakers to do something about it. They, in turn, would like to be provided with facts and figures concerning definition, classification, diagnosis, motive, psycho-social backdrop, therapeutic options, and success rates of recovery, etc. Therefore, science is the key: criminologists, sociologists, particularly psychologists, and also psychiatrists. Of the latter profession, forensic psychiatry is the most promising field.  What is the outcome of the detective work of forensic psychiatrists, sociologists, and the like (after all, the phenomenon has been known since the first human being saw the light of day, even though current media coverage suggests, that the incidences are soaring)?

Stalking - an elusive phenomenon, though it sounds paradoxical.