Female Stalkers, Part 1: What is Stalking and Can Men Be Stalked by Women?
Do you know what stalking is? Do you know that many of your girlfriend’s, wife’s or ex’s “nuisance,” clingy, possessive, angry, threatening, internet search, social network, text/telephone/email and/or destructive behaviors qualify as stalking and harassment? Do you know that many women often use Family Court and negative advocate attorneys to stalk and harass their ex-husbands? Do you know that stalking and harassment are abuse? Do you know that stalking and harassment are a form of domestic violence? Do you know that stalking and harassment (and cyberstalking and cyber-harassment) are crimes?
For many people, the term “stalker” conjures up the image of an obsessed, delusional man, lurking in the shadows and peeking through some poor woman’s windows, but this is only half the story. Women stalk and harass their male intimate partners and former-intimate partners, too.
If you’ve been involved with a high-conflict and/or abusive personality-disordered woman, it’s highly likely that you’ve been the target of stalking and harassment. Most male stalking victims don’t refer to female stalking behavior as stalking. They use words like crazy, obsessed, psycho, delusional, bitter ex-wife, vengeful ex-girlfriend, “can’t let go,” “can’t move on” and a number of other equally appropriate descriptors.
Who engages in stalking behaviors more? Men or women?
Female perpetrators engage in stalking and harassment behaviors with as much frequency as male offenders do. Why don’t we hear about it? Because most woman-centric (i.e., feminist) domestic violence groups and mainstream media outlets are woefully silent when it comes to male victims of abusive women. Worse yet, female stalking behaviors are portrayed as “funny” or “cute,” for example, Confessions of a Facebook Stalker (That’s Me) and Confessions of a Facebook Stalker.
When a woman is actually acknowledged as a perpetrator, she’s portrayed as having been wronged by some man and in need of our help and understanding. When a man engages in the same behaviors, he’s portrayed as a menace to society who should be locked up. Most DV groups exemplify what can only be described as a one-way road paved with double standards when it comes to matters of abuse and the condemnation and criminality of said behaviors.
Recent studies find that men and women seem to engage in stalking behaviors equally. Older studies indicated that women comprised the majority of victims. However, these skewed figures are believed to be due to the way the questionnaires and surveys were worded in the older studies. It’s also attributed to the fact that men are less likely to report a crime when a woman is the perpetrator because they’re afraid of being ridiculed, not believed and/or because they don’t believe they’re in physical danger.
Mullen et al (2001) find:
[Men] who find themselves the victim of a female stalker often confront indifference and skepticism from law enforcement and other helping agencies. Not infrequently, male victims allege that their complaints have been trivialized or dismissed, some victims being told that they should be “flattered” by all the attention.
Victimization studies indicate that women are seldom prosecuted for stalking offenses, with criminal justice intervention most likely to proceed in those cases involving a male suspect accused of stalking a woman (Hall, 1998). The available evidence suggests that stalking by women has yet to be afforded the same degree of seriousness attached to harassment perpetrated by men. This is despite any empirical evidence that women are any less intrusive or persistent in their stalking or pose any less of a threat (physical or otherwise) to their victims.
Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al (2000) used the Unwanted Pursuit Behaviors Inventory (UPBI) to determine the prevalence of “former-intimate stalking-type” behaviors in an undergraduate population. This study finds no sex differences in overall UPBI scores of individuals who are the “dumpees.” Females and males indicate that they engage in stalking acts to the same degree in their inventory responses.
Additionally, there are no sex differences in the number of unwanted pursuit behaviors (UPBs) experienced by those who initiated the break-up. “Males and females who had instigated the break-up were equally likely to be the victims of UPBs by their former-intimates, which included theft, physical harm and being followed.”
Interestingly, males are found to be the victims of cyberstalking by a former-intimate more than their female counterparts (Alexy et al, 2005). Mullen et al (2001) also find that female stalkers are more likely to favor electronic stalking acts than physical acts, show the same propensity for threats, physical violence and property damage as male offenders, are more motivated to establish a love relationship with their victims and are likely to target men and women equally with their stalking behaviors [*This is consistent with research on female bullies who are equal opportunity bullies; their male counterparts tend to bully other men.]
What is stalking?
Stalking is a combination of harassment behaviors, both cyber/digital and offline, that are unwanted by the target and induce fear, frustration and/or cause physical and psychological distress. Wigman (2009) conducted a research review on male victims of former-intimate stalking (i.e., men who are stalked by crazy ex-wives, ex-girlfriends, ex-friends with benefits, one-nightstands and, in some cases, women with whom they’d never been intimate). She finds:
Although no definition of stalking is universally accepted, most have in common the stipulations that the behaviors or acts must be repeated and unwanted. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice (2002) stated that stalking is “the willful or intentional commission of a series of acts that would cause a reasonable person to fear death or serious bodily injury” (p. 1). This definition includes a fear component, although other definitions do not, and under these circumstances, cases are often considered as “harassment” rather than “stalking.”
For example, Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Palarea, Cohen, and Rohling (2000) identified unwanted pursuit behaviors (comprising harassment acts and more severe stalking acts), which they defined as “activities that constitute ongoing and unwanted pursuit of a romantic relationship between individuals who are not currently involved in a consensual romantic relationship with each other” (p. 73). Stalking or harassment acts can range from relatively minor behaviors such as leaving unwanted messages or gifts for the victim, to more serious actions such as following, threatening or assaulting the victim.
The 2001 British Crime Survey (BCS) defines stalking as involving feelings of “fear, alarm or distress” because of “two or more events of harassment” (Walby & Allen, 2004, p. 4) and incorporates all types of stalking behaviors. Purcell, Pathe and Mullen (2002) find that stalking by a former-intimate appears to be the most severe, with targets suffering “more varied stalking acts in general for longer durations, as well as more threats, physical harm and damage to their property, than acquaintance stalkers, stalking by family, friends, or colleagues, or stalking by strangers” (Wigman, 2009).
In two related studies, Sheridan, Gillett and Davies (2002) and Sheridan, Davies and Boon (2001b), define stalking as “a series of actions directed at one individual by another which . . . amount to unwanted persistent personal harassment” (2002, p. 303). Purcell, Pathe and Mullen (2001) define stalking as “unwanted, repeated (at least 10 intrusions) and persistent (lasting 4 weeks or more) efforts to converse with or encroach on the victim, which caused the victim to feel fear.”
Who is likely to stalk?
The usual suspects, of course.
Personality-disordered individuals who are more likely to engage in stalking behaviors include narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, antisocial, schizoid and dependent personalities (Meloy & Gothard, 1995; Akhtar, 1987). There is also a high correlation with individuals who have substance abuse histories, mood disorders, sexual dysfunction and schizophrenia (Meloy & Gothard, 1995). Having a significant loss within a 7-year period (e.g., a divorce, break-up, estrangement, loss of job, death of a child or parent) is also common amongst stalkers.
According to Mullen et al (2001), “both the females and males engaged in stalking because they felt rebuffed, wanted to take revenge, or thought that stalking would help them get a date. But significantly more female stalkers wanted to establish an intimate, loving relationship with the person they pursued.” Both male and female subjects “had delusional disorders, personality disorders, morbid infatuations, and so forth. (Male and female stalkers also tended to use similar methods of harassment, except that female stalkers favored the phone, and male stalkers physical pursuit.)”
Why is it important that men accurately identify these types of behaviors?
Stalking and other forms of harassment are criminal behaviors, whether the perpetrator is a male or female. Stalking typically occurs after a break up, although, it can also occur at the onset and throughout the course of the relationship. For example, does your wife hack into your email?
Many men view stalking behavior in women as normal female insecurity, jealousy and/or possessiveness. These are not normal behaviors; they’re abnormal and abusive behaviors. They’re indicative of an individual who has a lack of boundaries, a shaky grasp on reality and sociopathic tendencies (i.e., no empathy for how her victims are feeling and the belief that only her needs, feelings and desires matter).
If you’re beginning to date someone and she displays stalking/harassment behaviors, it should be a huge red flag (i.e., you need to stop seeing her). If your wife or girlfriend are guilty of these behaviors, you need to understand that this is abuse and it’s wrong. If your ex-wife is stalking/harassing you and/or your new girlfriend/wife/family, you need to take legal measures to protect yourself and your loved ones. The reason so many women get away with these behaviors is because not enough people take them seriously. Our society will begin to take this issue seriously if we start prosecuting women who engage in these behaviors—just like we do with male offenders.
Perhaps some men aren’t physically afraid of their female stalkers, but that doesn’t make their behavior any less criminal. Being stalked and/or the target of a harassment campaign can be incredibly stressful, irritating and frustrating. Law abiding citizens—including male law abiding citizens—have a right to the peaceful enjoyment of their lives free from harassment by their former intimates or other love/revenge-obsessed former/current intimates.
The Shrink4Men Stalking Series
Please check back in a couple of days for the second part of this series, which will provide a comprehensive list of stalking behaviors and a discussion of stalking types and categories.
Shrink4Men Counseling, Coaching and Consulting Services:
Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling/consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.
Hall, D. M. (1998). The victims of stalking. The Psychology of Stalking: Clinical and Forensic Perspective. Edited by Meloy, J. R. San Diego, Academic Press: 188-196.
Harmon, R. B., Rosner, R., & Owens, H. (1995). Obsessional harassment and erotomania in a criminal court population. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 40, 188-196.
Kienlen, K. K., Birmingham, D.L. Solberg, K. B., O’Ragan, J. T., & Meloy, J. R. (1997). A comparative study of psychotic and non-psychotic stalking. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry & the Law, 25 (3), 317-334.
Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J., Palarea, R.E., Cohen, J., & Rohling, M. L. (2000). Breaking up is hard to do: Unwanted pursuit behaviors following the dissolution of a romantic relationship. Violence and Victims, 15, 73-90.
Meloy, J. R., & Gothard, S. (1995). Demographic and clinical comparison of obsessional followers and offenders with mental disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 152 (2), 258-263.
Mullen, P. E., Pathe, M., Purcell, R., & Stuart, G. W. (1999). A study of stalkers. American Journal of Psychiatry, 156, 1244-1249.
Mullen, P. E., Pathe, M., Purcell, R. (2001). A study of women who stalk. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 2056-2060.
Walby, S., & Allen, J. (2004). Domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey Home Office Research Study 276. Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate.
Wigman, S. A. (2009). Male victims of former-intimate stalking: a selected review. International Journal of Men’s Health, June 22, 2009.
Zona, M. A., Sharma, K. K., & Lane, J. C. (1993). A comparative study of erotomanic and obsessional subjects in a forensic sample. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 38 (4), 894-903.