Evidence-Based Reviews

Stalking intervention: Know the 5 stalker types, safety strategies for victims

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A patient, a colleague, or perhaps you have been stalked. The chances of a woman being stalked are an estimated 1 in 14; for men, it is 1 in 50.1 Fearful stalking victims may restrict their lives, change jobs, and curtail social activities to protect themselves from unwanted attention, physical assault, or even murder. They may develop anxiety, depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).2,3

Historical, clinical, and behavioral factors increase a stalker’s risk for committing violence (Table 1).2-7 As a psychiatrist, you may be asked to consult with local law enforcement and stalking victims to assess and manage victims’ risk. To best protect them, be aware of:

  • 5 types of stalkers and their typical response to management strategies
  • legal and safety issues to consider before taking actions that might endanger stalking victims
  • strategies to help victims protect themselves
  • interventions for victims and stalkers.

Table 1

Factors that increase the risk of violence

Factor typeFeatures
HistoricalEx-intimate partner
Previous violence
Criminal record (especially violent crimes)
Previous threats (especially specific or face-to-face)
Clinical“Rejected” or “predatory” stalker type
Substance use
Narcissism, entitlement
Personality disorder with anger or behavioral instability
Depression with suicidal ideas
BehavioralAccess to weapons
Proximity to victim
Victim in a new relationship
Has already taken actions on plans/threats
Researching the victim
Unconcerned with negative consequences
Risk factors for homicide or serious physical harm:
  • Previous visits to victim’s home
  • Previous violence during stalking
  • Threats to harm victim’s children
  • Places notes on victim’s car
Source: References 2-7

Stalker types

Mullen et al8 developed a clinically oriented, validated stalker classification system to identify an individual stalker’s type, risks, and probable responses to management interventions (Table 2).

Rejected stalkers—the most common and dangerous type—pursue the victim, often a former intimate partner, after a relationship ends. They often acknowledge a complex and volatile mix of desire for reconciliation and revenge. These stalkers likely have a history of criminal assault.

Rejected stalkers appear to respond best to a combination of coordinated legal sanctions and mental health intervention. Because they are most likely to be violent, rejected stalkers need intensive probation or parole supervision.5

Intimacy-seeking stalkers want an intimate relationship with a victim they believe is their “true love” and tend to imbue their victims with special desirability, excellence, and other qualities consistent with their belief of romanticized love. Most have erotomanic delusions, and the rest have morbid infatuations with the victim. Intimacy-seeking stalkers typically are unperturbed by legal sanctions, viewing them as the price to pay for “true love.” They often require court-mandated psychiatric treatment.

Incompetent stalkers know the victim is disinterested but forge ahead in hopes that their behavior will lead to a relationship. Their stalking can be viewed as crude or “incompetent” attempts to court the victim. Incompetent stalkers often are intellectually limited; they feel entitled to a partner but because of underdeveloped social skills are unable to build upon lesser forms of social interaction. Unlike intimacy-seekers, incompetent stalkers do not endow the victim with unique qualities.

In addition to needing legal sanctions and possible mental health treatment, incompetent stalkers often require social skills training. Otherwise, they are likely to continue their pattern of stalking with other victims.

Resentful stalkers intend to frighten and distress the victim. Many have paranoid personalities or delusional disorders. They may pursue a vendetta against a specific victim or feel generally aggrieved and randomly choose a victim. They often feel persecuted and may go about stalking with an attitude of righteous indignation.

Resentful stalkers who suffer from mental illness generally require court-ordered psychiatric treatment but are difficult to engage in therapy. Legal sanctions may inflame this type of stalker.

Predatory stalkers prepare for a sexual assault. They stalk to discover the victim’s vulnerabilities and seldom give warnings, so the victim is often unaware of the danger.

Predatory stalkers frequently suffer from paraphilias and have prior convictions for sexual offenses. They must be secured in a correctional or forensic setting to address their paraphilias and propensity for violence.

Table 2

Identifying types of stalkers

TypeTraits and behaviors
RejectedPursues former intimate partner
Desires reconciliation and/or revenge
Criminal assault history
Personality disorders predominate
Intimacy-seekingDesires relationship with “true love”
Oblivious to victim response
Most have erotomanic delusions
Endows victim with unique qualities
IncompetentAcknowledges victim’s disinterest
Hopes behavior leads to intimacy
Does not endow victim with unique qualities
Low IQ, socially inept, entitled
ResentfulFeels persecuted and desires retribution
Intends to frighten or distress
Specific or general grievance
Paranoid diagnoses
PredatoryPreparing for sexual attack
Stalks to study and observe
Paraphilias, prior sexual offenses are common
No warnings before attack
Source: Reference 8

Managing victims’ risk

Effectively managing a victim’s stalking risk is a dynamic process. It is critical to use professional judgment in a flexible manner and to work as a team with professionals from other agencies (Box).9-12

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