Dealing with stalkers
We recently had to help a client deal with a stalker. Stalking is one of a set of ultimate forms of boundary violations, where someone becomes pathologically involved with you. Stalking becomes obvious because the behavior is obsessive and inappropriate. If you meet someone who calls you the next day, the behavior is appropriate. If you receive ten or fifteen call at work and at home, demanding your time and presence, that is inappropriate behavior. Stalking may go on for a long time. Indeed, some stalking cases have lasted more than a decade.
In general we have three goals in dealing with a stalker: 1. Keep the client from getting hurt physically and psychologically. 2. Get the stalking to end, hopefully in a timely manner. 3. Avoid hurting the stalker.
Once gaining the critical insight that one is being fixated upon, it is critical that it be made clear — without confronting, without making the stalker feel too special, and without causing embarrassment — that you are not interested in this person’s attentions, and that you will not be interested in the future. It is difficult for all of us to say “No!” But it is critical that “no” be the message, because if you try to cushion your message with some excuse, your stalker is likely to consider this excuse to be merely another hurdle that must be overcome.
Once “no” has been ignored, cut off all contact with this person. This means never be in contact with them: If they write or call you once, or ten times, or a hundred times, or a thousand times, do not respond, as this merely tells them that a certain level of contact will be the price of a response. This means that, depending on the circumstances, you may need to resist the temptation of having a friend, the police, or a private detective contact the person to warn them off. And note that all of these may be involved with dealing with the problem.
Certain things may be of value in some cases: A restraining order early on may be a good idea if there is no history of violence and a casual relationship, while an arrest may be the best idea if there is a history of physical abuse and a long-term emotional investment. Other things, however, should always be done.
Keep written records of all contact, letters received, times you observed the person, messages left on your answering machine, crank phone calls, telephone hang-ups, and any other events which are unusual or destructive, and may be, in retrospect, part of the problem. Give copies of these records to the police and to whomever else is helping you with the situation.
Because stalking is such abnormal behavior, any intervention you take can make things better, or worse, or do nothing one way or the other. Because of this, dealing with stalkers is not straightforward, and there is no single approach that one can take. You really need the help of a professional, or a team of professionals including police, corporate security, psychologists, and private investigators, when dealing with a stalker.
Do not take this situation lightly. Laura Black, herself the survivor of a homicidal stalker, feels that you should not let the stalker drive the situation: Someone must handle it who is not intimidated. This could be the police, or someone from your employer’s security or human resources department, even if the stalking doesn’t occur at your workplace and doesn’t involve other employees.
If you are forced to move or change your telephone number, it is definitely time to get a post office box listing for all your identification, and to tell your close friends never to give your real address to anybody without your permission.
Do not discount any information you receive: Analyze it. Take all threats seriously, and pay attention to your intuition and feelings. Notify the police when you think you can predict a violent event, even if it is only a gut feeling, and you cannot back it up with anything specific.
Stalking, though horrible and frightening, is rarely as lethal as TV and movies show, with some experts indicating homicide rates of about 2%. Other forms of violence appear more often, with estimates from 3% to 36%. The best predictor of violence is past violence.
From the corporate point of view, it is important to be as aware of this problem as of domestic violence. As with domestic violence which can spill over to the workplace, proper access control will help, and there should, of course, be a room where an endangered employee can be hidden away until the police arrive.
In this particular case, we were apparently fortunate enough to be able to break the cycle and have the stalking end. The fixation had developed during a brief initial contact rather than building over time, and apparently did not have time to become ingrained in the few days before we were called in. In addition, we were able to remove all points of contact. Finally, the client was able to leave the country for a while, making here completely inaccessible. Unfortunately, only time will tell whether the stalker will reappear.
More unfortunately, stalking is one of those violent personal crimes, like assault, kidnapping, rape, and a host of others, that damages the soul of the subject. There is virtually always psychological trauma which must be understood, tolerated, and dealt with. So, even in this case, where things appear to have been taken care of swiftly and adequately, it must be assumed that there is trauma, and that care and support will be necessary for some unknown period of time. Be prepared to deal with this, and for a longer time than you might find comfortable and convenient.
For more information on personal safety, please look at The Seven Steps to Personal Safety co-authored by this editor. The Seven Steps, which has over 20,000 copies in print, is widely regarded as the leading book for civilians on dealing with violent confrontations.