In my book “We need to talk about this”, I mention sadistic stalking, that is, I point out how difficult it is to tell that the target of such activities is not imagining things, is not mentally ill.
I give the example of the woman who was stalked for a long time and eventually found the excavated remains of her deceased husband dumped on her doorstep. She had a heart attack. In my book, I take you through a few scenarios that put you in such a woman’s shoes to show you various sides of what are in fact “mental health” prejudices.
The point I make in the book within this context is that mental health is not very clearly defined. Like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. And as for beauty, society’s ideals and fashions dictate not only what we should look like but also what we should be and behave like. (Remember the film “The Stepford Wives”?)
My short discussion of the topic in my book could do with some more depth, were it not that this would have taken me too far beyond the scope of the book.
Stalking exists, however. Stalkers exist. They exist regardless of how people who aren’t stalked and aren’t stalkers feel about it. Their targets – I refuse to use the word “victims” – are not crazy, even though they may sound crazy when they talk about their stalking experience.
Once upon a time, everyone believed that the earth was flat and those who said that it wasn’t became vilified and prosecuted. Locked up. Declared sinners in defiance of the church, and what not.
Nowadays, the number of people who are convinced that the planet on which we live is flat is very small. But whether the earth is flat or round does not affect personal people’s lives and that makes it easier to accept the fact that the planet isn’t a flat disk.
Stalking, that’s different. If you believe that stalking exists, then you also have to admit that you could become stalked. You would have to admit that you are as vulnerable as anyone else, as the crazy-sounding stalking target.
That step is too big for many people.
Particularly the existence of the more extreme forms of stalking, such as sadistic stalking, is hard to accept for the general public. They may not mind seeing it in a film, but they don’t want to accept that it occurs in real life, too. That’s probably not a bad thing either. It helps keep people whole, mentally.
(Imagine what would happen if you had to take the possibility of stalking into account with everything that you do. Your life would become unlivable.)
Sadistic stalking appears has only one main effect: the target’s life gets completely ripped to shreds. It is often highly destructive, extremely hard to deal with, and almost impossible to investigate for police (because of the resources it demands to do this properly).
Below is the description of sadistic stalking according to Lorraine Sheridan and her co-workers (see article by Boon and Sheridan, 2001; also among other things available as part of the book “Stalking and Psychosexual Obsession: Psychological Perspectives for Prevention, Policing and Treatment”).
When combined with ICT activities, the stalker(s) can destroy the target’s life completely. Unfortunately, most people have no idea of what “hacking” is and even the knowledge of the average police officer is only at the level of homeless addicts who beg on our streets. The main reason for that is that it takes a high level of specialization as well as, again, considerable resources to investigate hacking.
Police officers don’t have any of that at their disposal. It’s not their fault (although they could educate themselves better in their own time).
I feel strongly that dealing with cases of stalking should not be the task of police at all but of specialized psychologists and psychiatrists.
Perhaps particularly the murders of Shana Grice and Molly McLaren have illustrated this, highly regretfully. Shana Grice was fined for wasting police time when she reported her stalker. It appears that the death of Molly McLaren was actually precipitated by an unwitting police officer, the way it has been presented in the media on the basis of the resulting criminal proceedings. (I do mention this in the book too.)
I also feel that it is wrong to paint extreme stalkers as evil. In most cases, for whatever reason, their mental make-up is of such a nature that they seem to have no choice in what they do. That I would definitely call mental illness. And just like there is no point in blaming someone for MS or kidney disease, there is no point in blaming someone for a real mental illness either.
Please note that my inclusion of the image showing the quotation from the book does not mean that schizophrenia would be involved in cases of (sadistic) stalking. It is merely illustrative for how we see mental illness. Talking to God is accepted, but hearing God talk back to you is not. (Talking about being stalked is not widely accepted either.)
Characteristics of sadistic stalking
victim is an obsessive target of the offender, and who’s life is seen as quarry and prey (incremental orientation)
victim selection criteria is primarily rooted in the victim being:
(i) someone worthy of spoiling, i.e. someone who is perceived by the stalker at the commencement as being:
and (ii) lacking in the victim’s perception any just rationale as to why she was targeted
initial low level acquaintance
apparently benign initially but unlike infatuation harassment the means of intervention tend to have negative orientation designed to disconcert, unnerve, and ergo take power away from the victim
– notes left in victim’s locked car in order to unsettle target (cf. billet-doux of infatuated harassment)
– subtle evidence being left of having been in contact with the victim’s personal items e.g. rifled underwear drawer, re-ordering/removal of private papers, cigarette ends left in ash trays, toilet having been used etc.
– ‘helping’ mend victims car that stalker had previously disabled
thereafter progressive escalation of control over all aspects (i.e. social, historical, professional, financial, physical) of the victim’s life
offender gratification is rooted in the desire to extract evidence of the victim’s powerlessness with inverse implications for his power => sadism
additional implication => self-perpetuating in desire to hone down relentlessly on individual victim(s)
emotional coldness, deliberateness and psychopathy (cf. the heated nature of ex-partner harassment)
tended to have a history of stalking behaviour and the controlling of others
stalker tended to broaden out targets to family and friends in a bid to isolate the victim and further enhance his control
communications tended to be a blend of loving and threatening (not hate) designed to de-stabilise and confuse the victim
threats were either overt (“We’re going to die together”) or subtle (delivery of dead roses)
stalker could be highly dangerous – in particular with psychological violence geared to the controlling of the victim with fear, loss of privacy and the curtailment of her social world
physical violence was also entirely possible – especially by means which undermine the victim’s confidence in matters normally taken for granted e.g. disabling brake cables, disarming safety equipment, cutting power off
sexual content of communications was aimed primarily to intimidate through the victim’s humiliation, disgust and general undermining of self-esteem
the older the offender, the more likely he would have enacted sadistic stalking before and would not be likely to offend after 40 years of age if not engaged in such stalking before
victim was likely to be re-visited after a seeming hiatus
Case management implications
should be taken very seriously
acknowledge from outset that the stalker activity will be very difficult to eradicate
acknowledge that there is no point whatsoever in appealing to the offender – indeed will exacerbate the problem
never believe any assurances, alternative versions of events etc. which are given by the offender
however, record them for use in legal action later
the victim should be given as much understanding and support as can be made available
the victim should not be given false or unrealistic assurance or guarantees that s/he will be protected
the victim should carefully consider relocation. Geographical emphasis being less on distance per se, and more on where the offender is least able to find the victim
the police should have in mind that the sadistic stalker will be likely to:
(i) carefully construct and calculate their activity to simultaneously minimise the risk of intervention by authorities while retaining maximum impact on victim,
(ii) be almost impervious to intervention since the overcoming of obstacles provides new (iii) and potent means of demonstrating the victim’s powerlessness (ergo self-perpetuating) and,
(iii) if jailed will continue both personally and vicariously with the use of a network.