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Stalking - Motivation

relationship offender delusional target

Isolated research has reported findings from cases involving the pursuit of public figures (Dietz, Matthews, Martell et al., 1991), of serial homicide (Ressler, Burgess, and Douglas), or describing the personalities and motivations of a small sample of stalkers (Hazelwood and Douglas; Geberth). Newspaper and anecdotal accounts are more prevalent than the academic literature; however, these accounts reveal little about the overall dynamics of the crime beyond the specific incident.

Stalker crimes are primarily motivated by interpersonal aggression rather than by material gain or sex. The purpose of stalking resides in the mind of stalkers, who are compulsive individuals with a misperceived fixation. Stalking is the result of an underlying emotional conflict that propels the offender to stalk and/or harass a target.

Because of the cognitive component to the behavior, stalking can be conceptualized as occurring on a continuum from nondelusional to delusional behavior. Delusional behavior may indicate the presence of a major mental disorder such as a schizophrenia, psychosis, or delusional disorder (American Psychological Association). Nondelusional behavior, while reflecting a gross disturbance in a particular relationship and a personality style or disorder, does not necessarily indicate a detachment from reality. This distinction is significant because of the potential legal implications, that is, pleas of insanity. What most readily distinguishes the behavior on this spectrum is the nature of the relationship an offender has had with his target and the content of the communication.

On the delusional end of this spectrum there is usually no actual relationship, rather such a relationship exists only in the mind of the offender. Communication content includes the presence of bizarre or nonbizarre delusions (American Psychological Association). On the nondelusional end of the spectrum there is most often a historical relationship between the offender and victim. These tend to be multidimensional relationships such as marriage or common law relationships replete with a history of close interpersonal involvement. Communication content includes a one-sided romantic fixation. In between these two poles are relationships of varied dimensions and stalkers who exhibit a mix of behavior. The offender may have dated his target once, twice, or not at all. The target may only have smiled and said "hello" in passing or may in some way be socially or vocationally acquainted.

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