Victimology And Targets Of Stalkers
Historically, the study of crime began with and focused primarily on the study of offenders (Goring; Goddard; Lindesmith and Dumham; Rennie; Megargee and Bohn; Roebuck). In the late 1960s, social scientists began to theorize that a true understanding of crime required an examination of the role of the victim (Schafer). Consequently, researchers began to address the role of the victim in the victimization process and the acute and long-term effects of violence on both victims and their social network (Kinder; Burgess and Holmstrom; Cook, Smith, and Harrell; Wirtz and Harrell; Lerman).
The study of victims (victimology) has contributed to the way social scientists and practitioners view the role of victims and the dynamics of criminal acts. The victim's account of "what happened" often provides a contrasting view to the offender's account. Offenders may distort or misrepresent the facts of the criminal incident in order to minimize their responsibility, may have "fantasies" about the criminal act, or may simply claim that the victim is lying (Groth; Kestler).
The victim often provides detailed information about the circumstances surrounding the crime, including interactions and conversations with the offender prior to and after the crime; threats and demands that the offender made of the victim; weapons, if any, used by the offender during the crime; the identity and location of the offender; and details about the offender's personality (if the victim knows the offender). It is information from the victim that assists clinicians and investigators in classifying and investigating the crime and eventually questioning the offender (Douglas, Burgess, Burgess, and Ressler; Kestler).
Targets of stalkers often feel trapped in an environment filled with anxiety, stress, and fear that often results in their having to make drastic adjustments in how they live their lives. The terms "target" and "victim" are not necessarily interchangeable. The term "target" is used to describe the primary recipient of the stalker's attention. However, in many cases innocent parties and the target's circle of friends and associates become victims of the stalker's behavior.
From the target's perspective, the stalker is either known or anonymous. With stalking, there is a continuum of no physical contact to a lethal amount of contact and aggression. Until stalking legislation, law enforcement was often unable to arrest an individual unless there was evidence of direct contact in the form of assault.
Early research efforts addressing the crime of stalking come from victims of domestic violence who are often stalked by their offenders. One domestic violence study in Boulder and Denver, Colorado, noted that 48 percent of those who had obtained restraining orders were stalked prior to the issuance of the order and 12 percent were stalked within three months after the issuance of the order (Harrell, Smith, and Cook). Anecdotal accounts of victim assistance service providers support the findings of Harrell and colleagues (Harrell, Smith, and Newmark).
Targets have often crossed paths with the stalker, most likely without notice by the target. They will, therefore, have no knowledge of the stalker's identity. The relationship between the stalker and target is one-way. The target will eventually become aware of the stalker's presence. Other potential victims are spouses, partners, or any who are viewed as an obstacle that comes between the stalker and his or her target.
In a nonrepresentative study of stalking targets, Hall examined questionnaires completed by 145 current and prior stalking victims from twenty states who ranged in age from sixteen to seventy and who had been stalked for varying lengths of time, with some cases beginning or going back to the 1960s. Seventeen percent had been stalked from less than one month to six months; 23 percent from six months to one year; 29 percent from one to three years; and 13 percent for five years or more, with one case having continued for over thirty-one years. Although 57 percent of the victims were stalked by their former intimate partners, only 50 percent of the victims were females stalked by a male intimate partner. Over one-third (35%) of all the stalkers had had prior, nonintimate relationships with their victims (only four of these cases were workplace related) and the remaining 6 percent were strangers with no prior relationship to their victims.