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Relationship To Target: Nondomestic Stalkers

The stalker with no interpersonal relationship with the victim may target an individual from a prior meeting or from nothing more than an observation. In nondomestic or anonymous stalker cases, the target usually cannot identify the stalker when first aware of the behavior. This classification has two types: the organized stalker and the delusional stalker.

The organized stalker's identity is unknown or at some point the individual may make his or her identity known through continuous physical appearances at the victim's residence, place of employment, or other location. It is unlikely that the victim is aware of being stalked prior to the initial communication or contact. Only after the stalker has chosen to make personal or written contact will the target realize the problem.

The stalker may place himself or herself in a position to make casual contact with the target at which time verbal communication may occur. A description of this contact may be used in a later communication to terrorize and/or impress upon the target that the stalker is capable of carrying out any threats.

A delusional stalker or erotomania-related stalking is motivated by an offender-target relationship that is based on the stalker's psychological fixation. This fantasy is commonly expressed in such forms as fusion, where the stalker blends his personality into the target's, or erotomania, where a fantasy is based on idealized romantic love or spiritual union of a person rather than sexual attraction (American Psychological Association). The stalker can also be motivated by religious fantasies or voices directing him to target a particular individual. This preoccupation with the target becomes consuming and ultimately can lead to the target's death. The drive to stalk arises from a variety of motives, ranging from rebuffed advances to internal conflicts stemming from the stalker's fusion of identity with the target. In addition to a person with high media visibility, other victims include superiors at work or even complete strangers. The target almost always is perceived by the stalker as someone of higher status. Targets often include political figures, entertainers, and high media visibility individuals but do not have to be public figures. Sometimes the victim of a stalker's violence is perceived by the stalker as an obstruction.

Although the research on menacing, harassing, and stalking behaviors in persons who have or had a prior relationship is relatively new (Walker), the psychiatric literature has been building a classification scheme on a subgroup of stalkers diagnosed with erotomania in whom the relationship exists only in fantasy and delusion (Seeman, 1978). Mullen and Pathé note that erotomania has long been known to be associated with stalking behaviors of both men and women and has the potential to lead to overt aggression; they provide a historic perspective both on the forensic aspects of stalking and the psychodynamic components. The physician Claude De Clérambault outlined the features of an erotic delusion syndrome in his book Les Psychoses Passionelles (1942). De Cléambault observed that erotomania began with love and hope but then disintegrated into resentment and anger. The patients, usually female, were described as holding the delusional belief that a man, usually older and of an elevated social rank, was passionately in love with them. This love became the purpose of the patients' existence; they may have sent letters and telephoned the person both at home and at work. Raskin and Sullivan observed that the patients may be dangerous and threaten the life of their victim or his family especially when the patient reaches the stage of resentment or hatred that replaces love. Meloy (1989) has suggested the dynamics of blurring of unrequited love and the wish to kill.

Rekindling an interest in the forensic aspects of erotomania has been credited to Goldstein and Taylor, Mahendra, and Gunn, and has also led to various classifications of stalkers. Zona and colleagues (1993) analyzed police files and classified persons as either erotomanic, love obsessional, or simple obsessional. Stalkers have been classified from a mental health intervention standpoint using short-term crisis intervention to assist survivors (Roberts and Dziegielewski) and a law enforcement perspective (Wright et al.) based on the nature of the relationship, nondomestic or domestic; the content of communication, nondelusional or delusional; level of aggression (low, medium, or high); level of victim risk; motive of stalker; and outcome. Forensic studies of obsessional harassment and erotomania have occurred in criminal court populations (Meloy and Gothard). Meloy and Gothard have suggested the term obsessional follower for someone who engages in an abnormal or long-term pattern of threat or harassment directed toward a specific individual. Consequently, stalking patterns in domestic violence are now seen as dangerous and the forensic aspect is being tested (Perez). Erotomania in and of itself is insufficient for explaining stalking behavior. When focusing on relationships involving romantic attachment and domestic activities, empirical investigation demonstrates different characteristics associated with stalking behaviors than those found in erotomania (Meloy, 1996).

As with other classifications of stalking, the activity of the erotomanic stalker is often long-term and includes written and telephonic communications, surveillance, attempts to approach the target, and so on. With the passage of time, the activity becomes more intense. Sometimes the preoccupation with the victim becomes allconsuming and may ultimately lead to the death or injury of another party. John Hinckley, Jr., both an attempted political assassin and a celebrity stalker, is one such example. His erotomanic obsession with the actress Jodie Foster was never destined to be consummated. Celebrity stalkers like Hinckley seek a self-identity through actions or fantasies, and often seek relationships with targets through the media. All actions are ultimately designed to fill the bottomless personality void, and are designed to bring media attention to someone with serious personality and social defects. Stalkers like Hinckley are likely to transfer targets of obsession. Indeed, Hinckley first staked out Jimmy Carter and only settled on Ronald Reagan when access to Carter eluded him. He injured both his target and surrounding victims. In Hinckley's 1998 release petition hearing, a state witness (a commander) testified that Hinckley was stalking her, in that he had gathered information about her personal schedule, recorded love songs for her, and, when ordered not to contact her, disobeyed by sending her a package. A state mental health expert testified that Hinckley's psychotic disorders were in remission but that Hinckley was still dangerous. The expert based his opinion on Hinckley's "relationship" with the commander, stating it was strikingly similar to the "relationship" he had with Jodie Foster (Hinckley v. U.S., 140 F.3d 277, 286 (1998)).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawStalking - Victimology And Targets Of Stalkers, Motivation, Relationship To Target: Nondomestic Stalkers, Domestic Stalkers