What happened to actress Rebecca Schaeffer, the lead star in the TV show My Sister Sam, became an eye opener to all other actors. She was killed by her avid fan, John Bardo, who had been stalking her for two years before committing the cold murder. I can just imagine that fear, anxiety, and psychological stress that she was suffering all those times. Sadly, it was an era when stalking was not a crime, and there was a lack of awareness of dangerous matters like these. Rebecca’s death led to the enactment of the very first anti-stalking law in California in 1990. Consequently, all 50 states created their form of anti-stalking law. “Stalking behavior, historically characterized as romantic, obsessive advances has recently been identified as psychopathological by both the forensic mental health, law enforcement and legal communities,” writes Joe Davis, Ph.D.
Despite the strict enactment of the laws and more awareness being done nowadays, stalking still does persist. In fact, a survey says that 2% of men and 8% of women in America will have been stalked in their lifetime. In Australia, women between 18 and 35 have a higher likelihood of being stalked (11%), then those between 36 and 55 (8%). This is according to reports done by Paul Mullen, M.D., stalking expert.
On the other hand, 8% of males aged 18 to 35 were stalked, 4% of those aged 36 to 55, and 3% aged 56 and above, still according to Mullen, who is also a professor of forensic psychiatry at Monash University, Australia.
Stalking is defined as a set of behavioral patterns that persist for over two weeks and entails repeated and continuous efforts on another person unsolicited communications that produce fear, anxiety, or pain. Stalking may continue from two weeks up to 40 weeks.
Stalkers may make unwanted contacts with their victims through email, phone, notes, and letters left on the victim’s property. They try to be close to the victim by following or even approaching that person. They also send unwanted presents to the victim, something that can be sweet and expensive one time and can be scary and dangerous the next time. Some stalkers go to extremes of sending parts of dead animals or live spiders and rates, among others. “When the continued attention remains unreciprocated, communication turns from amorous to ominous,” noted Wendy L. Patrick, JD, Ph.D.
Ironically, stalkers also have this disturbing behavior of turning on their victims like filing a complaint against them. When the stalkers do file this complaint, the court may at times get confused about who’s stalking who!
Professionals At Risk Of Being Stalked
Several psychiatrists in Australia were interviewed, and most of them claimed that they, at some point in their careers, were stalked by one of their patients. According to Romeo Vitelli Ph.D., “Studies of different medical specialties suggests that psychiatrists are the most likely to be stalked with one Australian study showing the incidence of psychiatrists being stalked is as high as 19.5 percent.” These stalkers mostly had personality and behavioral disorders. The victims are frequently enforced to change their lives to get rid of the stalker. Paul Mullen’s study revealed that more than 50% of his subjects found new jobs, 70% significantly reduced their social activities, and about 40% moved to another city or state.
Aside from the physical risks, victims have shown to suffer from moderate to severe mental stress and anxiety. Among Mullen’s subjects in the whole study, more than 80% were diagnosed with PTSD, depression, and anxiety disorder. About 20% of these professionals had suicidal thoughts and have increased their consumption of cigarettes or alcohol as a result of the stalking incidents.
Among the suggested treatments, cognitive behavioral therapy proved to be very effective in treating the physical and psychological disorders that stalking victims suffer from. They are often used in combination with prescription medications like SSRIs.
Experts and advocates remind everybody – professionals or not – the relevance of educating and informing friends, family, and significant others about stalking and not hesitate to ask for help in managing the symptoms and disorders that come after the unpleasant experience. A fact about these victims is that they are exactly like those victims of sexual, physical, or verbal abuse. They may blame themselves for the dilemma they are in, and because they are guilty or ashamed, they often choose to keep mum about it. They would rather isolate themselves than to face the truth.
If you or someone you know is feeling this way – ashamed, afraid, or isolated because of a stalking experience – counseling is the first step towards recovery. It will help reduce and eventually erase the guilt that you should have never even felt in the first place. You are not responsible for your stalker. You are a victim. Don’t forget that.