Thursday, January 20, 2011

How To Stop a Stalker

by Gina Simmons, Ph.D.

Whip-smart, blonde, from a loving family, Peggy enthusiastically prepared for medical school. For the past three years, she'd dated a man named Patrick. Her family noticed changes in her personality after she entered into a relationship with Patrick. Peggy then broke up with him. Patrick relentlessly called, followed, and sent messages to Peggy. He jumped out of the bushes at her workplace with flowers, a ring, and a marriage proposal. Peggy insisted the relationship was over. Patrick circulated a flier in her neighborhood slandering her. Peggy reported Patrick's behavior to the police.

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and cases like Peggy's highlight the importance of educating women.

That's because most stalking victims are women. In fact, one in twelve women will face victimization-by-stalking within her lifetime. One in 45 men will experience stalking victimization. Most victims of stalking knew their offender in some way. About 10 percent of victims were stalked for five years or more. About four in ten stalkers threaten not only the victim, but also the victim's family, friends, co-workers and even the family pet. Stalkers threaten workplaces and the community.

Peggy and her family went out of state to attend her brother's wedding. She brought her new boyfriend, Mark, with her. Patrick took the opportunity, in the family's absence, to vandalize Peggy's mother's home in Ohio and burn down Peggy's boyfriend's house in Albuquerque. Peggy, her family, and her boyfriend reported the crimes to the police.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a Special Report on stalking victimization in 2009. Researchers found that typical stalking behaviors include:
  • making unwanted telephone calls
  • sending unsolicited and unwanted letters or e-mails
  • following and/or spying on the victim
  • showing up at places the victim attends without a legitimate reason
  • waiting at places the victim is expected to attend
  • leaving unwanted items, presents, or flowers
  • posting information or spreading rumors about the victim on the internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth
If you have experienced at least one of these behaviors on more than one occasion, felt fear for your safety or the safety of a family member as a result of that behavior, or experienced additional behaviors that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear, then you are a victim of stalking. Victims stalked by a previous sexual partner are at higher risk for violence. 76 percent of female murder victims were stalked by their intimate partner and 67 percent experienced physical abuse. Of those who were physically abused, 89 percent had also been stalked in the twelve months before their murder.

Peggy, her boyfriend and family felt frustrated at the delays in the trial against Patrick. Despite the threats, vandalism and relentless pursuit of Peggy, Patrick still remained free. With his trial months away, and in fear for her safety, Peggy went into hiding. She set up a new life in another state, hundreds of miles from her stalker. She informed her new employer, friends and neighbors, advising them to call police if they saw her stalker. Peggy kept an unlisted phone number and address, and communicated with her family using every security precaution.

In 1990, California became the first state to enact an anti-stalking statute. Since then, every state has passed some type of anti-stalking or anti-harassment legislation. Judge Wells, former head of the Stalking Unit at the San Diego District Attorney's Office, said that there is no one profile of a stalker. Studies suggest that stalkers come from all walks of life. Stalkers can be intelligent, charming, and sophisticated, while some appear mentally ill, have controlling, dependent or narcissistic personality traits. The most dangerous, like Patrick, often have a love affair with guns and the power they can wield with weapons.

Patrick hired a private investigator to find Peggy. Even with a valid restraining order against him, the investigator gave him Peggy's location. Patrick checked an assault weapon and handgun at the airport, and flew to California. He picked up his bag with the two weapons and drove to Peggy's street. Posing as a detective he showed a delivery person Peggy's photo. The delivery person recognized Peggy and gave Patrick her exact address.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Kerry Wells says about stalking:
"The primary advantage to having a restraining order against the suspect is that it allows him to be immediately arrested when a violation occurs. It is thus vitally important that, when a police agency is attempting to utilize such orders as part of an overall intervention plan, the involved personnel be prepared to respond quickly to each violation. Only then is there a demonstration that the 'system' is determined to sanction the suspect in order to control his behavior." (From a presentation at the Stalking the Stalker Conference, 2001)
Restraining orders often provoke attacks because the perpetrator sees the order as humiliating or a threat to his power. If law enforcement can't respond in time, many victims obtain no protection from the order. A restraining order should not give victims any sense of security. Instead it should be seen as an aid to law enforcement. If the perpetrator is apprehended, a restraining order can allow stiffer penalties to hold him longer. As Wells says, a restraining order should be considered only one piece of a comprehensive protection plan.

Patrick attacked Peggy outside her home, duct-taped her hands and beat her head bloody with his gun. She broke away from him, ran into a neighbor's home, and called 911. Patrick broke down two doors to get to her. With the police outside the door, he shot Peggy in the back of the head and then killed himself.

How do you stop a stalker? Some victims report that the behavior stopped after the stalker was warned by police (15.6 percent). Others stopped after the victim agreed to talk with them (13.3 percent). About 12.2 percent of stalkers stopped after a friend or relative intervened. Only about a tenth of victims reported that a protective, restraining or stay away order stopped the stalking behavior. Threat Assessment expert, Gavin de Becker, cautions against giving pat answers to victims of stalking. Each case should be viewed individually, considering the behaviors of the perpetrator and victim within their unique context. If you're a victim of stalking, contact the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals for a referral.

Peggy Klinke's sister, Debbie Riddle, called the Stalking Resource Center, after her sister's tragic murder, with a passionate need to make things better for other stalking victims. She participated in a national program on Lifetime Television, hosted by Erin Brockovich, and a Lifetime video to train law enforcement about stalking. Last month, President Obama issued the first presidential proclamation declaring January, National Stalking Awareness Month.

We can all help by promoting National Stalking Awareness Month on our web and social media sites. Educate yourself and let others know about the Stalking Resource Center.

Peggy's last words, moments before she was shot, were:
"Please tell my mother that I love her. Please tell my niece that she will now have a guardian angel watching over her ... and tell my sister to name her baby after me."
For Peggy, her family, and all victims of stalking, let's never forget.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My brother works for a P.I. A lot of his "surveillance" is on a wife, or girl friend. I was shocked, but it is legal. Isn't there a way to change this? If there is a PPO or DV report isn't there a way to tag these on a potential victim's profile to block these searches? Most of these searches are husbands digging up dirt for a divorce, but I fear there are nuts like this guy out there who just can't let go.