Chapter 21, Section 2


Abstract: Recent public policy attention to the crime of stalking has resulted in the enactment of anti-stalking legislation in all 50 states and the District of Columbia between 1990 and 1994. Criminal justice professionals have devoted increased attention to this problem, and important information about the profile of stalkers and their dangerousness has come to light. In addition, new issues have emerged as victims of domestic violence seek protection from the stalking of threatening spouses/partners or former spouses/partners. A multi-agency response to the needs of stalking victims is recommended.

Learning Objectives: Upon completion of this chapter, students will understand the following concepts:

1. The elements of a new form of crime that has emerged in the last five years.

2. The methods and motives of stalkers.

3. The characteristics of stalking and the difficulty in predicting violence.

4. Special issues related to applying anti-stalking legislation to domestic violence cases.

Defining Stalking

In 1990, California passed the first anti-stalking statute to restrict would-be stalkers and protect potential victims. Subsequently, every state has developed some form of anti-stalking statute. In some states, they are classified as misdemeanors and, in others, felonies. In many states, stalking could be deemed either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances.

While the specifics of the 50 state statutes vary, stalking is typically defined as:

The three primary elements in most stalking statutes are:

  1. The behavior is threatening.
  2. The defendant has intent and/or apparent ability to carry out the threat, i.e., criminal intent.
  3. The crime involves a "course of conduct," usually defined as "a series of acts over a period of time, however short, evidencing a continuity of purpose." (NIJ, 1993)

In addition, the definition in a state's statute may include any of the following:

  1. A requirement that the victim has reasonable fear for his or her safety.
  2. A requirement that the stalking behavior continues after the victim reports it to law enforcement.
  3. A prohibition against non-consensual communication.
  4. A specified number of acts and/or a specified period of time that may constitute a " course of conduct." (NIJ, 1993)

Predicting Stalking Behavior

Predicting violence is a very inexact science. Attempts to predict dangerous behavior can produce both false-positive and false-negative results. False-positives occur when the prediction is that a particular individual or group is dangerous when, in fact, they are not dangerous. A false-negative occurs when the professional predicts that an individual or group is not dangerous when, in fact, they are dangerous, and then commit a harmful act. It is particularly important to reduce false-negative predictions, so that victims can be protected from violent stalkers.

Media accounts of Hollywood celebrities being stalked and attacked by obsessed individuals -- and court decisions (e.g. Terrisoff v. Board of Regents) holding mental health professionals liable for failing to warn potential victims of known threats of violence -- have increasingly forced psychologists and psychiatrists to attempt to determine the dangerousness of potential offenders. Generally, past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Those with histories of violence are more likely to commit violent acts than those with no such history. Unfortunately, this measuring rod is not always foolproof. Current factors related to risk assessment must also be examined. Also, hindsight bias, or the belief that professionals or even friends should have seen an individual's potential for violence before it occurred, is not unusual. However, some potential offenders are very adept at misleading others.

Key Factors in Stalking

An underlying factor in stalking is the exercise of control and power -- perceived or actual -- over another individual or group. The nature of control will vary from offender to offender and the offender's relationship with the victim. The variation in stalking behavior ranges from hang-up phone calls to more focused, direct threats toward a victim. If the behavior escalates over time, the likelihood of injury increases.

There appears to be a strong correlation between stalkers whose behavior escalates and those who eventually physically assault their victim. A critical point in escalation appears when the stalker begins to make visits to the victim's residence and/or cause property damage.

Who Are Stalking Victims?

Many women who leave their abusive husbands or partners and fear for their lives are ultimately stalked and killed by these men. For example:

Rapists, pedophiles, and voyeurs also engage in various forms of stalking. Prior to physically stalking a victim, these types of offenders often participate in psychological foreplay or sexual fantasies. In preparation for physically acting out, these offenders "psychologically stalk" their victims before they physically make contact.

Law Enforcement Management of Stalking Incidents

Surveys conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum and the National Criminal Justice Association indicate that most police agencies do not report that stalking is a problem in their jurisdictions. However, nearly all jurisdictions report having stalking incidents. The handling of stalking incidents is similar among law enforcement agencies. When a report is filed, it is usually investigated by detectives or patrol officers. Subsequent calls to the victim's address are tracked. The most frequent intervention on a call is to charge the offender with trespassing, whether or not a stalking law has been passed in the state. Agencies also report charging offenders with assault. Charging the offender with multiple offenses is believed to increase the chances that the stalker will stop. (NIJ, 1993)

Threat Management Unit - Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD)

The LAPD established the first Threat Management Unit (TMU) to specialize in stalker profiling and victimization intervention. As a result of its work and study of 102 cases, some patterns of behavior appear and initial typologies are available to assist in classifying people who stalk.

LAPD Stalker Profiling

The LAPD study suggests that most people who stalk do not physically harm their victims. The primary goals for stalkers are power and control. Stalkers use threats as a way of exerting that control, and threats alone are sufficient to appease some stalkers. Unfortunately, some stalkers carry out their threats as a way of maintaining that control. Differentiating those who will and will not carry out their threats is difficult.

The LAPD study indicates that:

LAPD Classifications of Stalkers

LAPD also created four classifications of stalkers:

Simple Obsessional: Sixty percent of the cases studied were described as simple obsessional cases. These were offenders who knew their victims. They were usually former spouses, lovers, or employers. The stalker had an emotional attachment to the victim. Eighty percent were male offenders and the age range was between 30-40. Typically these types of stalkers begin stalking as a result of a marital separation or perceived mistreatment by an intimate. Approximately 97% made prior threats and 30% carried out those threats.

Love Obsessional: Those classified as love obsessional were strangers to their victims. These cases represented 30% of the cases, and almost all (97%) were male offenders. The age range was between 30-40 when each began a campaign of harassment to make the victim aware of his presence. About 25% of these offenders made prior threats, but only three percent (one out of 31) carried them out. Unlike other categories, victims of love obsessional stalkers tended to be younger than the offender (ages 20-30).

Erotomania: Erotomania is a relatively rare, typically female phenomenon. Cases of erotomania involve offenders who believe that a public figure is in love with them. Cases of erotomania represent only eight percent of all cases in this study. Approximately 85% of the offenders are female usually between the ages of 30-40. Prior threats were made in 40% of the cases. However, most of these offenders are letter writers (12%) who seldom confront the victim.

False Victimization Syndrome: The final classification identified by the Threat Management Unit is the rarest (two percent of all cases) among stalkers. These are persons with a conscious or subconscious desire to be placed in the victim's role. By insisting that someone is stalking him or her, the offender becomes the victim. There appears to be some similarity between this
classification and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, in which the offender harms the victim, then seeks medical assistance for the victim (usually the child of the female offender) in order to draw attention to herself, or himself.

Patterned Stalking

Another form of stalking, not identified in the study and typically not covered by anti-stalking statutes, is the behavior of sexual predators. This form of stalking may represent the greatest number of stalkers. These are often stranger-to-stranger relationships. This includes chronic sex offenders such as paraphiliac rapists and child molesters. Serial killers participate in stalking as a part of their attempts to locate victims. From this perspective, stalking is not an act, but a part of a process.

Forms of Stalking

Stalkers use several methods and instruments to harass and threaten their victims:

Enforcement of Anti-Stalking Statutes

Anti-stalking statutes are not easily enforced. Warrantless arrests of stalking suspects, with probable cause, are permissible in many states. This is true also for the violation of a protective order. Some within law enforcement agencies believe that temporary restraining orders are effective in protecting the potential victim. However, this may depend on the type of stalker and his relationship with the victim.

In some cases, a visit from law enforcement will be enough to stop the harassment. However, if the stalker is deeply obsessed with the victim, the likelihood of deterring the stalker through informal or even court ordered sanctions is limited. For some offenders, the issuance of a protective order may be the final insult or challenge, and he will do everything possible to reach his victim. Research shows that the first 48 hours following the issuance of a restraining
order are usually the most critical time for the potential victim. The identification of such trends can be helpful to victim assistance providers who work with victims and must assess risk of harm. (NIJ, 1993)

Promising Practices:
Victims of Stalking

It is important for stalking victims to recognize that their victimization is not their fault. Stalking is a crime that can touch anyone, regardless of where they live, with whom they associate, or their socio-economic status. With increased public attention about the crime of stalking, there are also increased services and resources available for victims of these crimes.

Victims of stalking include individuals in imminent danger of their physical and/or emotional welfare, and those with danger continually pending, but not immediately at risk for harm. In addition to becoming familiar with anti-stalking laws that presently exist or are pending in their state and/or municipality, victims of stalking should be informed of the resources and procedural precautions available to assist and protect them. The following is not intended to be a set of strict guidelines for stalking victims, but rather pragmatic information to assist them.

Victims in Immediate Danger

The primary goal of a victim in imminent danger should be to locate a safe place for her/himself. Safety for stalking victims can often be found in the following places:

(The preceding section excerpted from: INFOLINK Materials: Helpful Guide for Victims of Stalking. The National Victim Center, February, 1993).

Victims in Continual Danger, But No Immediate Threat

While a victim may not be in immediate danger, he or she may assess the probability of impending danger. If a stalking victim determines that he or she is at risk for being in a potentially harmful or violent situation, the following options may be considered:

Restraining/protective/stay-away Orders

Anti-stalking Laws

Illegal Acts


Local Victim Advocate/Crisis Counselor

Contingency Plans

  1. Knowledge of and quick access to critical telephone numbers, including:
  2. Accessible reserve of necessities:
  3. Alerting critical people of the situation and potential crisis, including:

Preventative Measures

(The material in the preceding section excepted from Security Recommendations, Los Angeles Police Department, Threat Management Unit, 1993).


Stalking is a complex social problem that has only recently been addressed in our nation's criminal codes. The objective in any response to a report of stalking is to intervene before the victim is injured or killed.

In order for communities to respond effectively, a coordinated, multi-agency strategy is essential. The multi-agency response to stalking should include: law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, community and institutional corrections, victim assistance, and social service agencies.

Training for criminal justice personnel is essential for proper identification and investigation of stalking reports. In addition, law enforcement agencies should develop policies related to handling stalking cases. Particular attention should be paid to procedures for the use of protective orders, to ensure that they are available to victims on an emergency basis.

Self Examination Chapter 21, Section 2


1) What is stalking and why is it addressed by the criminal codes of every state?

2) List the key elements of anti-stalking statutes.

3) Who might become the victim of a stalker?

4) What key factors suggest that a stalking victim is at risk for serious injury?

5) What is law enforcement's role in responding to stalking reports?

Additional Suggested Reading

Lardner, G. (1992, November 22). The stalking of Kristen: The law made it easy for my daughter's killer. The Washington Post, pp. C1, C2.

Marcia, S. E. (1993). Stalking the stalkers: A comment on new statutory initiatives. (on file with the Catholic University Law Review).

National Institute of Justice. (1993, October). Project to develop a model anti-stalking code for states.

Thomas, K. R. (1992). Anti-stalking statutes: Background and constitutional analysis. Congressional Research Service Report.

Thomas, K. R. (1993). How to stop the stalker: State anti-stalking laws. Crim. L. Bull., 124.

Varn, R. J. & McNeal, C. (1993, August). Are anti-stalking laws fatally flawed?. The Council of State Governments, 9-10.

To Chapter 21-Section 3

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