Impact of stalking on victims
The victims of stalking have been a rich source of information, contributing not only to our understanding of the experience of protracted harassment, but also our knowledge of stalking in general. Through large-scale community surveys and smaller studies of specific victim groups, we have begun to understand the deleterious and potentially devastating effects of stalking victimisation. Apart from the frequent legal prerequisite of fear, and the possibility of injury due to assault, research has shown that victims suffer a wide range of psychological, physical, occupational, social and general lifestyle effects as a consequence of being stalked. As with so many aspects of stalking, the experience and impact can vary greatly between victims with behaviours that may be considered annoying to one victim can have a shattering effect on another.
What is the impact of stalking on victims?
The impact of stalking may vary according to the victim’s characteristics, past experience, current circumstances, and what they know, or don’t know, about the stalker. How others respond to the victim’s situation, including how the stalking is managed by authorities, can influence the overall effect that the stalking episode has on the victim. Despite the complexities that may vary an individual’s experience and reaction to being stalked, research has demonstrated common patterns of response. Although female victims usually report greater levels of fear, studies have found that males subjected to stalking experience similar symptoms to those reported by their female counterparts.
Although not exhaustive, the following are some of the more common effects that victims of stalking experience:
Effects on mental health
- Denial, confusion, self-doubt, questioning if what is happening is unreasonable, wondering if they are over-reacting
- Guilt, embarrassment, self-blame
- Apprehension, fear, terror of being alone or that they, others or pets will be harmed.
- Feeling isolated and helpless to stop the harassment
- Depression (all symptoms related to depression)
- Anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia (frightened to leave the house, never feeling safe)
- Difficulty concentrating, attending and remembering things
- Inability to sleep – nightmares, ruminating
- Irritability, anger, homicidal thoughts
- Emotional numbing
- Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress disorder e.g. hypervigilance (always on the lookout), flashbacks of frightening incidents, easily startled
- Insecurity and inability to trust others, problems with intimacy
- Personality changes due to becoming more suspicious, introverted or aggressive
- Self-medication alcohol/ drugs or using prescribed medications
- Suicide thoughts and/or suicide attempts
Effects on physical health
- Fatigue from difficulty sleeping, being constantly on guard, symptoms of depression
- Effects of chronic stress including headaches, hypertension
- Gastrointestinal problems –
- Fluctuations in weight due to not eating or comfort eating
- Development or exacerbation of pre-existing conditions e.g. asthma, gastric ulcers and psoriasis.
- Shortness of breath
- Impact on health of increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
- Sexual dysfunction
- Physical injury due to not concentrating or being under the influence of substances
- Heart palpitations and sweating
Effects on work and school
- Deteriorating school/work performance
- Increased sick leave
- Leaving job or being sacked
- Changing career
- Dropping out of school – poorer education and career opportunities
Effects on social life
- Insecurity and inability to trust others impacting on current and future relationships and friendships,
- Problems with physical and emotional intimacy.
- Avoidance of usual activities e.g., going to the gym, going out.
- Isolation through trying to protect others , feeling misunderstood or psychological symptoms.
- Others withdrawing from the victim because they don’t believe the victim, they are unable to cope with the victim’s mental state or as a direct consequence of third-party victimisation.
- Victim moving to a new area, changing their phone number, name or even their appearance.
Effects on finances
- Loss of wages due to sick leave, leaving job or changing career.
- Costs incurred through legal fees.
- Expense of increasing home and personal security.
- Cost involved in repairing property damage.
- Seeking psychological counselling and medical treatment.
- Cost involved in breaking leases on rented properties.
- Expense of relocation.
What may prevent a victim from seeking help?
- Not understanding that what is happening to them is stalking and/or illegal.
- Trying to pretend that it is not happening.
- Believing that they should be able to deal with the situation, thinking that the stalker will see reason, or not wanting to get the stalker into trouble.
- Fear that others will think they are over-reacting or that they will be blamed for somehow having encouraged the stalker in the first place. The latter is particularly pertinent for those who have had a previous intimate relationship with the stalker, even if it was only brief or just a flirtation.
- Fears about how the stalker will respond either to them or those that they love or care for.
- Direct threats from the stalker
- Feeling isolated in their plight, believing that there is nothing that can be done to help them, or not knowing who to go to.
- Previous requests for help being ignored
- Fear of losing their job or the situation becoming more difficult when the stalking originates in the workplace.
- Financial limitations in regard to seeking legal advice or taking time off to seek help.
- Limited options in respect to changing their situation e.g. relocation to safer housing
- Language barriers.