Types of Stalking

It is clear that although stalking cases often look similar on the surface and involve the same kinds of behaviours, the reasons that people engage in stalking are complex and varied. A number of different typologies have been proposed to help us understand stalking behaviour and stalkers. Perhaps the most straightforward breaks stalking down into the type of prior relationship the victim had with the stalker. Using this typology, stalkers can be classified as a former sexual intimate (ex-intimate), an acquaintance (including friends and family members), or a stranger (either public figure or private stranger) (see Mohandie, Meloy, Green-McGowan, & Williams (2006). Journal of Forensic Sciences 51, 147–155). This relationship-based typology can be a useful starting point for thinking about the kinds of risks and management strategies that might be appropriate in a stalking situation. Research clearly shows that ex-intimates are far more likely to be violent than other types of stalkers, and victims may have to take different precautions if someone who is very familiar with them is harassing them.

The SRP uses a slightly more complex typology that provides extra information to assist professionals with understanding and managing stalking behaviour. This typology, developed by Paul Mullen, Michele Pathé and Rosemary Purcell, divides stalkers into five types, which are described further under the below. This typology places the greatest emphasis on the context in which the stalking arose and the stalker’s initial motivation for contacting the victim. It then incorporates the nature of the prior relationship between victim and stalker, and the role of mental illness in motivating the stalking behaviour. This typology really focuses on the apparent function of the behaviour for the stalker, as that can help to guide assessment, and consequently, can inform treatment and management.

The Rejected stalker (click to expand)

Rejected stalking arises in the context of the breakdown of a close relationship. Victims are usually former sexual intimates; however family members, close friends, or others with a very close relationship to the stalker can also become targets of Rejected stalking. The initial motivation of a Rejected stalker is either attempting to reconcile the relationship, or to exacting revenge for a perceived rejection. In many cases Rejected stalkers present as ambivalent about the victim and sometimes appear to want the relationship back, while at other times they are clearly angry and want revenge on the victim. In some cases of protracted stalking, the behaviour is maintained because becomes a substitute for the past relationship as it allows the stalker to continue to feel close to the victim. In other cases the behaviour is maintained because it allows the stalker to salvage their damage self-esteem and feel better about themselves.

The Resentful stalker (click to expand)

Resentful stalking arises when the stalker feels as though they have been mistreated or that they are the victim of some form of injustice or humiliation. Victims are strangers or acquaintances who are seen to have mistreated the stalker. Resentful stalking can arise out of a severe mental illness when the perpetrator develops paranoid beliefs about the victim and uses stalking as a way of ‘getting back’ at the victim. The initial motivation for stalking is the desire for revenge or to ‘even the score’ and the stalking is maintained by the sense of power and control that the stalker derives from inducing fear in the victim. Often Resentful stalkers present themselves as a victim who is justified in using stalking to fight back against an oppressing person or organisation.

The Intimacy Seeking stalker (click to expand)

Intimacy Seeking stalking arises out of a context of loneliness and a lack of a close confidante. Victims are usually strangers or acquaintances who become the target of the stalker’s desire for a relationship. Frequently Intimacy Seeking stalkers’ behaviour is fuelled by a severe mental illness involving delusional beliefs about the victim, such as the belief that they are already in a relationship, even though none exists (erotomanic delusions). The initial motivation is to establish an emotional connection and an intimate relationship. The stalking is maintained by the gratification that comes from the belief that they are closely linked to another person.

The Incompetent Suitor (click to expand)

The Incompetent Suitor stalks in the context of loneliness or lust and targets strangers or acquaintances. Unlike the Intimacy Seeker, however, their initial motivation is not to establish a loving relationship, but to get a date or a short term sexual relationship. Incompetent Suitors usually stalk for brief periods, but when they do persist their behaviour is usually maintained by the fact that they are blind or indifferent to the distress of victim. Sometimes this insensitivity is associated with cognitive limitations or poor social skills consequent to autism spectrum disorders or intellectual disability.

The Predatory stalker (click to expand)

Predatory stalking arises in the context of deviant sexual practices and interests. Perpetrators are usually male and victims are usually female strangers in whom the stalker develops a sexual interest. The stalking behaviour is usually initiated as a way of obtaining sexual gratification (e.g., voyeurism targeting a single victim over time), but can also be used a way of obtaining information about the victim as a precursor to a sexual assault. In this sense the stalking is both instrumental and also gratifying for those stalkers who enjoy the sense of power and control that comes from targeting the usually unsuspecting victim.