Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

CYBER-STALKING: OBSESSIONAL PURSUIT AND THE DIGITAL CRIMINAL

Stalking Typologies and Pathologies

According to forensic scientist and criminal profiler, Brent Turvey (1998), most typologies fail to take into account the motivational dynamics between offenders. These dynamics vary in range with stalking, and differ in a number of ways. For this reason, typologies are best employed to provide investigators with an initial picture of the offender, and are not intended to be used as definitive proof of an offender's characteristics. Common distinctions within the typologies include those with a prior relationship with the victim, those without a prior relationship, and those motivated by a disorder referred to as erotomania.

Zona, Pallarea & Lane (1998) believe that stalking occurs when an individual's behaviour is related to a cognition (a thought). To possess the cognition is not enough, as it must be related to a behaviour to fulfil legal requirements. Many statutes require that there must be conduct to be prohibited.

Vernon Geberth, a retired homicide commander and author of Practical Homicide Investigation (1996) provides two broad categories of stalkers. These are Psychopathic Personality Stalkers and Psychotic Personality Stalkers. The following table outlines some of the characteristics of each:

Psychopathic Personality Stalker

Psychotic Personality Stalker


Generally male

May be male or female

Absence of mental disorder

Delusions or delusional fixation

Targets familiar victims

Usually targets strangers

Harassment may be anonymous

Attempt to contact the victim

Usually some precipitating stressor

Absence of precipitating stressor

This is a somewhat general and broad classification system on which to examine stalking. The latter category usually implies the presence of some mental disorder, and the individual may not or may not be aware of his actions.

Zona, Pallarea & Lane (1998) and Zona, Sharma & Lane (1993) provide a more comprehensive interpersonal typology based on the relationship between the victim and offender. In studies with the Los Angeles Police Department's Threat Management Unit, Zona and colleagues (1993; 1998) initially categorised stalkers according to three basic categories. The later discovery of a fourth covered those instances where the individual claims that someone is stalking them in order to assume the role of the victim. The results of the above studies indicate the following classifications:

  • Simple Obsessional: These cases typically involve a victim and a perpetrator who have a prior relationship. This group comprises the largest of the categories (47 percent (Geberth, 1992)), and also poses most threat to the victim. The motivation behind this may be coercion to re-enter a relationship, or revenge aimed at making the life of the former intimate uncomfortable through the inducement of fear.
  • Love Obsessional: Most likely involving no prior relationship. The victims may become known through the media, or perhaps through the Internet. Love obsessional stalkers comprise the second largest group of approximately 43% (Geberth, 1992). A large number of these individuals may be suffering from a mental disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The most common type is the individual who pursues a celebrity, which may be more familiar as the "obsessed fan syndrome".
  • Erotomanic: These cases differ from Love Obsessional in that they possess the delusion that the target of the behaviour is in love with them (lowest incidence in the Zona and Threat Management Unit study (Geberth, 1992). Research would indicate that perpetrators are more likely to be female, with the majority of victims being older males of higher social status. Further broken into two categories of primary (or pure) erotomania where no other significant disorders are present, and secondary erotomania where the disorder is the result of another significant, dominant pathology.
  • False Victimisation Syndrome: This group accuses another person, either real or imaginary of stalking (Hickey, 1997) to foster sympathy and support from those around them. The majority of the perpetrators seem to be female (adapted from Zona and others; Mullen and Pathe, 1994; Mullen, 1997).

In erotomanic stalking, the "central theme of an erotic delusion is that one is loved by another" (American Psychiatric Association, 1994: p. 297). It would seem that erotomania occupies the dominant position within the psychological and psychiatric literature, even though this disorder appears to occur within the minority of cases, as will be discussed. Meloy (1998) states that "stalking research was born from the psychiatric study of erotomania and the psychological study of sexual harassment" (p. 79), which could possibly explain why this literature still dominates. A typology similar to that of Zona and colleagues has been developed by Wright, Burgess, Laszlo, McCrary & Douglas (1996), a group that includes several retired FBI officers. In the development of their system, they studied 30 case reviews and based their assessment on many variables including delusions, motive, outcome, and risk level of the victim. Their results would indicate two broad divisions: Non-Domestic Stalkers (with the subtypes of Organised and Delusional) and the Domestic Stalker. This system closely resembles that devised by Zona and colleagues in their categories of Love Obsessional, Erotomanic, and Simple Obsessional respectively.

It would appear that stalking may be a result of other clinical problems, and Burt, Sulkowicz & Wolfrage (1997) present the case of a 23-year-old single female with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder who began obsessively pursuing a male friend on the Internet as a result of the disorder. The following exert outlines the pursuit:

"She had been spending approximately 8 hours per day monitoring his communication with another woman and was unable to control her compulsions, despite recognising this behaviour as abnormal...She found that he logged on at the same hour every day, and assumed he was having a scheduled appointment with an on-line partner...Discovering that this was a woman increased her anxiety, yet the act of monitoring reduced her symptoms...The patient then proceeded to find out other information about the woman, secured the phone numbers of her parents and called them in disguise" (p. 172).

It should be noted that this is only one case, and caution should be employed before any generalisations are made. The above case does, however, provide an interesting possibility as to the emergence of stalking behaviour in this particular individual.

It is important to note that stalking, exactly like any other crime, behaviour, or clinical disorder exists on a continuum of severity. The stalking may be so subtle that the victim may not even know that it is happening, or the perpetrator may have a genuine belief that "if they would just get to know me, they would like me", with no malicious intent desired. Many cases of stalking do not even rise to extreme levels of violence or harassment (Meloy, 1998). The severity of any act must be assessed on an individual basis, and a careful assessment made as to the likelihood that any activity would pass beyond a non-criminal threshold.

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