Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

CYBER-STALKING: OBSESSIONAL PURSUIT AND THE DIGITAL CRIMINAL

Incidence and Prevalence

Cyberstalking, much like any other crime, is hard to assess in terms of its incidence and prevalence within any given population. The reasons for this are many and varied, though include the fact that the victim may not consider the behaviour to be dangerous, they may not know they are being stalked or they may believe that little can be done about the problem.

One of the ways that estimates are derived is through the examination of the disorder in clinical populations, though this too is inexact because the perpetrator may never present for clinical treatment. Often, estimates of the incidence of stalking in the general population are simple extrapolations of these clinical populations.

While the majority of stalking literature does focus on erotomania as the most prolific type, there is little support for this stalker type as the most prevalent (Harmon, Rosner & Owens, 1995).

In the chapter deClerembault On-line: A Survey of Ertomania and Stalking from the Old World to the World Wide Web, Lloyd-Goldstein (1998), the author cites that only 20% of male cases in the original reports of deClerembault (who the disorder is often named after), and 20 - 30% of male cases in Segal's 1989/1990 estimates were erotomanic. Only six of the 48 cases of Harmon, Rosner & Owens (1995) study were confirmed as suffering from primary erotomania, with a minimal finding (10%) of the non-forensic cohort in Zona, Sharma & Lane (1993) being classified as primary erotomanics.

Goode (1995) illustrates "the standard psychiatric typology accepts erotomania as a delusional disorder but...by no means are all stalkers erotomanics" (p. 30), with Mullen (1997) stating that "the prevalence of erotomanic syndromes, both pure and clearly symptomatic, is unknown" (p. 10). Not all of those with an erotomanic condition will present for treatment, perhaps doing so only if referred by a doctor, or upon receiving an order from an agent of the criminal justice system.

It has been estimated that approximately 20,000 Americans are being stalked at the moment (D'Amico, 1997), with somewhat more liberal estimates ranging as high as 200,000 (Jenson, 1996). Australian data from the Bureau of Statistics suggests that in 1997 more than 165,000 women over the age of 18 were stalked (Lancaster, 1998). Further estimates suggest that as many as one in 20 adults will be stalked in their lifetime and that up to 200,000 exhibit a stalkers traits (Tharp, 1992). Evidence collected by the Los Angeles District Attorney's office suggests that of the 600 cases reviewed, roughly 20 % of them involved some form of electronic communication (L.A. Times, Saturday 23rd of January, 1999). Given the latter finding, there is sufficient evidence to warrant that electronic mediums are in fact providing the stalker with new avenues for the deliverance of their threat.

The Centre for Disease Control conducted an extensive telephone survey, funded by the National Institute of Justice, of 8000 men and 8000 women inquiring about their experiences with stalking. Their results indicate that approximately 8% of [US] women and 2% of [US] men have been stalked at some time in their life. Also, that an estimated 1 million females and 0.4 million males are stalked in the US annually (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1997). Results of similar studies would suggest that the majority of stalking cases are heterosexual in nature, with less than 1% of these crimes occurring between homosexual persons. Meloy & Gothard (1995) found similar results among their study of forensic populations, with approximately 90% male perpetrators with female victims.

In 1987, Harmon and colleagues found that referrals to a court clinic were in the 0.6% range, while they rose to 1.7% in 1993. We must be cautious when interpreting these figures however, as they may not necessarily reflect a rise in the incidence of stalking cases, rather, they may indicate legal codification of the act, an increase in the awareness of the act (which could subsequently lead to a rise in reporting), or decreased public tolerance.

The study of the demographics of stalking perpetrators provides some interesting information. For instance, stalkers are generally of a more mature age than other clinical and offender populations (Meloy, 1998; Harmon, Rosner & Owens, 1995; Mullen & Pathe, 1994; Zona, Sharma & Lane, 1993). Stalkers have usually attained a greater educational achievement than other types of offenders (Lloyd-Goldstein, 1998; Meloy, 1996) with 42% having finished some high school, 22% graduating high school, and 6% having graduated college (taken from the Harmon, Rosner & Owens, 1995 study). Ethnicity in this clinical population would appear to be predominantly non-white (52% black, 25% hispanic, 9% unknown, and 0.4% oriental). Lloyd Goldstein (1998) states that perhaps as many as 10 % of stalking cases involve perpetrators who are foreign born, perhaps indicating that immigration is a risk factor in some stalking scenarios (Meloy, 1998).

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