Coping with Stalking and Stalkers

Getting Help

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

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This article is meant to be a general guide to seeking and finding help. It does not contain addresses, contacts, and phone numbers. It is not specific to one state or country. Rather, it describes options and institutions which are common the world over. You should be the one to "fill in the blanks" and locate the relevant groups and agencies in your domicile.

Your first "fallback" option is your family. They are, in many cases (though by no means always) your natural allies. They can provide you with shelter, money, emotional support, and advice. Don't hesitate to call on them in times of need.

Your friends and, to a lesser extent, your colleagues and neighbours will usually lend you a sympathetic ear and will provide you with useful tips. Merely talking to them can not only ease the burden – but protect you from future abuse. Stalkers and paranoids thrive on secrecy and abhor public exposure.

Regrettably, resorting to the legal system – your next logical step – is bound to be a disappointing, disempowering, and invalidating experience. I wrote about it extensively in the essay "Pathologizing the Victim".

A 1997 Review Paper titled "Stalking (Part II) Victims' Problems With the Legal System and Therapeutic Considerations", Karen M. Abrams, MD, FRCPC1, Gail Erlick Robinson, MD, DPsych, FRCPC2 note:

"Law-enforcement insensitivity toward domestic violence has already been well documented. Police often feel that, as opposed to serious crimes such as murder, domestic issues are not an appropriate police responsibility; 'private' misconduct should not be subject to public intervention, and, because few cases result in successful prosecution, pursuing domestic violence complaints is ultimately futile… This sense of futility, reinforced by the media and the courts, may be transmitted to the victim.

In cases involving ex-lovers, the police may have equal difficulty in being sympathetic to the issues involved. As in the case of Ms A, society often views stalking as a normal infatuation that will eventually resolve itself or as the actions of a rejected lover or lovesick individual, more to be empathised with than censured (2). Victims often report feeling that the police and society blame them for provoking harassment or making poor choices in relationships. Authorities may have particular difficulty understanding the woman who continues to have ambivalent feelings toward the offender…

In terms of the laws themselves, there is a history of ineffectiveness in dealing with crimes of stalking (1,5). The nature of the offences themselves makes investigations and prosecution difficult, because surveillance and phone calls often have no witnesses. Barriers to victims using civil actions against stalkers include dangerous time delays and financial requirements. Temporary restraining orders or peace bonds have been used most commonly and are generally ineffective, partly because law-enforcement agencies have limited resources to enforce such measures. Even if caught, violators receive, at most, minimal jail time or minor monetary penalties. Sometimes the offender just waits out the short duration of the order. Persistent, obsessed stalkers are usually not deterred."

Still, it is crucial that you document the abuse and stalking and duly report them to the police and to your building security. If your stalker is in jail, you should report him to the wardens and to his parole officer. It is important to resort to the courts in order to obtain restraining or cease and desist orders. Keep law enforcement officers and agencies fully posted. Don't hesitate to call upon them as often as you need to. It is their job. Hire a security expert if the threat is credible or imminent.

(continued below)

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You are well advised to rely on professional advice throughout your prolonged and arduous disentanglement from your paranoid and stalking ex. Use attorneys, accountants, private detectives, and therapists to communicate with him. Consult your lawyer (or, if you can't afford one, apply for a pro bono lawyer provided by a civic association, or your state's legal aid). Ask him or her what are your rights, what kinds of legal redress you have, what safety precautions you should adopt – and what are the do's and don't do's of your situation.

Especially important is to choose the right therapist for you and for your children. Check whether he or she has any experience with victims of stalking and with the emotional effects of constant threat and surveillance (fear, humiliation, ambivalence, helplessness, paranoid ideation). Stalking is a traumatic process and you may need intervention to ameliorate the post traumatic stress effects it wreaks.

Join online and offline groups and organisations for victims of abuse and stalking. Peer support is critical. Helping others and sharing experiences and fears with other victims is a validating and empowering as well as a useful experience. Realising that you are not alone, that you are not crazy, and that the whole situation is not your fault helps to restore your shattered self-esteem and puts things in perspective.

The social services in your area are geared to deal with battering and stalking. They likely run shelters for victims of domestic violence and abuse, for instance.

The ins and outs of shelters for victims of domestic violence (battering) – that is the subject of the next article.

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