Far too often, when we talk about stalking and keeping victims safe, we focus on their behaviour. Victims are advised to change their phone numbers, daily routines, jobs, or homes to avoid the attention of their stalker. But doesn’t this place the responsibility for ending stalking in the wrong place?
We speak to criminologist Professor Elizabeth Yardley about shifting the focus from stalking victims to stalking offenders.
Stalkers often feel entitled to engage in stalking behaviours, whilst knowing that what they are doing is wrong, they feel that they have a right to behave in this way and that the law does not apply to them.
The type of reaction that stalking behaviour gets – both from organisations and society in general – is a crucial factor in the future behaviour of the offender. Stalkers often feel entitled to engage in stalking behaviours, whilst knowing that what they are doing is wrong, they feel that they have a right to behave in this way and that the law does not apply to them. Consequences send out an important message to them about how seriously stalking is taken – and what they are able to get away with. A lack of early positive action which aims to reduce risk and harm is a green light for an offender to continue to engage in stalking behaviours.
only one person is responsible for the harm caused by stalking and that person is the offender
I feel that Stalking Protection Orders are definitely a step in the right direction as they offer a further avenue for redress for victims and send out a message that stalking is recognised as a matter of public significance. However, alone, they are not enough. They need to be part of wider efforts to tackle this behaviour that acknowledge and respond to the wider context in which people choose to stalk. This involves taking a critical look at our mainstream values as a society for example the tropes of ‘romantic love’ and misogynistic and sexist belief systems – because this is the environment in which stalking behaviour is able to thrive in the first place.
Many offenders are serial stalkers and if we can tackle the value systems driving the behaviour, we stand a chance of preventing future victims as well as helping current victims.
To acknowledge that only one person is responsible for the harm caused by stalking and that person is the offender. Too often there is a tendency to scrutinise the behaviour of the victim – did you lead the stalker on, you must have done something? There is also a tendency to place the onus on the victim to change their behaviour when they are being stalked – change your routine, move somewhere else, delete your social media, block the stalker. Acting on such advice can exacerbate the stalking behaviour because it is compromising the offender’s feelings of control – and it does nothing to address the offenders decision to offend in the first place. Stalkers decide to engage in stalking behaviour. They make a series of choices that result in harm to their victim. They should be the focus of any intervention. Interventions must get to the root of the stalking behaviour – what are the key values and beliefs led them to decide to behave in this way? Many offenders are serial stalkers and if we can tackle the value systems driving the behaviour, we stand a chance of preventing future victims as well as helping current victims.
Neoliberal society places a huge emphasis on winning and persistence and the media sells us unhealthy portrayals of romantic love. How is this influencing behaviour when someone ends a relationship or declines an invitation for a date?
Education plays a crucial role in preventing stalking and by ‘education’, we should be looking at learning in the formal sense but also in terms of what and how people learn in a broader sense. Our values, attitudes and beliefs about intimate relationships and how we interact with others are shaped by our family, community and culture as well as what we learn in schools. What are we learning in these spaces and how is this being informed by wider values? Neoliberal society places a huge emphasis on winning and persistence and the media sells us unhealthy portrayals of romantic love. How is this influencing behaviour when someone ends a relationship or declines an invitation for a date? This is just one example of the way in which mainstream values prop up stalking behaviours. We need to encourage children and young people to be critical of these things, establish their own healthy boundaries and recognise the difference between a good relationship and a harmful one.
If victims are falling through the cracks then its the cracks that need to be filled in.
My main piece of advice would be please listen to victims. Victims know their stalkers best. They are familiar with their tactics, patterns of behaviour and moods. Victims are best placed to assess the level of danger they are in. When a victim says they feel that the behaviour has escalated and they are afraid – it is because the behaviour has escalated and there is reason to be afraid. Whilst risk assessment tools are valuable, they should never be used to drown out the voice of the victim or refute a victim’s judgement of danger. Authorities should be needs-led, listening to victims and responding to their concerns accordingly. Services should be shaped around the needs of victims, victims should not have to make do and fit into whatever is there. If victims are falling through the cracks then its the cracks that need to be filled in.
Stalking is a unique, distinct and dangerous offence. This is why it has been criminalised. If this law is to be effectively enforced, specialist stalking services are absolutely essential. These services provide tailored support to victims and possess valuable insights into the nature and extent of stalking behaviour in our society through risk profiles and screening to examine risk and motivation. The existence of specialist stalking services are a recognition of the severity of this crime in the same way that other types of serious crime have specialist services dedicated to tackling them.
The last thing we should do with stalking victims is try to dictate to them what they should do – they are already being controlled and manipulated by their offender and it’s important that we don’t become part of that problem.
The first piece of advice I would give anyone is to trust your instinct. If you feel terrorised, if you feel that you are in danger – your concerns are justified. Find out what options are available to you by doing some research online and looking at the resources provided by organisations like Women’s Aid. Being aware of your choices – and knowing that you have choices – is really important at this time. The last thing we should do with stalking victims is try to dictate to them what they should do – they are already being controlled and manipulated by their offender and it’s important that we don’t become part of that problem.
Professor Elizabeth Yardley is a Criminologist at Birmingham City University. Her research focuses on gender based violence, particularly relating to the role of networked communication technology in domestic abuse, stalking and homicide.
If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this article, please contact the West Midlands Stalking Support Service for advice, help and support. You can: