What is it like to be a Target of Stalking?

In 2015, with the support of Prairie Action Foundation, PhD student Kimberley Zorn used Narrative Inquiry methodology to hear and identify themes in the experiences of female victims of criminal harassment in Regina, Saskatchewan. Here is what she found:

  • Participants noticed red flags early on in their relationship. Partners began monitoring their phone calls, asking frequent questions about where they were going, what they were doing and who they were spending time with, and ultimately worked to isolate these women from friends and family.
  • Controlling behaviours eventually turned to more aggressive and violent outbursts. Women reported substantial psychological and emotional abuse. Some also reported experiencing physical or sexual abuse during their relationships.
  • At some point, women made a decision to leave the relationship. Some believed that leaving would bring an end to the abuse and violence. On the contrary, it brought new types of controlling, obsessive, and abusive behaviours in the form of stalking.Stalking4
  • Tactics were used repeatedly and contributed to the emotional and psychological trauma experienced by women targets. Phone calls, e-mails, and letters would alternate from harassing and abusive messages to apologies and declarations of love. At times, the perpetrators would leave messages threatening acts of suicide or faking medical health conditions, statements made in an attempt to get the victim’s attention or to manipulate her into contacting him.
  • Women explained that the psychological and emotional abuse experienced as a target of stalking is constant and relentless. Moreover, a few women reported that the emotional torture experienced as a target of stalking is far worse than the physical abuse they endured prior to ending their relationships.
  • The relentless harassing created an environment where women did not feel safe and reported being in a constant state of fear. Women reported being afraid to leave their home, were always looking over their shoulder to see who was there, and felt as though they were living in a mental prison.
  • All women within this sample sought help from the police and justice system in an attempt to stop the behaviours of the stalker. Unfortunately, for many women, seeking protection from the legal system did little to stop the ongoing abuse.
  • With a few exceptions, women reported positive experiences with local police. Women explained that having police who listened and tried to understand their experiences helped them to feel safe and comfortable in reporting incidents of stalking and seeking formal supports. They also emphasized the importance of continuing to take women seriously when they come forward to report instances of stalking.
  • A number of themes related to women’s experiences with the justice system emerged from the data. For instance, prolonged trial dates, low conviction rates, and constant breaches associated with no contact orders, added to feelings of disappointment and exacerbated fears associated with personal safety and protection. In addition, women reported that many charges were dropped or plead down to a lesser offence, which added to their frustration and dissatisfaction with the justice system.
  • Women reported feeling overwhelmed with the process of gathering evidence and explained that it was very difficult to prove criminal harassment in court. The majority of stalking incidents happened within the home or away from the public eye. As a result, women sometimes felt as though others did not believe their recounts of stalking or experiences of abuse. This added to feelings of isolation and the challenges associated with being a target of stalking.
  • Steps taken within the legal system did not stop the perpetrators from stalking. In some cases, going to the police actually increased incidents of stalking.

This post is condensed from the work of Kimberley Zorn. To see her full summary with quotes from study participants, click here.

Intimate Partner Violence: Who does it Hurt?

Clearly, the person being hit, intimidated or humiliated and bullied in their own home is a victim. But IPV takes its toll on others as well. Individuals close to the one being abused are caught in the crossfire, and communities bear the cost.

Who else does IPV hurt?

  1. The children – Children or teens of a victim inevitably feel the effects, whether they directly witness the violence or whether they experience the depleting effect it has on their parent. Children are awake and aware far more than parents usually assume, and research shows that even (perhaps especially) young infants are affected by the trauma.
  2. Family members – The whole extended family may be rocked by an abusive partner. They may see the behaviour and not want to be around it, or they may not see it and fall prey to the abuser’s manipulation. The abuser’s threats and abuse may spill over and be directed at family members, especially as they try to support the victim’s independence.
  3. Friends – Like family members, friends may be hurt by apparent rejection from a victim whose abuser uses tactics of isolation. Too often, families and close friends are at a loss and give up on their loved one who just won’t seem to leave a damaging situation. Then when the victim is ready, she or he may feel too alone to make the change.
  4. Workplaces – In extreme cases, intimate partner violence can compromise the safety of the workplace. More often, it takes a toll on the well-being and productivity of workers. For example harassing phone calls are both made and received at the workplace. Co-workers and supervisors are aware and uncertain what to do. Absenteeism and distraction can occur due to injuries, loss of sleep and emotional turmoil for the victim. While ethical problems with dismissing someone for being a victim of violence are obvious, employers are often not prepared to respond to the circumstances.
  5. Communities – As we know at Family Service Regina, strong communities are made of healthy families and individuals. A family torn by domestic violence will not be interacting and contributing as they could. Domestic violence is isolating, alienating, and it drains the confidence and energy of the victim. A quarter of all violent crime in Canadian communities is domestic violence. It’s a crime that is perpetuated through the generations, as children who are exposed to Intimate Partner Violence are more likely to perpetrate such violence themselves in later years.
  6. Pets – Animal cruelty often goes along with domestic violence. Pets are important to people — making them a potential support for victims but also a potential hindrance to getting out, as victims tend to consider the welfare of their companion animals and it is often difficult to take them to a shelter or new apartment.

To find out about services and information for children, concerned family and friends, workplaces, community groups and agencies and even pets, please Contact Us.