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.