26 June 2006 Stalking A Health Problem, Say Behavioral Scientists
Stalking is as much a public health issue as a criminal justice problem, says behavioral scientist Kathleen Basile, who has just completed a national study for the Division of Violence Prevention at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
The study involved surveying 10,000 people and astonishingly, nearly 5 percent reported having been stalked at some time in their lives. Basile said this equated to more than 7 million women and 2 million men with younger adults and those who are single, separated or divorced the most at risk. "Women should be aware of the potential for stalking by an intimate partner, particularly when that intimate partner is physically or sexually violent," said Basile. Adding that previous research had shown that for female victims, current and former spouses and partners are the most common perpetrators.
The study, appearing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, defined stalking as "ever being followed, spied on or communicated with, without consent, at a level perceived to be somewhat dangerous or life-threatening, for more than a month."
While most stalkers aren't strangers to their female victims, when men are stalked, it's more likely to take place outside of relationships, by acquaintances or strangers, explained Basile. Interestingly, African-Americans have significantly lower odds of being stalked than whites, the survey showed. Basile said the reasons aren't clear, but that there may be differences in how people report stalking.
The researchers warned that the most dangerous stalker is someone who is, or has been, in a relationship with the victim. "In the majority of homicides involving intimate partners, stalking was another tactic, another tool in the abusive armamentarium of the stalker," said co-researcher Mindy Mechanic. However, she added, "most stalking does not end in homicide or even violence. The perpetrator is arrested, hospitalized, moves away, gets tired of it or finds another victim."
Commenting on the study, Deborah Prothrow-Stith, of the Harvard School of Public Health, said: "It can be flattering when people are possessive - but there's a line. Women need to be taught the warning signs of stalking and how to engage the police and put out a restraining order if stalking occurs. These signals will help some stalkers stop."