Source: Image by Nissor Abdourazakov from Pixabay
What does a stalker look like? If the shadowy image you are envisioning standing in a dark alley is a man instead of a woman, you are in good company. But as a career prosecutor who has handled decades worth of stalking cases, I have seen mild-mannered, attractive women engage in unwanted pursuit. Yet because, as I explain in a prior post,[i] men are often more reluctant to report being victimized, we should re-examine the reality behind the stalking stereotype.
What Type of Women Stalk?
Movies like Swimfan and Obsessed portray beautiful, crafty, charismatic women ruining lives through pursuing unrequited love. In reality, female stalkers can be as dangerous as men. Nathan Brooks et al. (2021) explain that female stalkers may pose a similar level of violence risk as male stalkers, although this risk they present is often perceived as nonthreatening.[ii] So, what type of woman stalks? Research reveals some traits in common.
As I explain in another post,[iii] women who engage in unwanted pursuit present a wide range of personality types. J. Reid Meloy et al. (2011), in “The Female Stalker,”[iv] examine 143 cases gathered from law enforcement, prosecutorial, and entertainment corporate security files, and describe the typical female stalker as a single woman in her mid-30s, divorced or separated, with a psychiatric diagnosis that is most frequently a mood disorder. Meloy et al. note that this female stalker profile is more likely to pursue a stranger, celebrity, or male acquaintance, contrary to what might be the stereotype of pursuing a prior romantic partner. Yet they note that having a prior relationship with the victim, intimate or platonic, significantly increased the frequency of threats and violence.
More recently, Acquadro Maran et al. (2020) [v] explained that for female stalkers, the most frequent motive is the desire for a relationship—new or nostalgic (rekindling a relationship with a past flame). Recognizing the link between toxic relationships and stalking behavior, Maran et al. noted that prior relationships that sparked stalking behavior were more likely to involve a stalker who was an ex-partner with a history of reported abuse.
One problem complicating the stalking research is under-reporting. Overcoming the stereotype that well-respected, seemingly pleasant women don’t stalk is one of the first challenges in persuading victims to report the behavior.
Fueling reporting reluctance, unlike domestic violence victims who often have visible injuries, stalking victims lack physical “evidence” to support their claims. In a professional setting, victims also fear bringing “drama” into the workplace when accusing a popular, attractive female perpetrator (remember Demi Moore in Disclosure), for fear their allegations will lead to alienation, ostracism, or retaliation. The belief that nice girls don’t stalk, coupled with the idea that men should be able to “handle it,” downplays the significance of the problem and discourages reporting.
Victim-Centered Early Intervention
Lisa Tompson et al. (2021) examined the utility of a victim-centered stalking prevention program aimed at curbing stalking behavior earlier in the process in order to prevent escalation.[vi] By knowing what to look for, coworkers, friends, and threat assessment professionals can spot problematic behavior early, in order to address or redirect obsessive thoughts or behavior before focus becomes fixation. Early intervention will spare both victim and potential perpetrator time and trauma, avoid criminal proceedings, and give a “nice girl” an opportunity to redirect her behavior and live up to the reputation.