In light of the shootings in Virginia earlier this week – should employers be taking cases of workplace stalking, harassment or other worrying behaviour more seriously? Professor Jackson, Head of Psychology at Birmingham City University, looks at stalking behaviours and asks if workplaces can take reasonable precautions for this unusual, but sometimes deadly and devastating phenomenon.

Stalking is now a specific form of criminal offence and is a recognised social problem. According to the British Crime Survey, each year approximately 20 per cent of females and 10 per cent of males will receive unwanted stalking behaviours, and this figure increases yearly.

So what is stalking?

Put simply, stalking is unwanted and unwarranted continued attention and contact from the perpetrator to the victim, which results in distress or fear. This is often done when the perpetrator is obsessed or fixated with the victim. They may not always be aware of the distress they cause, and in some cases because of their delusional beliefs, the perpetrators believe they are helping the victim or making them feel important, but mostly, stalkers are acutely aware of the damage they cause.

There is limited research on the impact that stalking makes to an individual’s ability to work, but it is evident that victims suffer from many emotional symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. They may suffer from self-loathing, blame, shame, guilt, embarrassment, lowered self-esteem, and feel isolation from others.

There are dozens of different actions that stalkers can use to unnerve their victims, and these can range from personal visits to the workplaces, through to virtual contact through social media, and through a proxy, for example ordering products to be delivered to the victim. Other common forms include:

  • Telephone calls
  • False complaints to employers
  • Threats
  • Blackmail
  • Sexual assault
  • Computer hacking
  • Rumour-spreading
  • Criminal damage
  • Watching / monitoring

What are the common types of stalker?

Some stalkers can of course be colleagues of the victim, or even customers or clients who have come into some form of contact. A smaller number of stalkers choose a victim in a particular workplace just because the job gives them easy access, such as telephonists or receptionists. Not all workplace stalkers have the same “psychopathology” and there is some evidence to suggest there can be a typology of stalking.

  • Rejected stalker: arises from the breakdown of a relationship; they are usually a former sexual partner of the victim and this appears to be the biggest single typology.
  • Resentful stalker: arises from a perceived mistreatment or humiliation, with the power over the victim itself seen as “settling the score”. They often present themselves as the victim.
  • Intimacy-seeking stalker: arises form a lack of close relationships and intimacy – the victims become “fantasy” figures, and these desires can be the result of some severe mental health problems / psychosis, a common one being erotomanic delusion.
  • Incompetent suitor: arises from loneliness, but does not seek intimate relationships, merely short-term sexual relationships. There is occasional overlap with mild learning disability or cognitive impairments on behalf of the stalker.
  • Predatory stalker: arises in the context of deviant sexual practices and interest in the victim. The stalking can be gratifying and instrumental at the same time, and becomes a way of gaining pleasure (e.g. voyeurism) and can also help provide information about the victim.

What can employers do?

Almost half of stalkers present themselves at their victims workplace, creating not only risks for the victims, but other colleagues who may interact with the stalker. Therefore it is crucial work places have a stalking policy which ensures the victim is fully supported. Such policies should also make it clear that employees who engage in stalking behaviours themselves will be investigated, and disciplinary action taken against them if criminal procedures are initiated.

Policies should take the a priori position that victims are not to be blamed for being stalked, but policies can also acknowledge some things can make victims more or less vulnerable, and some actions can help make victims’ increase their resilience.  Management should take a discreet approach, and to try to ascertain details with an open-ended, non-judgemental and non-threatening approach. Assuring the victim that they will be believed and taken seriously is important, as it is the fear of not being taken seriously that prevents many victims from reporting the stalking.

In summary

There is little research on the impact of stalking on an individual’s ability to work, but it is an important issue which needs careful consideration by employers to ensure the safety of their workforce. Managers who understand the potential consequences of stalking can more ably assist victims, and potentially minimise any short-term and long-term harm inflicted upon the victim.

Resources

National Stalking Helpline 0808 8020300

www.StalkingHelpline.Org

National stalking Awareness day will be in April 2015 (TBA)

Suzy Lamplugh Trust

www.suzylamplugh.org

Digital Stalking

www.digital-stalking.com

References

Abrams KM, Robinson GE. Occupational Effects of Stalking. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 2002; 47: 468-472

Mullen PE, Mackenzie R, Ogloff JRP, Pathe M, McEwan T, Purcell R. Assessing and Managing the Risks in the Stalking Situation. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 2006; 34:439-450.

Mullen PE, Pathe M, Purcell R. The Management of Stalkers. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. 2001; 7:335-342

Find out more about psychology courses at Birmingham City University

The following two tabs change content below.
Craig Jackson

Craig Jackson

Head of Psychology Division at Birmingham City University