1.4 million people are stalked annually in the United States. 1 in 12 women and 1 in 45 men will be stalked in their lifetime. 77% of women and 64% of men know their stalkers. 87% of stalkers are male. Less than two percent of stalking cases result in homicide. However, the emotional toll on the victims is significant, especially if you don't know who the stalker is, or if he/she is mentally ill.
Forensic psychologists have identified three types of stalking: simple obsessional, love obsessional, and erotomania. The three defining elements that are indicative of the typology of stalker are: (1) the stalker's relationship with the victim, (2) the stalker's motive in pursuing the victim, (3) the stalker's behavior. All stalkers are obsessional; they maintain persistent thoughts and ideas about their victims, often for years.
Not all stalkers meet the criteria for any specific or serious psychiatric disorder. However, some of the most extreme and dangerous stalkers are those fueled by a mental illness. Primary diagnoses for mentally ill stalkers include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or a delusional disorder. Some stalkers have personality disorders (identified by a pervasive abnormal pattern of behavior related to thinking, mood, personal relations, and impulse control). Specifically, these stalkers have antisocial, borderline, histrionic, narcissistic, dependent, or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder characteristics. Substance abuse and/or dependence frequently are contributing factors. As a rule of thumb, the less of a relationship that actually existed between the victim and stalker prior to the stalking, the more mentally disturbed the stalker is.
The Simple Obsessional Stalker
The most common form of stalking is simple obsessional. The victim of the simple obsessional stalker usually knows his/her stalker well and was in some form of relationship with him/her: an ex-spouse, ex-lover, friend, former boss, or co-worker. The obsessional activities begin after the relationship has ended or is headed for termination. The stalker often perceives that he/she was wronged by the victim. The simple obsessional stalker's motivation is to mend the relationship or to seek some type of retribution. Virtually all domestic violence cases involving stalking fall under this category.
The Love Obsessional Stalker
The love obsessional stalker is a stranger to, or casual acquaintance of the victim. The stalker develops a love obsession or fixation on another person with whom they have had no personal relationship. Not only does the love obsessional stalker attempt to live out his/her fantasies, he/she expects the victim to play an assigned role of loving them back with adoration and devotion. Initially the love obsessional stalker's motivation is to make the victim aware of his/her existence. Later he/she expects them to reciprocate his/her feelings. When the stalker fails to establish the relationship, he/she frequently harasses the victim.
The Erotomanic Stalker
Erotomania is a delusion in which the stalker believes the individual of his/her love, loves him/her back. The victim would readily return the stalker's affection, but are not able to because of some external influence. The delusion is based on a belief that the victim is the perfect match for them and that they are destined to be together forever. Erotomania frequently is not based on a sexual attraction. The erotomanic stalker fantasizes more about a romantic love and/or a spiritual union. The victim is usually of a higher status than the stalker. Efforts to contact the victim are common, but erotomanic stalkers may keep the delusion a secret. They study their victims, often from afar. They are commonly referred to as celebrity stalkers or obsessed fans.
Stalking and the Mentally Ill