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Are female stalkers less likely to be violent than male stalkers?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012
posted by Rita Handrich

It’s been almost a year since we first wrote about female stalkers. That was research with a US sample. Now we see some new research out of Sweden and Australia with some interesting similarities and contrasts.

This new research provides a terrific reference list of prior work done on women stalkers and reports a high rate of psychosis among women stalkers. Delusions are the most common symptom in two of the three major studies completed so far. Half of the women stalkers described in prior research had character disorders and women were more likely than men to target a former professional contact (like mental health professionals, teachers or lawyers!). It appears that male stalkers are less particular, and more likely to target strangers. Women stalkers seek intimacy.

Researchers in the current study wanted to see if they could identify predictors of violence in female stalkers. They gathered a sample of 71 female [50 from Sweden] and 479 male [289 from Sweden] stalkers from both Sweden and Australia. Women accounted for about 9% of stalkers in both countries. This paper is full of important information and we are going to summarize for brevity.

There were no significant differences between the Swedish and Australian samples with regard to target gender, age, or how long they stalked their targets.

Female stalkers were, on average, 37.4 years of age (not that different than male stalkers at 37.7 years).

Females were less likely to have a criminal history (28%) than were males (63%) but they were equally likely to have a restraining order concerning their current target (28% versus 35%, respectively).

Mental disorders were prevalent (women, 84%; men, 79%) with women more likely diagnosed with personality disorder (71% versus 57%) and borderline personality disorder being most common among the women (33%). Men and women were equally likely to be diagnosed with Axis I mental disorders (such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or substance use) but women stalkers were slightly (but not significantly) more likely to be psychotic (38% to 20%).

Women more often targeted someone known to them (94%). Women were more likely to stalk professional contacts (13% vs 5%); friends/family members (13% vs 5%); or neighbors (14% vs 5%). Men were more likely to target an ex-intimate partner (60% vs 40%); or strangers (17% vs 6%). Women were also more likely to engage in same-gender stalking (50% vs 13%).

More than half of the women stalkers (52%) were classified as “rejected stalkers” where the stalking arose after the breakdown of an intimate relationship. One-third (36%) were classified as “resentful stalkers” where the stalking was an effort to punish the victim for a perceived slight or mistreatment. Another group (9%) were “intimacy seekers” who wished to establish a “loving and intimate” relationship with the victim.

Female stalkers were more likely to communicate via email, letter or fax and less likely than male stalkers to physically follow their target.

Female stalkers in this research stalked for a duration of between one week and 11 years (!) with a median stalking time of 31 weeks. Men, on the other hand, stalked between 1 week and 20 years (!) with a median of 21 weeks.

There was no difference in frequency of violence among female (23%) stalkers and male stalkers (31%).

Women’s violent behavior ranged from slapping and pushing to serious assaults.

Violent female stalkers were more likely to be abusing substances, to be a former sexual intimate and to have a “rejected” motivation for the stalking.

Women stalkers who were “resentful” were much less likely to be violent and violence, in general, was related to following or accosting the victim.

Both male and female stalkers were significantly more likely to be violent towards an opposite-gender target; women were more likely to be violent when stalking with a desire for “intimacy”.

While victims of female stalkers often report they are taken less seriously by the authorities, there is no reason for that perspective. Women stalkers are just as likely as male stalkers to be violent. If you or your client are being stalked by a female who is a former romantic partner, there is a high risk for violence–especially if you are the one who is viewed (by the stalker) as ending the relationship.

This study confirms many of the findings in the US sample we wrote about last year. Stalking, whether by a male or female, needs to be taken seriously via all remedies possible. Education about the differences (or rather the lack thereof) between male and female stalkers will be critical in convincing potential jurors of the seriousness of these threats. Addressing embarrassment or shame at being the male victim of a female stalker is also an important endeavor. There is nothing flattering or amusing about this.

Sometimes litigation advocacy challenges our beliefs about the ‘gentler’ sex. This is one of those times.

Strand, S., & McEwan, T. (2011). Violence among female stalkers Psychological Medicine, 42 (03), 545-555 DOI: 10.1017/S0033291711001498

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