How Society Fails To Understand Stalking (And What To Do If It Happens To You)

By Samparna Tripathy

Karuna, a 21-year-old schoolteacher was stabbed 27 times to death in North Delhi’s busy Burari area. Her assailant had been stalking her for over a year. As the crime goes unchecked all over the country, somewhere someone who has been stalked remarks, “They do the crime, we do the time.”

In 1976, John Hinckley Jr. fell head over heels for Jodie Foster after seeing her play the role of a sex worker in the movie “Taxi Driver”. The obsession knew no bounds, after relentlessly stalking her for 17 months, in a desperate bid to impress her, he shot the then US President Ronald Reagan.

The letter he wrote to her that day read, “As you well know by now I love you very much.” A celebrity of that stature stands horrified today to read about Hinkley Jr’s release from psychiatric care. The fear of the unwanted advance levels us – celebrities and commoners alike. Unfortunately, for the latter, the fear definitely takes a form – a permanent shadow for a lifetime, an acid attack or may be death.

Cracking The Code Of Stalking

Let’s be honest. We live in a delirious world that doesn’t acknowledge the gravity of stalking. In common parlance, any act of repeated unwanted advances to the effect of evoking fear or discomfort is stalking.

It may be an explicit display of aggressive behaviour like physically following or spying, vandalising property, threatening calls or assaults. Even seemingly innocuous acts like delivering flowers/letters, a barrage of text messages, driving by that person’s residence, photographing that person or their family members and spreading false rumours primarily about that person’s character.

Sadly we are way too callous about being on guard. The friend who has been pursuing a girl who isn’t interested in him is a “die hard romantic”. The ‘hot’ girl who pings a guy on social media after every profile update is a “secret admirer”. The exes who wait outside your office to get you back in their lives are “committed to you for life”.

On second thoughts, this is understandable. We are a country that swears by “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge” – the actor who waves a bra at a woman’s face is the pin-up guy who reveals his goodness as he stalks her through Europe and finally rescues her from her pigeon-hunting, betrothed with everyone’s consent. What better then can you expect from us?

Institutional And Societal Failure

The first step to undoing this cultural conditioning is to take cues seriously and pre-empt any mishaps. The person who has been stalked should be encouraged to speak out about their experiences. It is equally important that we take their concerns seriously.

Friends, family and teachers need to be a bulwark that doesn’t seek a “compromise” and brush it under the carpet. They need to help the person who has been stalked in taking adequate privacy and safety precautions. Most importantly the criminal justice system needs to be sensitised to intervene as early as possible.

Anti-stalking laws were first introduced in California in 1990. The condition is far worse in India. Only in 2013, after the public uproar in the Nirbhaya case, Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code criminalised stalking.

As per the National Crime Records Bureau, the number of stalking cases in Delhi has doubled in one year – from 541 in 2014 to 1,124 in 2015. Police officials fail to acknowledge the legitimacy of fear experienced by the person who is being stalked. Ignoring such precursors to violence, not dedicating resources for investigation, not providing police protection or restraining orders against the suspect are all chronic failures of the system.

Challenges posed due to the anonymity associated with cyberstalking are a reminder for the need to have stringent privacy laws and adequate training in cyber forensics. Persons who have been stalked tend to relocate to different places (may also change city or state) for safety, and this calls for the need for coordination among officials – isolated events need to be considered together preferably by the same investigating team to understand the bigger picture.

Knowing The Stalker

Assuming that the stalkers have finally come in contact with the criminal justice system, they are not continuously assessed. All stalkers don’t belong to a homogeneous category. They have varied motivations which need to be understood to deal with them. Unless they talk to psychologists or specialists, they will continue their behaviour even after serving their term – posing an even greater danger.

In 1993, Australian expert Paul Mullen conducted behavioural studies and segregated stalkers into multiple categories: intimacy seeking; socially incompetent and, resentful stalkers.

This understanding helps to rehabilitate the perpetrators by employing appropriate methods. For example, socially incompetent stalkers can be helped with interpersonal skills and also cultivate empathy for the person they had stalked. There are stalkers that need to be handled individually and not in groups, just like in sex offender programs, so that they do not build a network of mutual support for their behaviour. Deep insights into their motives help law enforcement authorities predict the modus operandi of the assailant accurately and hence provide suitable protection to the person who has been stalked.

Understanding The Person Who Has Been Stalked

Anyone can be stalked. Statistically, however, the figures (80% of the stalking cases worldwide) are primarily skewed towards women. Research proves that certain kinds of people have a higher risk of being stalked.

People working in the media, fashion industry, journalism, entertainment business and/or possessing a high profile (regarding social contacts and achievements).

People are exhibiting the “saviour complex” i.e. trying to save or rescue others even at the expense of one’s life. Such people get personally involved in another person’s life and have a very unassertive way of helping others. So much so that instead of feeling grateful, the other person feels as if “He is almost entitled to this help” and will not allow withdrawal from his life.

Having said that, everyone needs to be equally prepared.

  • If someone is way too interested in your life too soon, makes comments that you would find odd even if it came from an old friend or is very eager to accompany you to every social event, keep them at bay. Trust your intuition and at the first signs of abnormality or danger, be firm and tell the person you aren’t interested. It may just be a misunderstanding, so it’s better to communicate and be upfront.
  • Ask your network of friends and family to be careful.  They shouldn’t be manipulated into giving your personal information.
  • If the danger persists, ask for help from the police. During this period, do not try to reason with the stalker else that person will believe that they are making progress.
  • To have someone prosecuted, sufficient evidence needs to be gathered. Hence maintaining a log book of stalking incidents and testimonials to back it is crucial.
  • It is important that an accurate threat assessment is done which can prompt you to ask for protection or change your routine/place of residence/work.
  • Finally, getting psychological help during this period is a must.

We failed Karuna, the 21-year-old schoolteacher at every step. We are guilty of murder. Only we can make this stop.


Image source: ptwo/Flickr
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