Sexual Assault and Stalking
Dr. David Lisak  -  2006/1/27
Dr. Lisak, this is not a question, but a note of thanks. Your research on the never-incarcerated rapist has changed our approach to teaching sexual assault prevention, and made a real difference in our ability to understand and prevent attacks by predators. Thank you.
1.  D. Lisak
 You are quite welcome. Changing the landscape of how sexual assault is dealt with will require a huge effort from all quarters, and many years of work.
Hello. My question is involves stalkers and contact after a period of time. I've had members of law enforcememt, who investigate these cases, tell me that stalkers can reappear (after no contact) years down the road. Are you aware of any research that has looked into the variables of renewed contact? I don't want to give false assurances. Any information about the likelihood of this occurring would be helpful. Thank you!
1.  Tracy Bahm
 Unfortunately, permanent in most places means one or two years. If you can keep yours truly permanent, that would be great!!! Having a victim have to go back to reapply could escalate his interest in her. Also, most courts would want to know whether there has been any contact. If the answer is no, I suspect that you'd have a hard time getting the order extended, when you may just have a stalker who is waiting for the order to expire.
2.  Lori
 As a Director of a D.V. Shelter, I can attest that stalking can last for years. I have had several women whose batterer continued to stalk them after they were married or had moved on with their life. We found that any court involvement, such as child support issues, tends to escalate the stalking or cause it to begin again.
3.  Jess GrowHodges
 Stalking occurring after a delayed period can be due to incarceration or another stalking victim has vanished renewing interest in the initial stalking victim. We are in a unique situation in Oregon in that the stalking orders have been permanent rather than annual renewable. There is a move through state legislation to make the order renewable rather than permanent. What are you seeing elsewhere in the country?
4.  Tracy Bahm
 That's a great question... I'm not aware of any research looking specifically at that, but have heard about it happening, both from victims and from law enforcement. Unfortunately, I don't think you should give any victim reassurances that the stalking is over if you can't be certain that is true. Stalkers are generally very unpredictable! That said, victims are usually the best judges of whether the stalker is likely to resurface in the future.
I work on a college campus. Many behaviors that I would deem "stalking" are considered normal by many of the students such as unwanted persistent emails or instant messages, following someone around campus, showing up uninvited etc. Many students simply consider this normal jealousy or a "bad break-up". Also students are reluctant to protect their identity and don't think its dangerous to post personal info on "facebook" etc. How do we start changing perceptions and norms?
1.  Lisa
 I am currently a student intern for Albany County Crime Victim Witness and so I am also dealing with a campus population in which stalking seems to be rather vague. While some students believe that these things, such as excessive e-mails, bad break-ups etc., are putting them in danger and qualify this as stalking others do not. Where is the line where it passes from bad break-up to stalking? And also are there specific stages to watch out for?
2.  Molly Burchfiel
 I work for a police dept. in a crimes against women unit and we have a large college in the town. We recently had a case were a college student was being stalked over the internet and by regular mail. He obtained some of the info from facebook. We traced his IP address and he is now facing charges in CA, we are in OH. He was also stalking 2 others girls (in CA) thru facebook. We have seen an increase in stalking cases, esp. with college students, so here I would say they are starting to realize what stalking is.
3.  Tracy Bahm
 According to the National Sexual Victimization of College Women study, 13 of college women were stalked in a 6 month time period, so stalking is very prevalent on campuses! It can be hard to distinguish between the scarydangerous stalker & the incompetent suitor who just doesn't really know the rules of dating. We feel all stalking should be taken seriously, as it can escalate quickly. I do think the online databases like facebook are really dangerous. Young people (well... and some of us older folks too) don't realize the danger they put themselves in when they give out that kind of personal information to whoever can get online! I think the key to this is education! Lots of training is still desperately needed in the field!
What one thing would you tell a stalking victim when her stalker is getting out of prison?
1.  Tracy Bahm
 You might want to consult with a law enforcement officer or someone who specializes in personal safety. I always talk about having the contingency plan... what will you do if you run into him at (blank). Making the victim visualize it & think thru how she will respond. There may be some situations where she can scream, use a personal alarm, or run. Others where she'll have to negotiate her way out, and may want to discretely dial 911 on a cell phone, others where she may need to use pepper spray or other self-defense tactics... it really depends on the situation, and I'm not the expert on that!
2.  Heather
 Many times saftey plans are used for prevention and planning, but what sort of tools can I equip a stalking victim with to use should she come face to face with her stalker. (i.e. actions if she felt she could not make a scene in a public setting, responses/behaviors, etc)
3.  Tracy Bahm
 I would tell her to do everything she can to make herself safe! Safety planning is absolutely necessary! She should stay in a safe place, make sure everyone around her knows what is going on, and make sure her friends & family know where she is at all times. I'd also highly recommend her connecting with the stalker's probation or parole officer to be able to report any violations & be updated on his progress in their eyes.
How frequent is stalking occurring with teenagers?
1.  Heather
 As a victim advocate who works with victims of juvenile crimes, I can say that if stalking is happening among teens (which I'm sure it is) it's not being reported as such. I think teens need to be made aware of what constitutes stalking so they can report it if they believe it is happening to them.
2.  Tracy Bahm
 We have an article on our website discussing stalking among teens: www.ncvc.orgsrc. There isn't a great deal of research on this, but from the research that does exist and from the professionals in the field we know it is increasing! It is a hard time for teens, as they learn the rules of dating & what is appropriate vs. inappropriate dating behavior. However, crossing the line into stalking should never be acceptable or tolerated, and every school should have a policy for dealing with stalking so victims have the support they need.
How can I reduce the fear of a victim of stalking? Is it possible? I am the Domestic Violence Liaison Officer for the 23rd Police District, Chicago Police Dept. Thanks
1.  Tony Niemotka
 TracyLibby...sorry, I put Dr. Liski in the author box by mistake...thanks for your do I find your response back to me...Tony
2.  Dr. Liski
 Libby, thanks for your info. Another person also suggested safety planning. I need to talk more this in my seminars. As I mentioned to other person, many officers will continue to make the case reports Violation Order of Protection rather than Stalking, especially if it even occurs two or more times. Trying to get them to change their thinking. Stalking can be a more serious crime and the sentence more severe. Only then the offenders might stop. Thanks Again, Tony
3.  Dr. Liski
 Tracy, thanks loads for your advice. I've been working in the area of DV for about 22yrs, and (FYI) I have noticed as I read the case reports many officers will continue to make everything a Violation of Order of Protection, when they need to start making the case reports Stalking. Yes, I know they need to be trained (I'm working on it). They are getting more training in DV than ever before. Anyway, I like the idea of the safety plan and will use more in my seminars
4.  Tracy Bahm
 Counseling victims on how to get the stalker to stop implies that she can control the stalker, which is virtually never true. Any contact, on the other hand, is likely to keep the stalker interested. We often say that if you ignore 50 calls and then answer call 51, he's just learned that it takes 51 calls to reach you, and that persistence pays off. Victims need to safety plan for the short term, for when law enforcement are intervening, but also for the long term, because even if convicted they will get out eventually.
5.  Libby Mustaine
 Regarding this, is the key to responding to stalking victims more of a safety planning one (because stalkers just won't stop their behaviors until they are caught by law enforcement), and the idea is to keep victims safe while the case is investigated and the offender is arrested. Or is it a way to counsel stalking victims in ways to respond to their stalkers that work to get the stalker to desist?
6.  Tracy Bahm
 First, you need to acknowledge that if the victim is being stalked, the fear is real & appropriate. Next, strategic safety planning is the key. You can find more info about safety planning on our website. It should involve law enforcement, advocates, and the victim (at a minimum). And, as an officer, you should investigate stalking as you do any other serious criminal offense... putting it together like a puzzle will allow you to hold the offender accountable, which is a great step towards victim safety.
7.  Ann Dapice
 Enforce the stalking law of your state and the maximim penalty.
Besides having the victim journal and/or record stalking incidents, such as date, time, and circumstances or having them save telephone messages or letters, what else can we have them do to assist in being able to convince law enforcement that stalking IS occuring?
1.  Tracy Bahm
 You've hit on a lot of great tools. We especially strongly recommend using a stalking log (you can find one on our website: www.ncvc.orgsrc). The other thing is that stalking is all about context... understanding the meaning or the purpose behind the stalking behavior. Often, the behavior will seem benign to the outside observer, but has a great deal of significance to the stalker and the victim. If you can work with the victim to ascertain & understand the behavior, then help her to communicate it to law enforcement, that should go a long way toward convincing law enforcement that it is happening & that it is serious. Law enforcement officers want to do the right thing, but we have a long way to go in training them about the nuiances of stalking & how they can better assist stalking victims.
Should a stalking victim confront their stalker? If so, what venue is best and safest? If no, what should they do instead?
1.  Tracy Bahm
 Absolutely NOT! Stalkers are unpredictable and can be very dangerous! It is not a good idea for a victim to confront a stalker. If there is truly a question as to whether the contact is unwanted or not, a letter via an attorney or law enforcement is a good way to answer it for sure. But, usually, there isn't any such question, and contact is exactly what the stalker wants... whether positive or negative. Instead, a victim should report stalking to the police and allow them to intervene and consider seeking protection from the courts.
Even though Maine has a stalking law on the books, some of our local Prosecutors are not prosecuting this offense due to their belief that it is often too hard to substantiate. Are there any published "Best Practices" or suggestions for Prosecutors to be able to prosecute stalking cases more effectively. I work for a DV agency and would love to bring some resources to our next Task Force mtg.
1.  Sandy Bromley
 Please go to our website at: and click on Stalking Resource Center. The registration for our conference is on the front page for the Stalking Resource Center.
2.  Tracy Bahm
 You can register for the Atlanta training on our website: www.ncvc.orgsrc. You can also register for the Los Angeles Training Institute thru our general website:
3.  Inv. Hammond
 How would one go about registering for the upcoming training class in Atlanta?
4.  Tracy Bahm
 First, all the state stalking laws are on our website, so anyone can look their law up: www.ncvc.orgsrc.Without taking the time to look at Maine's law right now (sorry... but you can call us later and we can discuss it further if you want), I do have to say that many of the state stalking laws are very difficult to prosecute under! Some require proof of a threat, some require proof of the stalker's specific intent, some require that the victim fear death or serious bodily injury.... all things that are hard for a prosecutor to prove. Again, I think the key is training. We provide training around the country, using prosecutors & law enforcment all the time! In fact, we have a training in Atlanta at the end of March on Investigating and Prosecuting Stalking cases. You might try to attend, and bring some prosecutors with you!
Nationally, what is the policy on stalking? Since they say law enforcement take it seriously, yet when approached they are not taking it seriously.
1.  Tracy Bahm
 Well, there isn't any national policy on stalking... but it is illegal in every state and under federal law, so it should be taken seriously everywhere. Unfortunately, most of the stalking laws are only 10 years old or so, so we still have a lot of work to do to educate the public (including law enforcement) about what stalking is & how to properly investigate & prosecute stalking cases. I posted a minute ago about our conference in March, and should also tell you that there are 2 training opportunities in California next month: in San Diego Feb 9-10 (contact the family justice center there for more info) and in Los Angeles at our training institute (see our website for more info). I can't say enough how important good training on the topic of stalking is!
What are ways to assist the victim in taking threats seriously? Are protection orders effective?
1.  Tracy Bahm
 Victims need to know that all stalking has the potential for danger. The Femicide study found 76 of women who were murdered by an intimate partner had been stalked by the murderer before their death. It is very serious. Protection orders are only as good as the enforcement that accompanies them. I'm a proponent of them, as it give law enforcement and prosecutors the tools to act quickly on a case. But, they are not made out of kevlar (bullet-proofing), so victims should not be given a false sense of security from them. Safety planning is crucial! We've all heard the awful stories of victims who were murdered right after their abuserstalker was served with a protection order... it can be the final straw for a stalker. Listen to the victim about her safety level, and help her understand her options, and the risks that she is facing.
In the media, we see that celebrities get protection orders and that law enforcement are on their case, yet working in the field we don't see that kind of response. Is this the norm?
1.  Tracy Bahm
 I think the norm is better than that, but that we still have a long way to go to get to where we need to be with holding stalkers accountable. Generally, I think it is a training issue. Celebrities get stalked often, but the vast majority of victims are not celebrities. We all benefit, however, from more attention on the issue, as it creates great opportunities for education! I'm so glad we are doing this web forum, for example, during Stalking Awareness Month!
Is there an association between Personality Disorders and current psychological profiles of stalkers?
1.  D. Lisak
 This is not my direct area of research. However, my understanding is that to the limited extent that stalkers can be said to have any type of profile, the personality disorders that are most likely to be manifested are narcissistic and borderline personality disorders. Such personality disorders, however, in no way suggest any degree of insanity or even mental illness. They are simply descriptive of longstanding, maladaptive personality features.
In your opinion, what what enhances the violence in a stalker?
1.  Tracy Bahm
 Changes that the victim makes can also affect it! For example, if the stalker's typical outlet is to call the victim, we do NOT recommend she disconnect that phone number! The Seattle Police Department found that 100 percent of the cases they handled where the victim disconnected the phone number that the stalker used escalated into in-person contacts. The better advice is to get a new phone number but keep the old one connected with an answering machine collecting the evidence. All that said, victims need to make changes to make themselves safe... but keep in mind that stalkers are unpredictable & controlling, and don't take changes to the status quo well.
2.  nradcliffe
 So the change in the status quo that you mentioned... You went on to mention changes for the stalker but that also seems to be true for the person being stalked (for example changing her phone number). Is it a matter of angering a stalker or lack of control or both (or more)?
3.  Tracy Bahm
 Stalkers are generally unpredictable and can be violent at any time. However, any change in the status quo can be a trigger for violence... like the stalker losing a job, being served with a protection order, etc. So, victims need to safety plan around such things.
Dr. David Lisak has done some amazing research on rapists & how they stalk their victims. Perhaps he can tell us more about this.
1.  nradcliffe
 Are you suggesting, then, that prosecutors should also charge with stalking - when they can?
2.  D. Lisak
 One of the interesting yields from looking at non-stranger sexual assault through the lens of stalking is a fresh view of the grooming behavior that serial sexual predators use. There are typically many steps between the selection of the victim and the ultimate attack, and these steps are very much like those taken by stalkers. When the victim of a sexual assault realizes that they have been groomed and are in the process of being assaulted, all of those seemingly ordinary grooming behaviors that preceded the assault then snap into focus and cause profound fear in the victim. That fear fulfills the legal requirement to turn the grooming behavior into stalking behavior.
How does personal stalking fit with internet predator stalking?
1.  D. Lisak
 I agree with Tracy. Some predators will use the internet primarily because of a predeliction; others not at all. However, predators, in general, are quite flexible and diverse in their tactics and it can be risky to label them.
2.  Tracy Bahm
 They are all predators of one type or another... the internet is just another method for stalkers to terrorize victims.
Hi. I have two questions. First, What are the most current recommendations for stalking victims related to cutting off contact with their stalkers? Second, is there any current/additional research on red flags when assessing risk in stalking cases? Thank you very much!
1.  Tracy Bahm
 I discussed the first question in an earlier reply... I don't think victims should ever do this in person if there is ANY question of safety involved. Usually, there really isn't a question about the relationship being over, the stalker just uses that as a ploy to continue to contact the victim. Regarding the second one, there is a lot of information about threat assessment out there. We have several articles on it on our website, and each of the trainings I mentioned (in fact almost all of our stalking confernences) include threat assessment in them. Come to San Diego, Los Angeles, or Atlanta to learn more!
What about when stalker s reappear after a period of no contact? Are you aware of research about what prompts this "reactivation"?
1.  Tracy Bahm
 Unfortunately, this is a fairly common phenomenon... whether it is because the victim disappeared for a time and the stalker just found her, or whether the stalker was otherwise occupied (by another relationship, jail, whatever), we find that it happens a fair amount. Stalking is generally about obsession, and the obsession is not easily broken. I hope we will see more research about this in the future!
Do you have any numbers concerning the ratio between rapes following stalking? Also any idea if caught how many rapes have been stopped?
1.  D. Lisak
 I'm not aware of any statistics on how many stalking cases end in rape. Anecdotally, however, it is clear that there is a link. Most rape victims don't report completed assaults, and the same is true for thwarted ones, so we have little insight into that. The serial rape cases that I have worked on have all included a percentage of victims who thwarted their attacker, so it seems safe to assume that only a percentage of a rapist's assaults are successful.
How often do stalkers sexual assault the person they are stalking? How often do perpetrators of sexual assault stalk their victims after the assault?
How does a victim assess the level of dangerousness of a stalker (i.e., what indicators might be present when a stalker is close to crossing the line from "stalking" to assault?
1.  Tracy Bahm
 I recommend working with professionals on this... using some sort of threat assessment tool if possible. As I've indicated, stalkers are unpredictable, and victims should NOT play the odds in this... they should always go with whatever will make them safer.
Although we have clients that keep logs, record tag numbers, and call when the stalker is active, law enforcement (and judges) ask for more proof. What else can we do to assist arrest and prosecution for stalking?
Knowing the difficulties in prosecuting stalking cases, what's the best way to encourage a victim of stalking to report when her safety can not be assured and threats have been made against her?
1.  Tracy Bahm
 That is a great question. The only thing I can say is that stalking does not generally just go away. So, if the victim doesn't go to law enforcement, what options are there for stopping the stalking? Generally, someone needs to intervene, and I think it is best to come from the professionals... law enforcement and prosecutors.
My name is Daniel Friend and I am currently a graduate student working with Dr. Jennifer Freyd and Dr. Gordon Hall at the University of Oregon. I was wondering what your thoughts were on the use of dissociation in perpetrators. To me it seems that a state-dependent dissociative ability can be used to disengage empathetic mechanisms. This would also effect memory for the event. Something I do not believe is very adequately addressed in neither the literature nor clinic settings.
1.  D. Lisak
 Hello and please say hi to Jennifer. I have evaluated many murderers who were quite clearly in varying types and degrees of dissociated states during the commission of their crimes. In all of these cases, the murderers had significant trauma histories, and in many there was substantial evidence of dissociative tendencies or episodes in the past. So I do think that your hypothesis has merit. Among many of the non-stranger rapists I have evaluated, there is a clear ability to turn off empathy -- that is, the part of empathy that requires emotional resonance with the other person. I'm not sure whether this can be described or attributed to dissociation, or whether it is simply a human capacity of some other description. It is certainly a very worthwhile area to study. Best of luck!
Dr. Lisak, I am interested in the connection between stranger sexual assault and stalking. Are you aware of any research relating to how stranger rapist follow or surveil their targets beforehand? (Stalking is following and surveillance in our state.) I'm looking for info to provide police detectives to assist them in investigating cases. Thanks
1.  Tracy Bahm
 The FBI has done some research on this and the results are strikingly similar to Dr. Lisak's findings. Basically, rapists, whether stranger or non-stranger, all seem to engage in some stalking-type behaviors.
2.  D. Lisak
 I am not aware of any formal research. However, there are case studies and reports scattered throughout the forensic literature that would certainly be helpful. Serial rapists typically develope a routine that often involves a degree of stalking andor surveillance of their targets. For example, I worked on a case in New Mexico in which the rapist focused on a particular neighborhood where many young women lived, either alone or in pairs. He would case out several houses, observe living patterns, peep through windows, test window locks; and often he would enter the house of his intended victim ahead of time to check for emergency exits or disable a lock. This rapist may have been somewhat down the spectrum in terms of such surveillance, but I don't think he was all that atypical. I think the best you could do in terms of research would be to collect such cases.
Do you believe that there is a correlation between sexual assault and addiction?
1.  Lauren
 I was actually curious more on if you feel that the sexual assault in itself is a form of addiction. If you feel that they may have that kind of obsession and compulsion that goes along with it.
2.  D. Lisak
 I'm not sure if this question refers to sexual assault victims, or the perpetrators. There is no evidence of any type of serious mental illness among perpetrators of sexual assault, and this would include substance abuse. Many sex offenders are hyper-sexual; they compulsively engage in a variety of sexual behaviors (pornography consumption; masturbation; etc.). I don't think that I, personally, would see this as addiction, however.
Is there any way to tell if a stalker's behavior will become lethal? Is there a risk assessment tool that can be utilized?
1.  Tracy Bahm
 I don't think is any real predictor of ifwhen a stalker's behavior will become lethal. We do know that there are some warning signs. Changes in the status quo are one... service of an order, loss of a job, law enforcement contact, victim gets a new boyfriend, etc. There are lots of different tools out there that can assist in the overall risk assessment & safety planning process. We don't endorse any particular one, but do think it is a good idea to use them to assist you in your work. Never let such a tool replace your (or the victim's) instincts and common sense.
I may have missed it, but it seems that most of these discussions concern stalkers and victims that are unknown to their stalkers. I was wondering the characteristics that describe a stalker that knows their victims. At what point does stalking become sexual harassment? Can a stalker be someone you "happen" to see at work everyday, but has more stalker tendencies than sexual assault tendencies?
1.  D. Lisak
 Stalkers can not only be someone familiar, a coworker, etc., but statistically they most often are. However, it is very difficult to ascertain what a stalker's tendencies or intentions are; and it can be potentially dangerous making assumptions about those tendencies. Many rapists, for example, engage in extensive behaviors that can be seen as stalking and harassment and that precede the ultimate sexual attack. Perhaps the safest lens to view all of these types of inter-related behaviors is that they predatory.
2.  Tracy Bahm
 First, the vast majority of stalking does occur between people who know each other. I'm sorry if I've the impression otherwise. 77% of female victims and 64% of male victims are stalked by someone they know. Unfortunately, there is no profile of a stalker, and the behaviors that stalkers engage in can be quite varied (we often say that it is only limited by the imagination of the stalker)... including sexual behaviors.
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