Understanding and Countering Stalkers
By TorchStone Vice Presidents, Malique Carr, PH.D. and Scott Stewart
On May 11, singer Billie Eilish obtained a restraining order against a fan who had repeatedly approached her residence, TMZ reported. According to TMZ, the fan traveled to Los Angeles from New York and approached her residence seven times over a period of two days. The man was confronted by security numerous times and yet was not deterred. He was even arrested by police twice for trespassing before being cited and released. Eventually, the police placed him on a bus bound for New York.
This case is, unfortunately, quite typical for celebrities—especially female celebrities—who frequently receive unwanted attention from stalkers. But stalkers fixated on the famous are only one type of stalker that security personnel may encounter. Stalking is surprisingly common, and most victims are ordinary people, not stars. According to a 2018 update of The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, nearly 1 in 6 women (16.0%, or 19.1 million) and about 1 in 17 (5.8% or 6.4 million) men in the U.S. report that they have been victims of stalking at some point in their lifetime—and this is just reported incidents, so the true figure is likely even higher.
Because of the prevalence of stalking, we’d like to examine some of the different types of stalkers as well as examine ways that security teams can use the principles of protective intelligence to detect, prevent and mitigate the harm they can cause.
First, let’s define stalking. The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center defines stalking as: “A pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” While some stalkers will commit illegal acts such as making a threat or trespassing, many of the behaviors commonly associated with stalking, such as unsolicited telephone calls or text messages, loitering near the victim’s home, or even sending the victim gifts—are not illegal. But in most stalking laws, it is the repetition of such actions, when they are unwanted and cause fear in the victim, that serves to make this pattern of behavior illegal.
There is no universally accepted classification system to describe the various types of stalkers. However, the classification system outlined by Paul E. Mullen, Michele Pathé and Rosemary Purcell in their book Stalkers and their Victims, (published by Cambridge University Press in 2000), provides a useful framework. In Stalkers and their Victims, the authors outline five stalking modes: 1. Rejected; 2. Resentful; 3. Intimacy seeking; 4. Incompetent suitor; and 5. Predatory.
- Rejected stalking results from the breakdown of a close relationship. The relationship that leads to stalking behavior is usually a sexually intimate one, although family members, close friends, and others who severed a close relationship with the stalker can also be targeted.
- Resentful stalking arises in cases in which the stalker believes they have been mistreated, humiliated, or suffered an injustice. The mistreatment that sparks the stalking can be real, or the result of a delusional or paranoid belief. Resentment can arise from several sources such as being fired, bullied, or as the result of a legal dispute or customer service issue. In these cases, the stalkers often view themselves as victims and typically stalk the person who wronged them in an attempt to rectify or validate the perceived wrongdoing. Stalking is not the end goal in these cases, it is something that is done as part of the effort to seek revenge for the stalkers’ grievance.
- Intimacy Seeking stalking results from the stalker’s perception (or more often misperception) of an intimate relationship with the victim. Victims can be strangers or acquaintances who become the target of the stalker’s desire for a relationship. Intimacy Seeking stalkers’ behavior is often the result of a mental health issue involving delusions such as erotomania, a belief that the stalker is in a relationship with the victim, when they are not.
- Incompetent Suitor stalking also happens in the context of seeking a relationship and can target strangers or acquaintances. As the name implies, the incompetent suitor stalker is frequently someone who has inappropriate social skills that hamper their ability to establish a relationship. They normally do not exhibit the delusions frequently associated with intimacy seeking stalkers. Incompetent suitors usually only stalk for brief periods of time.
- Predatory stalking is normally associated with deviant sexuality. Predatory stalkers are almost always male, and their victims are usually female strangers in whom the stalker develops a sexual interest. The stalking behavior is usually initiated as a way of obtaining sexual gratification either through voyeurism or sexual assault. Predatory stalkers also enjoy the power and control they can hold over their unsuspecting victims. In some cases, the intent of the predatory stalker is to make the victim fearful and obtain gratification from watching them suffer rather than sexually assaulting the victim.
With this framework to help us categorize the motivation of different types of stalkers, let’s turn our attention to how these stalkers are likely to manifest themselves to security and protective intelligence teams.
Rejected stalkers may be seen at or near their victim’s workplace as it is a known location where their victim is likely to be at a specific time. This is especially true in cases where a victim takes efforts to hide the location of their residence from the person stalking them, thus making the workplace an even more important location for the stalker. According to 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 40 percent of the women killed at work were murdered by a relative or partner, more than any other cause of workplace deaths for women. In a high-profile 2018 case, an emergency room doctor at Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago was gunned down in the emergency room by her former fiancé who was angry about her breaking off their engagement. The gunman also shot and killed a pharmacist and a responding Chicago police officer before being shot dead himself.
Rejected stalkers are difficult to deter through warnings or restraining orders. In many cases, the restraining order serves as a further act of rejection by the victim, and often serves to trigger violence rather than defuse the situation. This doesn’t make restraining orders a bad idea in every case as its sometimes necessary to obtain them in order to establish a paper trail to support legal proceedings. But obtaining a restraining order in these cases is a very nuanced situation that must be carefully assessed and planned for. Rejected stalkers frequently conduct physical attacks against their victims. According to a 1998 study by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control, Stalking in America: Findings from the national violence against women survey, 81% of women who were stalked by a current or former husband or cohabitating partner were also physically assaulted by that partner.
Corporate security may not learn that an employee is being targeted by a rejected stalker unless the employee, the employee’s manager or someone else alerts them to the danger. In many cases in which a rejected stalker has attacked his or her victim in the workplace, security was not aware the employee was being stalked. This is often due to embarrassment or shame on the part of the victim. It is thus important that workplace violence training include information on stalkers and the importance of reporting them to corporate security. In cases where the victim has alerted security, protective intelligence teams and law enforcement can monitor stalker communications for threats, or other indications the stalker is progressing along the pathway to violence toward an attack. Be on the lookout (BOLO) alerts for stalkers to access control and exterior patrol personnel are also useful, although care should be taken to protect the privacy and identity of the victim where possible.
Since rejected stalkers are often fixated on their target, and normally possess little in the way of surveillance tradecraft, they are usually quite vulnerable to detection. They operate near the victim’s workplace as they progress through their attack cycle, tend to lurk, and display hostile or otherwise bad demeanor.
Some people contend that resentful stalkers are not as dangerous as other categories, but there is evidence to dispute this claim. There may not have be as many cases of resentful stalkers committing attacks as there are rejected stalkers, but there nevertheless have been numerous high-profile resentful stalker cases. In May of 2015, an angry ex-empployee of American Iron Works murdered the company’s CEO, his wife, their 10-year-old son and housekeeper before setting the family’s upscale Washington DC home on fire. The killer, who was fired from the company in 2005, was arrested in 2010 after being found lurking outside of the company’s headquarters building armed with a BB gun and a machete, demonstrating a continued hostile interest in the company. Despite this history, the killer was able to stalk the CEO, follow him to his residence and then conduct the detailed surveillance required to determine the household’s patterns of behavior required to launch his attack.
In June 2018, a man armed with a shotgun blasted through the glass front door to the newsroom at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland. As he stepped through the shattered door, he began to methodically shoot the newspaper’s employees, pausing only to reload. He killed five and seriously wounded two others before police arrived and he surrendered. Without the quick police response — the first unit on the scene reportedly arrived within a minute — he probably would have killed many more. Ironically, the murderer’s grievance against the newspaper began over their coverage of a court case in which he was convicted in 2011 of repeatedly harassing a woman on social media. The killer sued the newspaper for defamation in 2012, and the lawsuit was dismissed in 2013. He appealed, but an appellate court eventually upheld the dismissal in 2015. He also filed lawsuits against the county judge who ruled against him in the newspaper case and the woman he pleaded guilty to harassing. He furthermore made a long string of threats against the newspaper leading up to the attack and had a long history of stalking and harassing the newspaper staff, the newspaper’s lawyers and even judges who ruled against him in court. He frequently posted disturbing and threatening images and statements on social media and sent threatening letters. The killer also conducted extensive surveillance of the newspaper’s office and locked the back door to the office with a chain before launching his attack to prevent victims from escaping.
Because of cases like these, it is critical for protective intelligence teams to track the correspondence and activities of people who hold a grudge and have a demonstrated focus of interest in the company or company employees, and especially so for those who have a pattern of stalking behavior. This correspondence should be examined for threats, escalating language or indications that the stalker is progressing down a pathway of violence.
Intimacy Seeking Stalkers
Intimacy-seeking stalkers, in their quest for intimacy, often attempt to have frequent contact with their victims. They do tend to be less violent than rejected or resentful stalkers. In some cases, however, it appears that it is possible for an intimacy-seeking stalker to become a rejected stalker because of a delusion that they did have a relationship. A good example of an intimacy-seeking stalker becoming a dangerous resentful stalker involved Japanese pop star Mayu Tomita who in May of 2016 was critically injured when an attacker stabbed her 61 times in the head, neck, and torso as she arrived at a venue prior to a concert.
Tomita’s assailant was an obsessed fan who had messaged her on Twitter and via her blog. He admitted at his trial that he had wanted to marry the singer. The adoration Tomita’s assailant felt for her quickly turned to rage when the gifts he sent to her were returned unopened. This sense of rejection caused him to send Tomita some 400 threatening tweets, which led the singer to contact police 15 days before she was attacked. In a message sent in mid-March the attacker wrote: “It would be radical to kill just because (someone was) rejected by a girl.” The police dismissed the threats as harmless, and Tomita was not provided with any protection. On the day of the attack she rode the subway from her apartment to the concert venue (a known location) and was confronted by her attacker as she walked from the subway to the venue.
As illustrated by the Tomita case, it is very important to track communications from intimacy-seeking stalkers for signs that they are becoming angry and resentful over being rejected by the object of their adoration.
Incompetent Suitor Stalkers
Incompetent suitor stalkers tend to be socially awkward but do not suffer from the erotomanic delusions of intimacy-seeking stalkers or the deviant sexuality of predatory stalkers. Because of this, they tend to only stalk for a brief period and are normally unaware of the distress their behavior is causing their victim. Incompetent suitors rarely turn violent and can usually be dissuaded by the intervention of an authority figure. They will often then move on to a new interest/target. In a workplace setting, intervention by a manager, HR or corporate security is ordinarily enough to end the behavior.
Predatory stalkers are rarer than the other types of stalkers, but they pose a challenge for security because of their anonymity and the danger they pose to the victim because of their deviant sexual desires. They often stalk female strangers or a casual acquaintance and have no previous intimate relationship with the victim like a rejected stalker. Also, unlike intimacy-seeking stalkers and incompetent suitors, they do not self-identify to the victim. Some predatory stalkers attempt to conceal their stalking behavior until they can complete their attack cycle and launch a sexual assault against the victim. Others may reveal subtle clues of their presence to the victim as a way of exercising their sense of dominance, power, and control by creating fear in their victims. However, predatory stalkers rarely reveal their identity to their victim. The pathway to violence model can apply to other types of stalkers but is not applicable to predatory stalker cases. They have normally already decided to plan an attack before they select a suitable victim. Predatory stalkers are often sadistic and conduct brutal sexual assaults on their victims – frequently murdering them after the assault.
Predatory stalkers tend to be more calculating and methodical than other types of stalkers, and since they tend to be serial stalkers, they often possess more experience and better surveillance tradecraft. The Sept. 2019 sexual assault of another female Japanese pop star highlights the sophistication and focus demonstrated by predatory stalkers. The predatory stalker, in this case, meticulously studied photos the singer was posting on social media and noticed the reflection of the exterior of the train station in her eyes in one of the photos. Using Google street view, the stalker identified the train station in the photo and conducted surveillance on the station until he encountered the singer there. He then followed her back to her apartment, where he attacked her.
Predatory stalkers often hide their true nature under a façade of normality, and it frequently catches people who know them by complete surprise. Because of this, they may not exhibit menacing or hostile demeanor while they are conducting surveillance on their victims, and those looking for them may need to focus on very slight demeanor hits or on other factors to detect them.
Speaking of other factors to detect surveillance, the U.S. government trainers use the acronym TEDD when teaching people to recognize surveillance, and this concept also applies to surveillance conducted by stalkers. TEDD stands for Time, Environment, Distance, and Demeanor (some people add a third D for direction.) So, demeanor aside, the logic is that if a target sees the same person at different times, in different environments, and over distance, it is likely that they are surveilling (or stalking) the target. It may be difficult for security team members to corollate observing the same people over time, environment, and distance, so databasing of observations is critical. Other technological tools such as automated license plate reader systems (where legal) may also help identify this behavior.
Stalkers do pose a serious challenge, but with the proper training, security and protective intelligence teams can work together with employees, people managers, human resources, legal and other corporate stakeholders to protect employees against the various types of stalkers and the threats they pose.