Families help stalkers to pursue their victims

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The Independent Online

Four out of 10 stalkers are helped by their families and friends to harass their victims, the first national study of the disorder has discovered.

Four out of 10 stalkers are helped by their families and friends to harass their victims, the first national study of the disorder has discovered.

The report found that one-quarter of victims said their stalker had tried to murder them, one-third had been attacked, and half had threats of violence made against them. Two in five stalkers turned their attention to relatives and friends of their targets, exploding the myth that the crime is a secretive activity involving single victims.

The study of 95 victims of stalking in Britain found that some said their homes were bugged by their tormentors. The age of offenders ranged from 11 to 73.

In a second study of 400 cases, researchers identified four categories - ex-partner harassment, accounting for half of cases; infatuation, accounting for a quarter; sadistic stalkers; and delusional stalkers.

The research by the Univer-sity of Leicester's Department of Psychology is the most comprehensiveon the phenomenon, which has resulted in 2,200 convictions a year since legislation was introduced in 1997. The reports are due to be published later this year.

Among the most surprising findings of the first report - "The Course and Nature of Stalking: A Victim Perspective" - is that stalkers often prey on the friends and families of their victim. The report also says: "... stalkers do not always conduct their campaigns single handedly: 40 per cent of victims reported that their stalker was helped by family and/or friends.

"This is a surprising finding as the popular view of a stalker is of a lone and secretive individual.

"The finding that a similar number of stalkers [40 per cent] harassed members of victims' families deals a double blow to the popular image of stalking as a menacing game of cat and mouse perpetrated by an individual stalker toward a solitary target."

One victim recalled: "My stalker would telephone and visit my friends and family as much as he contacted me." Friends and families of respondents had been assaulted in 17 per cent of cases.

One-quarter of respondents reported having been the victim of a murder attempt by the stalker. The survivor of one attack said: "He almost strangled me, beat me, blacked my eye and threatened to burn me and my family to death with a gallon of petrol and matches."

Another said: "The safety of my daughter is my main concern. This man attempted to kill us both when she was only five weeks old. He also nearly managed to kidnap her when she was two. She is unable to play out with friends, and I dread the day she has to go to school."

Anti-stalking laws were introduced in 1997 in England and Wales under the Protection from Harassment Act. Cases include Perry Southall, 24, harassed by Clarence Morris, who was sentenced to 46months after he tried to contact her more than 200 times in eight months. The actor Helena Bonham Carter won a restraining order against a man who stalked her for several years.

Of the 95 victims, 7 per cent were men. The victims ranged in age from two to 70. About half were professional and clerical workers, or students. One had been stalked for 43 years. Many were forced out of their jobs; one said that she had had little choice but to "give up my job as he [the stalker] was my boss".

The offenders came from a higher socio-economic status than most of the criminals. In almost half the cases the stalker was an ex-partner of the victim, and in 12 per cent of cases he or she was a stranger.

The stalker would typically make contact with the victim several times a week at home, at work and in public. Victims were harassed via the telephone and were sent messages, even from prison. About one in 10 said their stalkers had bugged their homes.

One victim said: "All I did was act as a shoulder for him to cry on, and then ... the presents, flowers and letters started to arrive - sometimes 12 to 15 letters a day, plus gifts." Victims were left fearful and terrorised; one said: "I curtailed my social life to zero [for] six or eight months, have not been anywhere orreally spoken to anyone."

One-third of victims tried to take out a civil injunction to deter their stalker, but most were breached. Just over one-quarter of stalkers were convicted. All except one of the respondents felt that the support available for victims of stalking was inadequate.

In the bigger study of 400 victims the research team - Lorraine Sheridan, researcher in forensic psychology; Dr Julian Boon; and Professor Graham Davies - have drawn up advice on how to tackle the different types of offender.

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