The effect of stalking behavior on psychological well being of women

Stalking is a behavior, not a Psychological disorder. Where psychological disorders play a vital role in stalking, the contribution differs hugely depending on the nature of the symptoms, the context in which they are experienced, and the role of other personal and environmental factors. Stalking is determined as a willful course of conduct involving perennial or continued harassment created against the expressed needs of another individual, which causes that individual to feel emotional distress including fear, harassment, intimidation or apprehension.

Thus, virtually any unwanted contact between a stalker and their victim which directly or indirectly communicates a threat or places the victim in fearful state can typically be referred as stalking. So, even the ones living in their safe homes are not safe from stalking, most of times, they are also likely to face stalkery on social media with the misuse of technology by perpetrators as quoted in a research review by Henry, N., & Powell, A. (2018).

Perpetrators living with a wide variety of mental disorders, such as with psychosis often are more tilted to stalking behavior. Seeking or resentful motivations, with personality disorders, depression and substance abuse are common amongst those with rejected, resentful, and predatory motivations. Stalkers who are classified as incompetent suitors (those whose stalking is an inept attempt to get a date), sometimes present with development disorders such as intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder, with staking being a repercussion of amiable skills shortfall associated with these disorders.

Amongst Predatory stalkers, paraphilia (disorders of sexual attraction) may play a role in motivating the stalking behavior. In many cases, stalkers with multiple mental disorders, or some primary disorder, accompanied by specific personality traits are linked to the stalking behavior, but are not sufficient for a diagnosis of personality disorder. #MeToo movement has brought sexual harassment and assault against women into the spotlight as never before, female groups with such issues and facing mental health issues have become motivated to gain confidence to report such unacceptable distraught human behavior. The word ‘stalking’ was not commonly known in India, until Priyadharshini Mattoo’s case (1996) got widely covered. Eve teasing, a common word for all gender harassment is popularly known and Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Eve-Teasing Act, 1998 of that was developed after the brutal killing of a girl named Sarika Shah in Chennai. Though, stalking was there in the past, but this terminology was not acknowledged and it was always merged with Eve teasing. On the other hand, stalking is much graver than Eve teasing and it is an obsessive behavior. After the Matoo’s case, the Indian Criminal Justice System awoke and the National Commission for Women became ready with a draft Bill (Sexual Assault Prevention Bill) to make the Indian Penal Code more effective against the menace of stalkers.

Stalking can immensely affect and have major consequences in the ongoing life of targeted victims. Researchers have consistently shown that being stalked can produce post-traumatic stress, whether it is in-person stalking or the online equivalent. Even when dealing with cyber-stalking alone, studies found that victims are far more likely to be suffering from depressive and somatic symptoms, sleep problems, and a lower well-being than non-victims. Victims are also far more likely to take defensive actions, such as taking time off from work or school, changing jobs or schools, and even moving away from family and friends to avoid contact with their stalker and sometimes even worse conditions can take place for both the victim and the family members which can cause the victim to commit suicide due to depression and not being able to live their lives with freedom and complete mental peace.

Therefore, the psychological impact of stalking behavior may differ in nature, depending on victim’s attributes, past experiences, present situations and knowledge about the stalker and being stalked. Reporting of the crime and asking for help can also interfere with other’s responses and reactions to the victim’s situation and how stalking is being managed by officials also plays part. As evident from Karuppannan JAISHANKAR, Puthisigamani KOSALAI’s research, despite the complexities that may vary on individual’s experience and reaction to being stalked, victims have demonstrated some common patterns of responses.

Although not exhaustive, some of the more common effects that victims of stalking experience are denial, confusion, self-doubt, questioning if what is happening is unreasonable, wondering if they are over-reacting, frustration ,guilt, embarrassment, self-blame, apprehension, fear, terror of being alone or that they, their close ones or pets will be harmed, feeling isolated and helpless to stop the harassment, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia, difficulty concentrating, attending and remembering things, inability to sleep – nightmares, ruminating, irritability, anger, homicidal thoughts, emotional numbing, Post-traumatic Stress disorder e.g. hyper-vigilance (always on the lookout), flashbacks of frightening incidents, easily startled, insecurity and inability to trust others, problems with intimacy, personality changes due to becoming more suspicious, introverted or aggressive, self-medication alcohol/ drugs or using prescribed medications, suicidal thoughts and/or suicide attempts.

We live in a rapidly developing era of technological advances inclusive of anonymity and paranoia leading into heightening surveillance, due to which potential opportunities for unwanted pursuing are greater.

Notwithstanding, with appropriate, legal, political, and social will and desire, such undesirable behavior can be terminated. As mental health professionals, we need to be able to contribute in greater ways of understanding the psychosocial aspects related to the potential victims and perpetrators, the acts, and the consequences so that one can find better solutions and potentially eradicate this menace.

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