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What Type of Woman Stalks Men?

Research reveals the details of unwanted pursuit.

Key points

  • Research reveals the typical female stalker tends to be single, in her mid-30s, divorced or separated, with a psychiatric diagnosis.
  • The most dangerous subgroup of female stalkers comprises those who stalk ex-sexual partners.
  • The most frequent motive behind a stalking campaign is the desire for a relationship—either to form one or rekindle a past relationship.

You may have heard the exclamation from a friend upon finding an unexpected note or gift on their car windshield from an ex-paramour. “Stalker!” But having prosecuted stalkers for over 20 years, I can tell you, that is not the definition. Stalking generally requires a repeated pattern of behavior coupled with a credible threat of harm.

Nonetheless, we are unnerved by unwanted attention, and unrequited affection. Legal remedies such as restraining orders or stay-away orders are available to address behavior that does not meet the legal definition of stalking.

Men are less likely to report being stalked than women, and some victims do not report at all because they do not recognize stalking behavior. And although statistically most stalkers are men and victims are women,[i] researchers are beginning to recognize the distinctive behaviors of women who stalk men.

"Nice Girls Don’t Stalk"

When we think of female stalkers, most of us remember movies like Fatal Attraction, where Glenn Close relentlessly pursues and terrorizes Michael Douglas, a married man with whom she had a weekend affair. But researchers have identified characteristics of female stalkers as revealed in actual cases rather than Hollywood productions.

J. Reid Meloy et al. (2011) in “The Female Stalker” studied 143 cases, gathered from law enforcement, prosecutorial, and entertainment corporate security files, using the definition of stalking behavior as “two or more unwanted contacts by a subject toward a target that created a reasonable fear in that target.” They describe the typical female stalker as a single woman in her mid-30s, either divorced or separated, who has a psychiatric diagnosis, most frequently a mood disorder. Unlike the stereotype of female stalkers perpetuated by the media, they point out that in fact, she is more likely to pursue a celebrity, stranger, or male acquaintance, rather than a prior sexual partner.

They note, however, that the existence of a prior relationship with the victim, whether sexually intimate or as an acquaintance, significantly increased the frequency of violence and threats. Indeed, Meloy et al. found that the most dangerous subgroup was female stalkers who stalked ex-sexual partners; most of them both threatened and were physically violent toward their victims. The least dangerous type of female stalker is the one who targeted Hollywood celebrities. (Remember the woman who repeatedly broke into David Letterman’s home, believing she was his wife?)[ii]

Compared with male counterparts, women stalkers were less violent or threatening and far less likely to have criminal histories. Regarding pursuit behavior, for women, it was less proximity-based, and in terms of communications, they were described as more benign than male stalkers.

But why do they do it at all?

Why Do Women Stalk Men?

Acquadro Maran et al. (2020) [iii] note that research has revealed that in most cases, men are stalked by women. They note that according to research findings, the most frequent motive behind a stalking campaign is the desire for a relationship—either to form one or rekindle a past relationship. Regarding the nature of past relationships that lead to stalking behavior, they note that most cases where the stalker was an ex-partner involved a history of reported abuse.

Anecdotally, many men report noticing red flags early on in a relationship—a propensity to unrealistic expectations, explosive or controlling behavior, an inability to handle rejection. Sometimes this behavior is downplayed or ignored, resulting in an escalation of increasingly inappropriate conduct.

Taken in combination with some of the empirically validated findings, stalking victims are encouraged to report their victimization. Many stalkers do not change their stripes, only the object of their obsession. Identifying stalkers early also may facilitate intervention strategies designed to interrupt the destructive pattern of behavior and prevent future victims.

Facebook image: yamasan0708/Shutterstock

References

[i] J. Reid Meloy, Ph.D. , Kris Mohandie, Ph.D. and Mila Green, Ph.D., “The Female Stalker,” Behavioral Sciences and the Law, (2011), DOI: 10.1002/bsl.976.

[ii] https://rare.us/people/margaret-mary-ray/.

[iii] Acquadro Maran, Daniela, Antonella Varetto, Ilenia Corona, and Maurizio Tirassa. 2020. “Characteristics of the Stalking Campaign: Consequences and Coping Strategies for Men and Women That Report Their Victimization to Police.” PLoS ONE 15 (2). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0229830.

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