It’s hard to imagine a more complex emotional menace than the multi-faceted threat that stalking can present.
It seems illogical therefore, that it is hardly ever discussed; much like domestic violence or rape in the past.
However, to the victim, this can be a highly traumatic experience, requiring legal intervention and even medical or psychiatric treatment in the worst cases.
Although stalking can take many forms; its common characteristic is one of unwanted and obsessive attention, and its goal is to cause emotional distress for the victim.
It can take place anywhere and at any time but is most effective when it infringes on a victim’s personal and private ‘safe’ spaces: the home, the workplace, shops, gyms or other places that the victim frequents. And let’s not forget cyber-stalking; invading a victim’s social networks, phone contacts, etc.
Some of the most terrible cases are carried out by a victim’s ex, who has knowledge of their most intimate details: friends, family members, workplace, routines and even the keys to their home.
In this case, the ex may enter the house whilst the victim is out, moving objects around, invading the victim’s most personal spaces and often making them question their own sanity: “Did I put that there?” “I’m sure that wasn’t there when I left the house this morning.”
Most of these examples are in fact not even crimes at all: anyone can walk in a park, wave ‘hello’ to someone or make an ‘innocent’ phone call, right? If a person was voluntarily given the keys to another’s property, they are not unlawfully entering, are they?
It is precisely this that makes it so distressing for the victim, being so difficult to prove and even more difficult for the authorities to act on.
This is made all the more painful, thanks to a lack of training and awareness of the emotional distress caused to victims, leading to many unfortunate failings by the police who tell victims that they can’t do anything until physical harm has been caused, for example.
We can only imagine the desperation felt by a victim who has finally plucked up the courage to go to the police – even suspecting the stalker will follow her (the overwhelming majority of stalking victims are female) there – to then leave, being told there is absolutely nothing they can do for her.
Duty of care
It’s also easy to see how stalking can become an extremely delicate issue for an employer.
In many cases, stalkers make false complaints about the victim to their employer, though it often involves a more subtle approach, with the victim being sent unwanted deliveries, receiving anonymous calls at work or even being followed to or from the workplace.
In such cases, the employer should consider their duty of care for their employee’s safety, especially as the stalking will inevitably force the victim to change their behaviour and routines, which could undoubtedly impact their concentration and productivity in the workplace. An early intervention by the employer can help to greatly reduce the impact of the stalking and the risk that it represents to the health and mental well-being of their employee.
Faced with numerous forms and effects of stalking, the employer has a difficult task on their hands. Communication and confidentiality are paramount, establishing a close liaison with the victim to discover what they want, laying out their options and working towards a suitable solution together.