Year : 2019 | Volume
: 35 | Issue : 1 | Page : 1--3
The concept of “Stalking” and its relevance to the existing phenomena of internet and social media
Abhijit R Rozatkar1, Nitin Gupta2,
1 Department of Psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India
2 Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College and Hospital, Chandigarh, India
Prof. Nitin Gupta
Government Medical College and Hospital, Chandigarh
|How to cite this article:|
Rozatkar AR, Gupta N. The concept of “Stalking” and its relevance to the existing phenomena of internet and social media.Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2019;35:1-3
|How to cite this URL:|
Rozatkar AR, Gupta N. The concept of “Stalking” and its relevance to the existing phenomena of internet and social media. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2019 [cited 2019 May 24 ];35:1-3
Available from: http://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2019/35/1/1/254996
Definition and Concept
Stalking has been variously defined by researchers and legal systems around the world. Generally, two accepted elements of stalking are (i) repetitive conduct by the perpetrator that (ii) induces a concern of harm to self in the victim. The conduct of the perpetrator can involve various methods (tactics) and patterns of use. Well-known tactics include surveillance (follow, watch, wait, etc.), life invasion (calling up, messaging, entering premises, bothering acquaintances of victim, etc.), intimidation (implicit or explicit threats to victim and their close ones, damage to property, etc.), and attack (ruining reputation, road rage, sexual assault, etc.). The pattern of stalking can be elaborated by the duration of stalking, intensity (number of different tactics and locations the stalker employs), and its frequency. Stalkers often deceive the victim's family and friends to divulge information of the victim as a part of their surveillance strategy (proxy stalking). The awareness of being under surveillance generates anxiety in the victim, thereby stalkers can pose a threat without even uttering a word. Studies have shown that anxiety experienced by the victims is significantly correlated with surveillance, pursuit, and threat tactics used by the stalker. Stalking can involve public humiliation, interference at work, and leisure activities (life sabotage) and on many occasions can involve the victims' family members, friends, and colleagues (collateral victims). Victims can feel incapable, inadequate, and frustrated. Nearly 30%–60% of stalking victims have reported threat of assault by the stalker, while lesser number of victims have reported actual assault. However, it also needs to be kept in perspective that about 2% of the victims may not actually have been stalked (false victimization syndrome).
Mullen et al. classified and validated a clinically oriented stalker classification system for risk assessment and management interventions. Under this classification, rejected stalkers are those who pursue the victim, usually a former partner, after the end of their relationship. The stalker harbors admixture of feelings (reconciliation and revenge) toward the victim and is more likely to assault. Intimacy-seeking stalkers believe that their relationship with the victim is in essence “true love” and are more likely to have erotomanic delusions. They are unaffected by legal sanctions and need psychiatric treatment. Incompetent stalkers are aware of the victim being disinterested in them, but have hopes that their behavior will eventually lead to a relationship. Resentful stalkers intend to frighten the victim as they feel that they have been wrongly aggrieved by them. People who suffer with paranoid personality or delusional disorders are frequently associated with this type. Predatory stalkers prepare for a sexual assault and are likely to suffer from paraphilias. Other alternative classifications/typology of stalking behavior that have been reported are Holmes typology and Sheridan and Boon typology., These typologies are based on the stalkers' (1) intent on forging a new relationship, (2) intent to harass or punish, and (3) motivation for power and control. Up to half of those indulging in stalking have some mental disorder, with substance use disorder and cluster A personalities being common.
Attempts to explain stalking behavior by dysfunction attachment (anxious/ambivalent attachment styles) and neurobiological dysfunction (increased CNS dopamine activity combined with reduced serotonin activity) have also been reported.
The 2013 amendment of code of criminal procedures also introduced acid attack on women under Section 326 of Indian Penal Code (IPC). It is often reported in media that the acid attack victim had been frequently approached by the perpetrator and his/her advances were snubbed by the victim, which clearly indicated stalking. Recently, Government of India amended the Rights of Persons with Disability Act (2016) to include victims of acid attacks, thus providing them an opportunity for education and employment under affirmative action for disablement.
Internet and Stalking: the Relationship
As individual members of human society, we flourish when we connect to others in closed supportive relationships. The increasing affordability of internet and its availability on multitude of devices like computers, mobiles, laptops, tablets etc., provides continuous means to be in touch with people in general, and supportive relationships in particular. Internet usage, by presence of its social media sites in particular, provides avenues for self-disclosure which in turn helps develop relationships that are based on common interests and values. However, the internet also allows for anonymity which can be used for bullying, sexual exploitation, and spreading unverified information. Stalking behavior has thus now moved to the virtual space. The term cyberstalking should not be simply understood as merely information-seeking behavior on social media (Facebook/friend stalking) but repeated pursuit of an individual over the internet. Researchers have also conceptualized technology-facilitated sexual violence as a “range of criminal, civil, or otherwise harmful sexually aggressive behaviours that are perpetuated with the aid or use of communication technologies.”
Cyberstalking is different from offline or physical stalking for a number of reasons. First, anonymity can be fairly maintained by the stalker until cyber experts or legal agencies are involved. Second, cyberstalking may not necessarily involve physical proximity of the victim and stalker. The victim may not be aware of being under surveillance while simultaneously being vulnerable in their “own” cyberspace. Third, and conversely, unlike in most cases of physical stalking where the victim and stalker may have known each other, cyberstalking victims are unlikely to know their stalkers. Fourth, cyberstalkers are more likely to not have any criminal record, which indicates that the anonymity offered by internet creates an opportunity to pursue deviant behaviors. Cyberstalking behavior has been classified as hyper-intimacy, threat, sabotage, and invasion type based upon its severity. Hyper-intimacy type involves affection expression (repeated messages of a desired relationship, despite being rebuffed), ingratiation (sending unsolicited messages of assistance, or compliments), and/or hypersexual communications (sending graphic sexual content). Threats include implicit or explicit harm intended on person's reputation by real or falsified information, and also threats of physical harm to the person, their close ones, or their property. Sabotage involves attack on the person's character by spreading rumors or gossips to their colleagues, friends, or family. Invasion involves access to victims' device via spyware or other means, which enables stalkers' complete access to the victims' digital activities.
The distress perceived by victims of cyberstalking is similar to that experienced by those from physical stalking. These include social withdrawal, disturbances in sleep pattern, and changes in social habits., Paradoxically, the cyberstalker perceives themselves to be emotionally closer to their victims than that would be expected from the physical stalker.
Strategies used by victims have also been studied, albeit not extensively. In offline stalking, strategies have been categorized as the following, viz., informal coping (seeking help and advice from family, friends, and colleagues), relocation coping (moving to a new place of residence, school, or workplace), interactional coping (confronting the stalker), and formal coping (lodging complaint with police). In a study among victims of cyberstalking, strategies used include ignoring/avoidance, active technological dissociation, help-seeking, negotiating or threatening the pursuer, making false excuses, changing and upgrading accounts, and counter-attacking the stalker. The trauma experienced by the victim best correlates to the number of coping responses the victim has to employ.
Arrest rates, prosecution, and conviction rates for stalking are relatively low in contrast to reported high prevalence of stalking. This may be because the justice systems focus more on physical harm to the victim rather than psychological distress associated with stalking. Recently, India amended Section 344 of IPC, wherein Section 354-D states that any man who (i) follows a woman and contacts or attempts to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman or (ii) monitors the use by a woman of the internet, e-mail, or any other form of electronic communication commits the offence of stalking. This amendment covers for physical stalking and cyberstalking. It allows exception when such an act is pursued for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or pursued after due process of any law. First-time offenders can be punished up to a maximum of 3 years with/without fine and subsequent offense(s) can be punished for up to maximum 5 years with/without fine. In a statement by the Minister of State for Home Affairs, 7132 cases of stalking were registered in 2016 for which 8620 arrests were made and 481 persons were convicted. Cumulative for the years 2014–2016, 18,097 cases were registered, 20,743 arrests were made, and 1216 convicted, giving a conviction rate of <7%. Section 354-D has been criticized for not being gender neutral, perpetrator being male and victim being female.
There are also other provisions in India that can be applied in cases of stalking and cyberstalking. Section 507 of IPC recognizes criminal intimidation by anonymous communication as a crime, while Section 509 of IPC recognizes “words, gestures or act intended to insult the modesty of women” as crime. The Information Technology Act, 2000, Section 67 defines publishing any obscene content or posting such content in electronic form as a crime. Further, the Act is gender neutral and provides much harsher punishment.
Stalking is an extremely unpleasant experience (the senior author can affirm it from his personal experience). Cyberstalking can be even more unpleasant with high degree of psychosocial and psychological consequences. Education can be useful for perpetrators/pursuers, especially for pursuers who may not recognize that their behavior is upsetting to their targets. There is a need for increased vigilance in policing online social platforms, such as WhatsApp, Tinder, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, to identify incidents of cyberstalking and to provide greater safety for potential/actual targets online.
We live in a rapidly expanding and burgeoning era of technological advances coupled with anonymity and paranoia (leading onto heightening surveillance) due to which potential opportunities for unwanted pursuing are greater. Nevertheless, with appropriate, legal, political, and social will and desire, such undesirable behavior can be curbed. As mental health professionals, we need to be able to contribute in greater ways by 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 curb and/or eradicate this ever-growing menace.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
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