As the holidays approach, most of us prepare to spend time with friends, family, and loved ones. We shop for gifts, plan holiday menus, bake Christmas cookies, and celebrate the spirit of the season.
For jilted paramours, on the other hand, the holidays can be a lonely season of depression and despair. A season where instead of celebration, they are reminded of love lost, relationships broken, and affection unreciprocated. For brooding ex-lovers nursing the wounds of rejection, the holidays can also be a dangerous season of revenge.
Vengeful ex-partners are empowered over the holidays when they have receptive targets, ready to (temporarily) re-engage. This seasonal phenomenon stems from victim sympathy, feeling sorry for the stalker, and trying to “be nice.”
Some victims feel responsible for a suspect’s holiday blues because they initiated the breakup. In other cases, the perpetrator has shamed the victim into believing he or she is responsible not only for the breakup, but also for the perpetrator´s bad behavior that ensued.
Yet victims who extend kindness to persistent ex-paramours over the holidays, either out of sympathy or a misplaced sense of responsibility, can be asking for trouble. Because regardless of the reason, a victim who permits an old flame to re-ignite contact, despite feeling uncomfortable or even concerned, is opening a door he or she may be unable to close.
And when communication takes a turn, and phone calls and messages change from amorous to ominous, many victims resist reporting the behavior. Feeling responsible for allowing the door to be re-opened in the first place, they suffer in silence. This mindset results in under appreciating danger, and under reporting the crime—assuming they appreciate that they have a crime to report in the first place.
Elements of Criminal Stalking
Criminal stalking requires more than following, harassing, or tracking online. In most states, it requires a credible threat of harm intended to put the victim in reasonable fear for his or her safety—or for the safety of immediate family members. A quick check of your state’s laws will provide a review of the elements of the crime in your jurisdiction.
Yet stalking is a crime that can certainly be proven with good evidence collection, and documentation of the perpetrator´s behavior as well as its impact on the victim. Such documentation is time well spent because for some perpetrators, stalking is only the beginning. Statistically, stalking can lead to other crimes, from property damage, to sexual assault, to homicide.
The goal is to stop stalkers sooner rather than later. The good news is that in many cases, proving stalking is easier than people think. This is important for victims to know, because many do not come forward because they do not think they have “evidence” to provide to law enforcement. They do.
Stalkers Make Their Mark: Evidence Collection
Logan and Walker in “Stalking: A Multidimensional Framework for Assessment and Safety Planning” (2017) cite research noting that although stalking is incredibly traumatic, its lack of physical harm may cause its significance to be minimized.[i]
I have handled many cases where sure enough, unlike victims of domestic violence or assault and battery, stalking victims, who did not have visible bruising or other injuries, did not come forward right away, worrying they had nothing to “show” reporting officers.
Yet stalking does leave a mark. Invisible trauma can be documented through friends, family, co-workers, and others who can testify about the ways in which the stalker´s communications and behavior have impacted the victim´s life.
Logan and Walker make the important distinction between stalking and other criminal behavior, pointing out that unlike a single traumatic event, stalking often impacts many different areas of a victim´s life. All of these areas can be documented. This includes evidence of a victim´s fear—which Logan and Walker note accumulates over time, and is pervasive. They quote one victim´s experience of being in a heightened state of sustained vigilance as sharing that, “everything feels risky.”
Knowledge is Power
Working together, law enforcement, community members, and stalking survivors, through campaigns to increase public awareness, can expose the invisible epidemic of stalking, and educate unwitting enablers who think that by extending kindness and graciousness they will somehow stop stalking behavior on their own. They won´t.
Instead of reasoning with suspects, or rationalizing bad behavior, victims need to report the crime. Even over the holidays.
About the author:
Wendy Patrick, JD, PhD, is a career prosecutor and behavioral expert. She is the author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House).
She lectures around the world on stalking, sexual assault prevention, and threat assessment, and is an Association of Threat Assessment Professionals Certified Threat Manager. The opinions expressed in this column are her own.
Find her at wendypatrickphd.com or @WendyPatrickPhD
Find a full listing of Dr. Patrick´s Psychology Today posts at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/why-bad-looks-good
[i] TK Logan and Robert Walker, “Stalking: A Multidimensional Framework for Assessment and Safety Planning” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 18, no. 2 (2017): 200-222.