Stalking Point

Eventually published as: WHO’S WATCHING YOU? Marie Claire Magazine, February 2009

When you read about high magnitude stars like Gwynneth Paltrow or Catherine Zeta-Jones being stalked in the dead of night you might think to yourself: ‘Thank God, it’s not me!’ Sadly, Marie-Claire reader, I have unpleasant news for you. The innocent belief that stalking only happens to people in films or television or HM The Queen needs to be shattered. Stalking can happen to anyone.

Of course celebrities tend to attract more than their fair share of attention. The latest broadcaster to suffer appears to be 47-year-old Sky TV presenter Kay Burley who interviewed Barry George after he was acquitted of the murder of Jill Dando. Mr George has protested his absolute innocence… Kay Burley has requested 24-hour security. There are also the truly extreme stalkers – loner John Hinckley deciding to win the love of his idol Jodie Foster by trying to murder President Reagan; the fanatically partisan Gunther Parche stabbing tennis star Monica Seles in the back to save his stalkee Maggie Maleeva from impending defeat.

Here in the UK Gwynneth Paltrow reported that Dante Soiu, 49, gave her ‘nightmares’ and ‘made her feel sexually assaulted’ after delivering non-stop letters, pizzas and pornography to her home. Welsh star Catherine Zeta-Jones admitted that she was close to breakdown after being stalked by 32-year-old Dawnette Knight, who threatened by letter to ‘cut Zeta-Jones into little pieces and feed her to the dogs’ (in order to get her hands on husband Michael Douglas). And Uma Thurman testified that 37-year-old Jack Jordan, an unemployed lifeguard and pool cleaner, had ‘scared her to death’ with his two year campaign of late-night visits, calls to her family and emails to her father.

What strange currents drive the turbulent mental states of these obsessed individuals where a thick layer of infatuation conceals the underlying menace? Their own words offer some fascinating clues. ‘My hands should be on your body at all times,’ declared Thurman’s stalker, while Paltrow’s persecutor told her, ‘If a man gives a woman unconditional love, she is blessed’; and Hinckley wrote to Jodie Foster: ‘I cannot wait any longer to impress you. This [shooting of the President] is the greatest love offering in the history of the world’.

Such possessive adoration helps us see the outlines of the stalking profile – men who are isolated usually inhabiting a world of delusion pervaded by a grandiose sense of entitlement. In their immaturity, they confuse their secret fantasies with the wishes of their victims, as if loving someone compelled them to love you back.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that very few stalkers are dangerous; that dangerous stalkers are the exception, not the rule. BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson, for example, cheerfully acknowledges a stalker of some 20 years standing and simply expresses irritation with the situation.

The most common stalking victim, however, is not going to be Catherine Zeta-Jones or John Simpson, but you, the ‘Woman on the Clapham Omnibus’. As Dr Frank Farnham, a North London psychiatrist who has made a study of stalking, summarises: ‘So long as the image of the stalker we consume through the media is that of a mentally ill stranger, we neglect the reality – that the offender most likely to do serious harm is the sane, rejected partner. And we will continue to minimise the danger for women, in particular those who have recently left abusive and controlling relationships.’

The facts are these. According to the National Crime Survey, over two million Britons say they have been subject to stalking in the past year alone. Research from Leicester University shows that stalking is not quite an equal opportunities crime – one in five women but only one in 20 men will be victims at some point in their lives. Since strangers commit just seven per cent of these offences we are mainly talking about a crime of familiarity, born out of prior contact. American profilers say the average stalking lasts for two years but can be ‘never-ending’ if the stalker is rich enough to hire others to help him. A study by forensic psychologist Dr Lorraine Sheridan published in September 2005 shows that 96% of those targeted by stalkers experience or live in some sort of fear as a result. Very few of those who have suffered come to regard stalking as a trivial experience.

Some do take it seriously, deploying the full force of the law to defend themselves, yet still lose their fight. After a brief fling, 30-year-old Michael Pech stalked 22-year-old Clare Bernal, a pretty beautician at Harvey Nichols. Due to be sentenced for the crime of harassment in September 2005, he walked into the London branch, shot Clare dead and then killed himself with the same gun. Kate Brennan, a 41-year-old American writer and the author of ‘In His Sights’ recently published by Penguin says her stalker, Paul, robbed her of ‘a stable home, peace of mind and earning power – his stalking has lasted a decade longer than the life we spent together – how could I have loved someone capable of such residual hate?’

It’s all too easy to miss the warning signs because stalkers often present in the guise of suitors attractive at the outset. They will flatter you; they’ll cajole; they’ll tell you all the things you long to hear. Then contrasting traits appear – they will rapidly get too personal and intrusive; display increasingly false levels of charm; and decline to negotiate when you have disagreements. Their ultimate goal is control. As your resistance levels rise, they will blithely insist to the outside world that your relationship is perfect. Sexually, too, these men can be anything from incompetent to voracious but often losing interest with intimacy. One victim commented: ‘The more he swore he loved me the less he showed it. He quickly got bored with cuddles, saying: “If only you were more adventurous in bed, if only you’d think of more fun things to do!”‘ This also illustrates the typical stalker’s crowning talent of presenting himself as blameless – ‘You want ME to be the problem when you know it’s you!’

Now most of us have encountered the commonest stalking type – the lover who refuses to go quietly when you end a relationship. Stage one includes phoney encounters, calls and emails begging you to change your mind. Stage two degenerates into a confusion of threats and abuse ‘because I still love you’. In one case I know, the victim’s parents were telephoned by the past-prospective son-in-law to be informed of their daughter’s entirely mythical ?200-a-day cocaine habit. In another, a man forced his ex to drive to Brighton to dig up that bit of the beach where she’d been seen kissing his successor. Yes, it’s tough and hurtful being rejected but most of us don’t try to mend our broken hearts by violent bullying. So why do some people turn into monsters?

Many therapists believe that the origin of the problem lies in our childhood experience of attachment. If you grow up feeling securely attached to your parents, separating from them will leave you with enough confidence to survive in a harsh world (non-stalker). But if you grow up insecurely attached you may be unable to believe that anyone could ever want you or love you in return (mainly revenge stalker). Or if you grow up over-attached to your parents, when you finally do embark on an adult relationship you expect nothing less than the continuation of that undivided attention (mainly infatuation stalker). The problem becomes compounded when unconditional love (offered by parents) is confused with the conditional love offered by a partner.

Another defining characteristic of the stalker is skin-deep self-confidence. Such individuals are constantly seeking emotional compensation. Therapists call this process of transferring to others feelings arising from the past ‘projection’. It goes some way to explaining why there are people entering relationships who are already halfway to punishing you for loving them too much, too little, or even at all. It also suggests your instinct to be wary of pathologically jealous boyfriends or middle-aged bachelors still living with their mums is pretty sound.

But you should be doubly concerned if that jealous boyfriend has the leisure to do something nasty about it, because stalkers are almost universally unemployed, retired or in receipt of a private income. How else could they afford to pursue their stalking lifestyle? Kate Brennan’s tormentor was so wealthy he could hire proxy stalkers to carry out most of the harassment.

There’s even a small contingent with a full psychiatric label – they are said to suffer from ‘de Clarembeault’s Syndrome’. Named after the French doctor who first defined the condition, these men or women mistake any sign of kindness by a person in authority as a declaration of love and act accordingly. They don’t confine their adoration to letter-writing but arrive on the doorstep demanding a physical relationship, as many a haunted doctor and lawyer can confirm. There is no cure and they won’t go away.

The most dangerous stalking profile, however, is more mundane -rejected lovers who display a desire for revenge. Unfortunately, the general stalker categories of infatuation and retribution do tend to conflate. Steve Griffiths, for instance, was grimly determined that no woman who had been blessed with his attentions should live to testify to his limitations. He stabbed ex-girlfriend Rana Faruqui to death five summers ago after inflicting months of threats and violence including the cutting of the brake pipes to her car. When arrested, Griffiths possessed in his own vehicle a complete stalking kit: rope, chisel, crowbar, rat poison, axe, saw, knives and a truncheon. In his heart of hearts he believed she was simply his to dispose of.

By contrast, Julie Holland has survived 11 years of repeated attacks from ex-partner Danny Hill, if only by a miracle. To date, he has thrown her downstairs while pregnant, punched a hole in her skull, fractured most of her ribs and kicked her in the face hard enough to dislocate an eye from its socket. Julie has moved house twice, erecting a ten foot barrier around her most recent purchase but still feels vulnerable: ‘For 11 years he has tortured me by always making sure I know he’s around and can get away with stalking me. I don’t go out any more at night because I am frightened of seeing him. He has caused misery for all my family, and the police seem unable to stop him. They say they can’t even give him a warning, because they can’t be sure it’s him making the calls.’ Hill has fought Holland in the courts but she says: ‘He shouldn’t be allowed to. He is a known violent offender and stalker. I need the police to keep him away from me, but they can’t. My 13-year-old son goes to bed with a hammer every night.’

For the police, controlling this problem has become much more difficult since the emergence of new technology that makes it simpler for you to trace and harass someone. (For example, you may go ‘ex-directory’ on the phone but a skilled hacker could discover the number in minutes). Kate Brennan again: ‘When you’re being stalked the terror repeats itself wherever you are – in your bedroom, in your telephone, in your computer, in every restaurant, shop and parking lot. You keep asking yourself – are they following me?’ On the other hand, technology can also be your ally. The anti-stalking site www.thesite.org gives clear advice about going to the authorities, keeping a diary of incidents, beefing up your home security and reorganising your daily routines.

If psychologists are sure of one thing it is that stalkers include some of the most malevolently motivated personalities on the planet. To protect yourself you need to do three things. Be ultra-wary of falling into the arms of romantic strangers at home or abroad. Never ‘humour’ an infatuated stalker by trying to talk them out of it; break off all contact immediately: what the stalker is seeking is a reaction to demonstrate his power. And lastly, however much you like to listen to a compliment, learn to accept that people – all people – everywhere – mean what they DO and not just what they SAY. The most telling fact about stalkers is the gap between their deeds and words.

Phillip Hodson is a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy – www.bacp.co.uk

PUBLISHED VERSION BELOW:

Who’s watching you?

Somebody watching you

SELL: We associate stalkers with celebrities, but the truth is far more frightening. Any one of us could attract a dangerous and terrifying shadow, at any time. Phillip Hodson

Gwyneth Paltrow’s gave her nightmares; Catherine Zeta-Jones’s almost drove her to a breakdown; Uma Thurman’s “scared her to death:. We associate stalkers – and the fear and misery they engender – with celebrities. But the truth is, it can happen to any of us.

One of the latest broadcasters to suffer is 47-year-old Sky TV presenter Kay Burley, who interviewed Barry George after he was acquitted of the murder of Jill Dando. Mr George has protested his innocence – Kay Burley has requested 24-hour security.

And of course, celebrities attract their fair share of unwelcome attention. Dante Soiu, 49, made Paltrow feel “sexually assaulted’ after delivering non-stop letters, pizzas and pornography to her home. Dawnette Knight, 32, threatened to ‘cut Zeta-Jones into little pieces and feed her to the dogs’. Jack Jordan, a 37-year-old unemployed lifeguard and pool cleaner, subjected Thurman to a two-year campaign of late-night visits, calls to her family and emails to her father.

But the fact remains that the most common stalking victim by far is someone living far from the celebrity spotlight. As Dr Frank Farnham, a North London psychiatrist who has made a study of stalking, summarises: ‘So long as the image of the stalker we consume through the media is that of a mentally ill stranger, we neglect the reality – that the offender most likely to do serious harm is the sane, rejected partner. And we will continue to minimise the danger for women, in particular those who have recently left abusive and controlling relationships.’

The facts are these. According to the National Crime Survey, more than 2 million Britons say they have been subject to stalking in the past year alone. Research from Leicester University shows that one in five women and one in 20 men will be victims at some point in their lives. Since strangers commit just seven per cent of these offences we are mainly talking about a crime of familiarity, born out of prior contact.

American profilers say the average stalking lasts for two years but can be ‘never-ending’ if the stalker is rich enough to hire others to help him. A study by forensic psychologist Dr Lorraine Sheridan published in September 2005 shows that 96% of those targeted by stalkers experience or live in some sort of fear as a result. Very few of those who have suffered come to regard stalking as a trivial experience.

Some deploy the full force of the law to defend themselves, yet still lose their fight. EXPLAIN? DID SHE HAVE FULL POLICE PROTECTION FOR A WHILE? HOW DID PECH GET ROUND THE FULL FORCE OF THE LAW? After a brief fling, 30-year-old Michael Pech stalked 22-year-old Clare Bernal, a pretty beautician who worked on a make-up counter at Harvey Nichols. Due to be sentenced for the crime of harassment in September 2005, he walked into the Knightsbridge store, shot Clare dead and then killed himself with the same gun.

Kate Brennan, a 41-year-old American writer, gives some insight into the terror a stalker can bring. She has been stalked by Paul, her ???? EX-PARTNER??? For HOW MANY YEARS???. In this time he has ????? A LIST OF HIS ATROCITIES AND HER ACTIONS. In her new book, ‘In His Sights’ (Penguin) Brennan says Paul has robbed her of ‘a stable home, peace of mind and earning power – his stalking has lasted a decade longer than the life we spent together – how could I have loved someone capable of such residual hate?’

It’s all too easy to miss the warning signs because stalkers often look like attractive suitors – at the outset. They will flatter you; they’ll cajole; they’ll tell you all the things you long to hear. Then contrasting traits appear – they will rapidly get too personal and intrusive; display increasingly false levels of charm; and decline to negotiate when you have disagreements. Their ultimate goal is control. As your resistance levels rise, they will blithely insist to the outside world that your relationship is perfect.

Sexually these men can be anything from incompetent to voracious but often lose interest with intimacy. One victim commented: ‘The more he swore he loved me the less he showed it. He quickly got bored with cuddles, saying: “If only you were more adventurous in bed, if only you’d think of more fun things to do!”‘ This also illustrates the typical stalker’s crowning talent of presenting himself as blameless – ‘You want ME to be the problem when you know it’s you!’

Many of us have encountered the commonest stalking type – the lover who refuses to go quietly when you end a relationship. Stage one includes phoney encounters, calls and emails begging you to change your mind. Stage two degenerates into a confusion of threats and abuse ‘because I still love you’. In one case I know, the victim’s parents were telephoned by the past-prospective son-in-law to be informed of their daughter’s entirely mythical ?200-a-day cocaine habit. In another, a man forced his ex to drive to Brighton to dig up that bit of the beach where she’d been seen kissing his successor. Yes, it’s tough and hurtful being rejected but most of us don’t try to mend our broken hearts by violent bullying. So why do some people turn into monsters?

Many therapists believe that the origin of the problem lies in our childhood experience of attachment. If you grow up feeling securely attached to your parents, separating from them will leave you with enough confidence to survive in a harsh world (non-stalker). But if you grow up insecurely attached you may be unable to believe that anyone could ever want you or love you in return (mainly revenge stalker). Or if you grow up over-attached to your parents, when you finally do embark on an adult relationship you expect nothing less than the continuation of that undivided attention (mainly infatuation stalker). The problem becomes compounded when unconditional love (offered by parents) is confused with the conditional love offered by a partner.

Another defining characteristic of the stalker is skin-deep self-confidence. Such individuals are constantly seeking emotional compensation. Therapists call this process of transferring to others feelings arising from the past ‘projection’. It goes some way to explaining why there are people entering relationships who are already halfway to punishing you for loving them too much, too little, or even at all. It also suggests your instinct to be wary of pathologically jealous boyfriends or middle-aged bachelors still living with their mums is pretty sound.

But you should be doubly concerned if that jealous boyfriend has the leisure to do something nasty about it, because stalkers are almost universally unemployed, retired or in receipt of a private income. How else could they afford to pursue their stalking lifestyle? Kate Brennan’s tormentor was so wealthy he could hire proxy stalkers to carry out most of the harassment. EG???

IS IT OK TO MOVE THIS HERE?A stalkers own words offer some fascinating clues. ‘My hands should be on your body at all times,’ declared Thurman’s stalker, while Paltrow’s persecutor told her, ‘If a man gives a woman unconditional love, she is blessed’. Such possessive adoration helps us see the outlines of the stalking profile – men who are isolated usually inhabiting a world of delusion pervaded by a grandiose sense of entitlement. In their immaturity, they confuse their secret fantasies with the wishes of their victims, as if loving someone compelled them to love you back.

SHOULD WE ADD HERE, THAT MANY STALKERS WILL HAVE ONE OR ANOTHER PERSONALITY DISORDER, OR OTHER PSYCHIATRIC LABEL.

There’s even a small contingent with a full psychiatric label – they are said to suffer from ‘de Clarembeault’s Syndrome’. Named after the French doctor who first defined the condition, these men or women mistake any sign of kindness by a person in authority as a declaration of love and act accordingly. They don’t confine their adoration to letter writing but arrive on the doorstep demanding a physical relationship, as many a haunted doctor and lawyer can confirm. There is no cure and they won’t go away.

The most dangerous stalking profile, however, is more mundane -rejected lovers who display a desire for revenge. Unfortunately, the general stalker categories of infatuation and retribution do tend to conflate. Steve Griffiths, for instance, was grimly determined that no woman who had been blessed with his attentions should live to testify to his limitations. He stabbed ex-girlfriend Rana Faruqui to death five summers ago after inflicting months of threats and violence including the cutting of the brake pipes to her car. When arrested, Griffiths possessed in his own vehicle a complete stalking kit: rope, chisel, crowbar, rat poison, axe, saw, knives and a truncheon. In his heart of hearts he believed she was simply his to dispose of.

By contrast, Julie Holland IS SHE BRITISH? ANYTHING WE CAN SAY ABOUT HER? AGE? WHERE FROM ORIGINALLY? has survived 11 years of repeated attacks from ex-partner Danny Hill, if only by a miracle. To date, he has thrown her downstairs while pregnant, punched a hole in her skull, fractured most of her ribs and kicked her in the face hard enough to dislocate an eye from its socket. Julie has moved house twice, erecting a ten foot barrier around her most recent purchase but still feels vulnerable: ‘For 11 years he has tortured me by always making sure I know he’s around and can get away with stalking me. I don’t go out any more at night because I am frightened of seeing him.’ Hill has fought Holland in the courts but she says: ‘He is a known violent offender and stalker. I need the police to keep him away from me, but they can’t. My 13-year-old son goes to bed with a hammer every night.’

For the police, controlling this problem has become much more difficult since the emergence of new technology that makes it easier to trace and harass someone. (For example, you may go ‘ex-directory’ on the phone but a skilled hacker could discover the number in minutes). Kate Brennan again: ‘When you’re being stalked the terror repeats itself wherever you are – in your bedroom, in your telephone, in your computer, in every restaurant, shop and parking lot. You keep asking yourself – are they following me?’ On the other hand, technology can also be your ally. The anti-stalking site www.thesite.org <http://www.thesite.org/> gives clear advice about going to the authorities, keeping a diary of incidents, beefing up your home security and reorganising your daily routines.

If psychologists are sure of one thing it is that stalkers include some of the most malevolently motivated personalities on the planet. To protect yourself you need to do three things. Be ultra-wary of falling into the arms of romantic strangers at home or abroad. Never ‘humour’ an infatuated stalker by trying to talk them out of it; break off all contact immediately: what the stalker is seeking is a reaction to demonstrate his power. And lastly, however much you like to listen to a compliment, learn to accept that people – all people – everywhere – mean what they DO and not just what they SAY. The most telling fact about stalkers is the gap between their deeds and words.

Phillip Hodson is a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy – www.bacp.co.uk

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