Stalkers and their prey

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Why do so many men and women feel an irresistible urge to pursue and harass those who have no interest in them?

When the mayor of Port Coquitlam allegedly burst into his former girlfriend's garage in early April, it shocked many residents of the Vancouver suburb. What was even more stunning was the published picture of their mayor, Scott Young, sitting in the back of an RCMP squad car.

Young spent the Easter weekend in jail before being released on bail, at which point he was chased down the street by reporters and camera operators. The Crown has charged Young with seven offences, including assault, break-and-enter, and criminal harassment. He hasn't been convicted, but for a few days, the story focused media attention on the issue of stalking.

The stories that don't get in the news very often are those of the thousands upon thousands of ordinary Canadians who have been watched, followed, beset, and, in some cases, assaulted. Viemla Jagroep is just one such example. In September 2006, the British Columbia Supreme Court upheld the sentence imposed by a provincial court on Martin Ravelo, who wouldn't let go of Jagroep, his former girlfriend.

She broke up with Ravelo when she was four months pregnant from the relationship. He made several phone calls to her and continued to pester her even though he had already been told by the police to cease. In her testimony, the complainant said she felt "pressured and controlled" and that her ex-boyfriend's repeated demands for them to talk about their baby was "getting quite scary".

Although a federal antistalking law has been in place since 1993, studies by Statistics Canada suggest that the threat of prosecution hasn't deterred stalkers, and a high level of victims' reluctance to contact police isn't helping any. An October 2006 study titled Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends noted that nine percent of the population is estimated to have experienced at least one stalking incident in recent years.

"This represents over 2.3 million Canadians," stated another StatsCan study, Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile. The July 2005 document noted that only about one-third of victims reported their harassment to the police.

What drives stalkers? UBC psychology professor Donald Dutton says there's arousal involved.

"They get buzzed by it," Dutton told the Georgia Straight. "They start living for it when they start doing it. They get into what I would call a sort of optimal zone of arousal. It's what many people do with their work, but for these guys this becomes the form that creates that mindset."

Dutton, who was an expert witness for the prosecution in the O.J. Simpson murder trial, noted that there are two views on stalking. One side sees it as abnormal behaviour. The other, which he ascribed to an argument of some sociobiologists, is that for millions of years "we were hunters, and that involved stalking, and so we've all got the capability to do this. It's what they call predation."

"There's some evidence for that, but it has not been obtained in humans yet, only in animals," Dutton said. "They see that there's certain neuro structures that light up when they're [animals are] hunting. The bottom line is we don't know."

Dutton believes there is neither pill nor therapy to cure stalkers. "I've never seen a treatment that had come out for stalking," he said. "If it's just a criminal-justice intervention, it typically just has a short-term effect. It might scare him enough to keep him away for a while, but the urge is still there."

According to a case decided by the Provincial Court of British Columbia in April 2005, Tadashi Fujimori and Ms. T.D.E. were next-door neighbours in an apartment building in Vancouver's West End. Along with other actions, Fujimori left gifts at her doorstep, yelled through her mail slot, asked her out for dates (which she declined), waited for and accosted her in the hallway, and at one time jumped into the elevator with her when he was wearing only underwear.

The woman obtained a peace bond from court that prohibited Fujimori from contacting her and forced him to move out of the building. But after the order lapsed, he started showing up at the building, and on one occasion he called the police for what he claimed was an emergency, insisting that the cops go into the woman's apartment. Judge C.E. Warren found him guilty of criminal harassment.

Statistics Canada's 2004 General Social Survey was the first attempt to measure the extent of stalking countrywide. A sample of about 24,000 men and women, aged 15 and older, were asked if they had been the subject of unwanted attention in the past five years.

Survey results cited in the 2005 Family Violence in Canada study showed that women were more likely to be stalked than men. "More than one in ten females (11%) or more than 1.4 million women reported being stalked in the preceding five years in a way that caused them to fear for their safety or the safety of someone known to them," the study stated. "Just under 900,000 men experienced stalking and the resulting fear during the same period, which represents 7% of the male population."

The same study noted that the victims indicated they were stalked by friends (23 percent); coworkers, neighbours, and other relatives (18 percent combined); current or former intimate partners (17 percent); persons known by sight only (14 percent); and strangers (for about the remaining quarter).

The 2006 Measuring Violence Against Women study showed that stalkers were predominantly male, whether the victim was female or male. Only five percent of all cases involved a female pursuing a male.

Citing survey results for 2004 only, this study also indicated that three-quarters of incidents of criminal harassment reported to the police were directed at females. "In half of these incidents, women were stalked by a person with whom they had an intimate relationship," it stated. "The most common situations involved male ex-spouses (including their former common-law partners) and ex-boyfriends."

The study pointed out that for the same year, some 2,030 male partners and 207 female partners were reported for stalking to 68 police departments across the country. "The number of male spouses and boyfriends known to police for stalking has risen in recent years (this includes ex-partners)," it noted. "This may reflect a real rise in stalking behaviour or an increase in the number of incidents reported to the police. It may also reflect a change in the way police have applied the law, as similar types of behaviours can be charged under other offences, such as uttering threats. Once again, these figures do not take account of possible increases in the population."

Stephanie Reifferscheid is a coordinator of Women Against Violence Against Women, a Vancouver-based organization providing support for victims of sexual assaults. She explained that men are more likely to stalk women because of the historical concept of ownership of women.

"When women leave relationships and go into hiding, men go looking for 'their women', and that's the language that gets used, because it's a concept of, 'She's mine; she belongs to me,'" Reifferscheid told the Straight. It's still in practice in the culture, even though legally, in the law, there's no ownership. Some things have still not changed."

In August 2006, the British Columbia Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal filed by a man sentenced to two years and two months in jail. Reviewing the circumstances of the case, the appellate court noted that the man identified as J.S.M. began harassing his wife, S.J., after the marriage broke down. He telephoned her daily, sometimes 20 times. In one conversation, he said that he would never leave her alone, would hurt any man in her company, and would find her wherever she moved. Once he drove into her car, damaging both vehicles.

SFU criminology professor Joan Brockman told the Straight that stalking perpetrated by former intimates is an "issue of control".

"I think not wanting to take 'no' is very similar to the whole issue of wanting to maintain control over somebody," Brockman said. "Men who see their ex-intimates as individuals who are entitled to live their own lives are less likely to stalk than those who see their ex-intimates as their possessions."

A spokesperson for the Vancouver-based Battered Women's Support Services agrees with this view. "Stalking is a tactic that men use to scare and control women," Onna Tatum told the Straight. "Even with strangers, it's a way for them to feel like they're in a relationship with a woman. It's super creepy. But it's all about power and control."

Although survey data demonstrate that women are more often stalked by a former spouse or ex-boyfriend, the Family Violence in Canada study stated that there is research indicating that this gender pattern "may in fact reflect differences in fear levels between the sexes as a result of being stalked by an intimate partner".

"For example, some researchers argue that perhaps more males are stalked by ex-girlfriends or spouses, but this behaviour does not cause them to fear for their safety and consequently they are not likely to report it through a victimization survey."

Vancouver police department detective Keith Dormond, with the domestic-violence and criminal-harassment unit, noted that men generally find it difficult to report that they're being stalked because of cultural expectations that they should be "strong and bold".

"Men sometimes downplay it," Dormond told the Straight. "Men I dealt with felt helpless because of cultural factors."

An article principally authored by J. Reid Meloy, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and Cynthia Boyd published in the November 2, 2003, issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law provides an insight into female stalkers.

Based on their study of 82 female stalkers from the United States, Canada, and Australia, the authors wrote in "Female Stalkers and Their Victims" that although men tended to openly follow their prey, women "appear to be creatively aggressive in more covert ways: they intrude on the victim's associates, vandalize property, use surveillance, break and enter, and steal the victim's possessions".

"They usually threatened violence, and if they did threaten, were more likely to be violent," the authors noted. "Frequency of interpersonal violence was 25 percent, but there was limited use of weapons, and injuries were minor."

Meloy and Boyd also wrote that the victims of female stalkers tended to be slightly older male acquaintances with whom they wanted to establish intimacy. However, the authors also noted that "if the victim was a prior sexual intimate of the female stalker, her risk of being violent toward him exceeded 50 percent."

UBC psychology professor Delroy Paulhus told the Straight that "attachment disorder" and "borderline personality" are often associated with stalkers.

"These things are complicated and deep," Paulhus said. "It's called an attachment disorder, whereby the normal kind of attachments people have just become too powerful and too permanent and impossible to untie. People with attachment disorder and borderline personality don't necessarily show any mental illness or any special character until the unrequited attachment situation."

Paulhus said that these people "may be fine for their whole lives until they get turned down by someone important, and then this disturbance shows".

Det. Dormond said that the Vancouver police department receives about 1,000 calls of alleged harassment every year but that about 70 percent of these are not written as reports.

"At times, the calls may be cancelled by the victim, or the calls may be cleared by the investigating unit with no report due to the fact that it does not constitute stalking or criminal harassment," Dormond said. "For example, it could be a neighbour dispute, tenant dispute, one or two annoying phone calls, telemarketers, credit agencies, and so forth."

In 2006, the Vancouver police opened files for 331 cases, of which 91 led to the filing of charges before the courts. In 2005, there were 231 cases handled by the department, and 88 of these resulted in the laying of charges.

"We are only able to handle a certain number of files because criminal-harassment investigations require a great deal of time due to the large amount of evidence and risk-management plans that help us reduce the likelihood of violence," Dormond said.

Family Violence in Canada, citing results of StatsCan's 2004 General Social Survey, noted that six out of 10 stalking victims chose not to report the harassment for various reasons, including privacy and not wanting to get involved with the police.

The study pointed out that of those incidents reported to the police across the country, only 23 percent end up in charges being laid. "Of those victims who reported using the justice system under one quarter reported that they were very satisfied (23%), while 27% were somewhat satisfied, 17% were somewhat dissatisfied and a further 25 % were very dissatisfied," it stated.

The study also noted that only 11 percent of stalking victims sought a protective order from the courts. Of these orders, 49 percent were violated–"that is, the stalker contacted the victim".

Stephen Hart, a professor of psychology at SFU, told the Straight that it is difficult to change "erotomanic delusions" in which stalkers believe that the object of their pursuit is in love with them and that they're just playing hard to get.

"People can continue to have erotomanic delusions for 10 or 20 years," Hart said. "In some cases, those people will actually be put in hospital because they keep doing it. They believe they're right. They don't understand they're wrong."

Two other experts reached by the Straight suggested that instinct is often a potential victim's first line of defence against advances by stalkers.

"If your mind is perceiving something is wrong, that's a warning sign," said Glen Morrison, a private investigator based in Richmond. A former RCMP officer, Morrison recommends that victims keep records of calls, letters, e-mails, notes, and other materials that can later be used as evidence in court.

Judy Brooks is a co-owner and manager of ProActive ReSolutions, a Vancouver-based company that offers threat-management services. "If you feel uncomfortable, that's a pretty good sign," Brooks said. "If they're starting to feel uncomfortable, they should always talk to somebody, whether it's a friend or [someone] in a workplace environment. You should speak to a family member to let them know."

On April 13, Scott Young announced at a news conference that he is stepping aside, but not resigning, as mayor of Port Coquitlam. In a statement he read to reporters, Young said he had "made a terrible mistake" that was "entirely out of character", and he offered his "most sincere and humble apology".

The Department of Justice's handbook for police and Crown prosecutors on criminal harassment notes that a 1995 decision of the Prince Edward Island Court of Appeal continues to guide courts during sentencing in criminal-harassment convictions.

"The fact an offender shows any propensity toward this kind of conduct, regardless of his unblemished past, is cause for great concern and for a very careful and judicious approach to sentencing," the decision stated. "Factors such as the absence of a prior criminal record and expressions of remorse, which must necessarily be considered on sentencing, should not be given undue weight in the sentencing of this offence."