Stalking by women is not uncommon. Community-based studies of stalking victimization indicate that women are identified as perpetrators in 12%–13% of cases (4, 11). Studies conducted in forensic mental health settings have reported higher rates, often reflecting the greater incidence of erotomania in these populations. Zona et al. (12) reported that 32% of subjects (N=24 of 74) investigated by a specialist antistalking unit were female, six of whom were classified as erotomanic. Harmon et al. (13) similarly found that 33% of stalkers (N=16 of 48) referred to a forensic psychiatry clinic were female, although this rate dropped to 22% (N=38 of 175) in a subsequent and larger study (14). Other studies have reported rates of between 17% (1) and 22% (15). In addition to first-hand victim accounts (16, 17), further illustrative examples of female harassers abound in media reports on the stalking of celebrities (e.g., actor Brad Pitt, author Germaine Greer, and television host David Letterman).
Despite the frequency with which women engage in stalking, to our knowledge no study to date has considered the contexts in which this behavior emerges among women or whether female stalkers differ from their male counterparts in relation to stalking characteristics or propensity for violence. Greater awareness of and attention to this issue is indicated for several reasons. In our experience, those who find themselves the victim of a female stalker often confront indifference and skepticism from law enforcement and other helping agencies. Not infrequently, male victims allege that their complaints have been trivialized or dismissed, some victims being told that they should be “flattered” by all the attention. In the case of same-gender stalking by women, the sexual orientation of both the victim and the perpetrator is frequently questioned, with authorities often inappropriately assuming a homosexual motive (18). Victimization studies indicate that women are seldom prosecuted for stalking offenses, with criminal justice intervention most likely to proceed in those cases involving a male suspect accused of stalking a woman (3). The available evidence suggests that stalking by women has yet to be afforded the degree of seriousness attached to harassment perpetrated by men. This is despite any empirical evidence that women are any less intrusive or persistent in their stalking or pose any less of a threat (physical or otherwise) to their victims.
This study describes a group of female stalkers and compares them to a male stalker group to examine any differences in demographic characteristics; psychiatric status; motivation, methods, or duration of stalking; or rates of associated threats and assault.
The case material was drawn from referrals over an 8-year period (1993–2000) to a community forensic mental health clinic that specializes in the assessment and management of both stalkers and stalking victims. The cases were assessed by one or more of the authors. Referrals came from throughout the Australian state of Victoria (population: 4.7 million), predominantly through courts, community correctional services, police, and medical practitioners. Collaborative information was available usually in the form of victim statements, police summaries of the offenses, official criminal records, and psychological or psychiatric reports. For the purposes of this study, we defined stalking as persistent (duration of at least 4 weeks) and repeated (10 or more) attempts to intrude on or communicate with a victim who perceived the behavior as unwelcome and fear-provoking (5). This was an intentionally conservative definition to ensure that members of the study group were unequivocally stalkers. The psychiatric classification employed DSM-IV criteria.