Types of Stalkers: Typologies Based on Behavior, Relationship, and Intent

Some perpetrators are in nearly constant communication, while others watch from afar

Stalking is a pattern of behavior, rather than an isolated incident. This pattern is comprised of multiple instances in which a perpetrator monitors, tracks, or harasses a specific individual. The methods used, escalation, and relationship dynamics are key to identifying types of stalkers and assessing the level of danger a victim is in. Whether or not individual incidents are criminal, the pattern is a crime. The acts and behaviors used in stalking, when taken collectively, cause [would reasonably cause, or might reasonably cause] a victim to feel threatened, fearful, harassed, or intimidated.

“Would reasonably cause” was added to the previous statement because stalkers may follow or track a victim for a long time without their knowledge. Even in those instances when stalking behaviors have come to the targeted person’s attention, they may be completely in the dark about the majority of [or the most disturbing] activities that form the larger pattern. Someone may not be in fear after receiving unwanted emails, for example, but would be if they had known the person who sent them was also in possession of hundreds of photos of them.

“Might reasonably cause” was added because a victims may minimize behaviors or dismiss danger. Targets who are traumatized frequently or severely might feel completely numb, utterly defeated, causing their fear responses to be muted, diluted, or suppressed.

The willful, malicious, and repeated following or harassing
of another person that threatens his or her safety.

“The Clinical Risk Management of Stalking: Someone is Watching Me”
Meloy, J. Reid Ph.D., American Journal of Psychotherapy [1997].

The Profile of a Stalker

Unfortunately, we still have a great deal to learn about stalkers. We do know they don’t fit nicely into a single profile. Stalkers select targets from within their own, and outside of, their gender. They target coworkers, former spouses, strangers, and celebrities. They’re from different geographical areas, socioeconomic statuses, and belief systems. Some have long criminal histories, others are perceived as upstanding citizens. Contrary to stereotypes, not all stalkers are violent, addicted to drugs, mentally ill, or delusional.

Study of Stalkers, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, illustrates the extent of variation from one case to the next:

  • Stalkers ranged from 15 to 75 years old
  • Some engaged in stalking someone for a month, others for 20 years
  • Many regularly called their victims [with one perpetrator calling more than 200 times in a 24 hours period], while two chose to bombard the victim with emails
  • Some harassed the victim themselves, while others recruited [or even hired] others to aid their efforts
  • Certain types of stalkers use one tactic exclusively, others use multiple techniques to harass their target
Stalking behaviors may be subtle or seem relatively benign at first but escalate over time
Stalking behaviors may be subtle or seem relatively benign at first but escalate over time
  • Numerous stalkers left gifts traditionally associated with romance, such as flowers, whereas another left a dead cat
  • Current or former intimate partners were targeted, as were current and former clients, employees, or patients
  • Where some perpetrators had prior criminal records, others did not [only one person in the study had been convicted of stalking previously]

Identifying and Classifying Different Types of Stalkers

For the last decade. researchers and subject matter experts have developed stalking typologies in attempts to group perpetrators. But, no matter which typology is used [more than 20 have been created], there are always perpetrators who either fall into multiple categories or don’t line up with any of the previously defined types.

There have been several attempts to describe the different types of stalker (Harmon et al., 1995; Mullen et al., 1999; Zona et al., 1993). No generally accepted classification has yet emerged.

Stalkers and Their Victims, Psychiatric Times

Dr. Zona’s Stalking Typology

Based on their research, Dr. Zona and his colleagues at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, felt stalkers could be divided into three distinct groups. Those “stalking types” were: erotomanic, love obsessional, and simple obsessional.

Erotomanic Stalkers have erotomania. This type of stalker is often female. They are delusional and obsessed, falsely believing that the target of their fixation is in love with them.

Love Obsessional stalkers tend to idealize the object of their fixation. The targeted person is often, but not always a public figure. Stalkers in this category have gone to great lengths attempting to be noticed.

Researchers often draw a distinction between those stalkers who target strangers, acquaintances, and previous intimate partners
Researchers often draw a distinction between those stalkers who target strangers, acquaintances, and previous intimate partners

Simple Obsessional is the most prevalent of these three types of stalkers. The perpetrator is a current or former intimate partner, and the stalking frequently accompanies, or follows, an abusive relationship.

Dichotomous Categorizations of Stalkers

Researchers, and others, frequently split stalkers into two categories. For example, those who are known to their victims vs. those who target strangers. These divisions are often created to distinguish between different behaviors and methods, or the level of threat the stalker poses to the victim.

Harmon et al. […] delineated stalkers on two axes:
using the nature of the attachment between victim and stalker
[classified as affectionate/amorous or persecutory/angry],
and the nature of the prior relationship between stalker and victim
[i.e. personal, professional, employment, media, acquaintance, none and unknown].

Leroy McFarlane and Paul Bocij, An Exploration of Predatory Behaviour in Cyberspace: Towards a Typology of Cyberstalkers

Over the past few decades, a number of studies have compared those stalkers who are psychotic with those who aren’t.

  • Psychotic stalkers are more likely to display anger or directly threaten the victim
  • Nonpsychotic stalkers are more likely to go to the victim’s home

Although many of these studies have found behavioral distinctions [as have other “either/or” dichotomies], they’ve fallen short of creating clear, reliable divisions and distinctions.

Gavin de Becker

Gavin de Becker, a security specialist and the author of The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence created a stalking typology which divides perpetrators into two broad and four, more specific, categories.

“There are two broad categories of stalking:
unwanted pursuit by a stranger,
and unwanted pursuit by someone the victim knows.”

Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us from Violence

The four, more specific, types of stalkers are: rejected, delusional, identity seeking, and attachment seeking. Rejected stalkers have been [or feel] refused, disregarded, and possibly humiliated. They’re the most common and most likely to use violence toward the victim. Because this type of stalker seeks power and control, any response from a victim [no matter how negative] can perpetuate or escalate the harassment.

Many victims of stalking exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome [PTSD]
Many victims of stalking exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD]

Delusional stalkers often believe they are destined to be with their victim. Identity seekers fixate on targets who they feel can add to their status, or at least others’ perception of it. Attachment seekers would ultimately like to have a romantic relationship with the object of their unwanted attention.

Mullen’s Five Types of Stalkers

In 1999, Mullen, Pathé, Purcell and Stuart created a classification of stalkers which has since become one of the most commonly used.

  • The Incompetent Suitor would like a date, relationship, or to be physically intimate with their target. They stalk because they’re unaware of or indifferent to the victim’s distress, possibly as the result of an inability to understand and interpret social signals.
  • An Intimacy Seeker is lonely and desires a relationship. This type of stalker may have delusional beliefs about the person they’re targeting.
  • Predatory Stalkers derive sexual gratification from the sense of power and control they feel while they’re pursuing, harassing, and intimidating their victims.  
Some perpetrators want a relationship, while others seek revenge
Some perpetrators want a relationship, while others seek revenge
  • A Rejected Stalker is unable, or unwilling, to accept that a relationship has ended. They either hope to resolve the conflict, “fix” the issues, and restore that relationship, or they’re seeking payback for pain they believe has been wrongfully inflicted on them by their target.
  • The Resentful Stalker believes they’ve been mistreated, possibly humiliated, by the victim. They seek revenge, want payback. They may feel their actions are just and warranted.

Notable Additions…

False victimization / stalking syndrome involves claiming, and potentially reporting, cases of stalking that do not exist. Some who fall into this category have histrionic personality disorder.

People with this disorder have an overwhelming desire to be noticed,
and often behave dramatically or inappropriately to get attention.

Cleveland Clinic, Histrionic Personality Disorder

One trait that cuts across many of the aforementioned categories, and is common among perpetrators of power-based violence [crimes in which the perpetrator seeks to gain power over the victim through tactics of control, manipulation, and/or intimidation], is a “night and day” personality.

In the beginning, and in front of others, these “night and day” stalkers are friendly, kind, and charming. They may be perceived as fun, generous, or the “life of the party.” But, behind closed doors, when they’re following, monitoring, and harassing their victims, they seem like a completely different people. Victims are frequently blindsided, and shocked, by the “other side” of a stalker’s personality. They can suddenly seem dramatically different than the person the victim believed they knew.

Since a target is typically one of few people, if not the only person, who glimpses a perpetrators “darker side”, others may [particularly in the beginning] dismiss their claims about what has happened. Mutual acquaintances may see the accusations as unlikely, outlandish, or far-fetched, because they contradict the way they’ve always perceive the stalker.

There are also professional stalkers, persons who are hired to monitor, track, and occasionally harm others.

Perpetrators who are motivated by lust have high rates of recidivism [are likely to be serial offenders].

Which Type of Stalker is the Most Dangerous?

For too long, this type of behavior has been overlooked and the potential for future violence underestimated […] Only when we understand the trials and tribulations of the victims, and the psychology of the offender, may we be fully in a position to prevent these types of offenses and the oftentimes violent episodes that accompany the “final confrontation.”

Stalking Crimes and Victim Protection: Prevention, Intervention, Threat Assessment, and Case Management (p. 27). CRC Press. Kindle Edition.

Classification systems for stalkers are created for a myriad of reasons. They can clue us in to important patterns, and may allow for behavioral predictions. Identifying types of stalkers can also help those in the criminal justice system determine the best approach to finding stalkers, and bringing them to justice.

Certain behaviors, dynamics, and stalker characteristics are correlated with higher levels of violence
Certain behaviors, dynamics, and stalker characteristics are correlated with higher levels of violence

Possibly the most important reason to classify stalkers is to be able to assess levels of threat, to determine which victims are in the greatest danger. The most important dichotomous categorization we could make is between stalkers who do and do not kill their victims. Ultimately, this distinction can only be assigned, with 100% accuracy, retroactively.

“These cases are murder in slow motion, psychologically and physically.”
-Laura Richards

Jennifer Scott, Stalking: Not just an EastEnders story

What we’ve learned, from the research that’s been conducted, is that perpetrators who’ve had an intimate relationship with the targeted person pose the greatest risk. Regardless of the context and circumstances, stalking should be taken seriously and seen as a warning sign of increased trouble and potential of harm ahead.