Stalking: Lessons from Recent Research
An Address by
Jeremy Travis, Director
National Institute of Justice
National Center for Women and Policing Conference
April 14, 1999
I am very pleased to be here and am grateful for the opportunity to address this important meeting, the Fourth Annual Conference
of the National Center on Women and Policing. I recall speaking at your first conference in Washington and am delighted to
be with you again today and to see the growth in your membership.
The policing profession is experiencing profound changes these days — and, as the recent intense interest in the issue of racial
profiling and police misconduct demonstrates, the policing profession is experiencing profound scrutiny. At times such as
these, when the public spotlight is particularly unrelenting, it is important that the members of the policing profession
dig deep and try to reconnect with the core values that animate policing at its best — an abiding commitment to democratic principles,
a strong belief in the importance of partnering with the community, a willingness to be open to new ideas and to honest scrutiny,
and a pride in the professionalism of police officers who every day exhibit extraordinary intelligence, bravery, and resourcefulness
in their work to bring safety to our neighborhoods. It is my belief that the introduction of an increasing number of women
into the policing profession — and into its leadership ranks — will accelerate the profession’s ability to live up to those ideals.1 So, at a time when policing is under the spotlight once again, I am honored to be here with you as you focus on the issue
of police leadership and to commend you and the National Center for Women and Policing for the very important work you are
My topic this morning is stalking — and specifically, my intention is to share with you some recent research findings that shed
new light on the stalking phenomenon and to suggest some implications for law enforcement that may flow from these findings.
But first, we should acknowledge that we would not be having this conversation a generation ago. That is not to say the phenomenon
of stalking was unknown — on the contrary, stalking behavior has been observed in human relationships and in communities since
the beginning of recorded time. Yet, our emphasis on this behavior, our willingness to distinguish stalking behavior, our
insistence that separate statutes be written to prohibit this behavior — all of these are relatively recent, coming in the last
quarter of this century. Movies on stalkers, news reports on celebrity stalkers, horrific stories of stalking behavior in
the context of intimate relationships — all have heightened our awareness of a separate category of behaviors — related but by
no means identical — that we now call “stalking.”
Now, all 50 States have anti-stalking statutes, many drafted to conform to the model anti-stalking legislation which was developed
under a grant from the National Institute of Justice and published in 1993.2 The 1994 Crime Act specifically provides Federal funds to help communities, victim advocates, and police departments respond
more effectively to stalking. The same Federal law required an annual report on stalking and domestic violence be prepared
by the Department of Justice, presenting the latest research findings.3
I am very pleased to note the research community has been engaged in making a contribution to the larger social movement to
respond more effectively to the stalking phenomena.
This morning, I would like to highlight some of the key findings from a research report on stalking recently published by
the National Institute of Justice and our partner in a larger collaborative research effort on violence against women, the
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study I will refer
to was conducted by Dr. Patricia Tjaden and Dr. Nancy Thoennes of the Center for Policy Research in Colorado.4
A key question in considering stalking is one of scope — how much stalking is there in the United States? Who stalks whom? How
often do stalkers overtly threaten their victims? How often is stalking reported to the police? The NIJ-CDC study is the first
of its kind to answer these questions.
Based on a nationally representative sample of 8,000 women and 8,000 men, the study found stalking was much more prevalent
than had originally been thought. Eight percent of women — and 2 percent of men — in the United States have been stalked sometime
in their lives. These numbers were based on a very strict definition of stalking in which the victim had to have been “very
afraid.” What does this mean for current levels of stalking? Translating the survey results into more easily grasped numbers,
this study found 1million women—and about 370,000 men—are stalked each year. So, we clearly are describing a phenomenon that
reaches deep into our communities and claims a substantial number of victims.
Who is involved in stalking incidents? Although stalking is a gender neutral crime, stalking that involves women is a different
phenomenon from stalking that involves men as victims. Most stalking victims — about three — quarters — are female and most of the
stalking perpetrators — 87 percent — are male. Most stalking cases involve people who know each other — about three-quarters of
female victims, and two-thirds of male victims are stalked by perpetrators who are known to them. Women are twice as likely
as men — 59 percent compared to 30 percent — to be stalked by intimate partners. Finally, the research found there was a strong
relationship between stalking and other forms of violence in intimate relationships. Of all the women in the survey who had
been stalked by a current or former husband or cohabiting partner, 81 percent had also been physically assaulted by the partner,
and 31 percent were also sexually assaulted by the partner.
The picture that emerges from this first set of findings from the NIJ-CDC study is very disturbing. Overall prevalence levels
are very high — and three times higher for women compared to men. For women who are victims of stalkers, the stalking is much
more likely to be committed by someone they know, twice as likely to be committed by an intimate partner, and, in situations
involving intimate partners, the perpetrator is highly likely to also have beaten and sexually abused the woman.
Let’s now look at the relationship between this behavior and the criminal justice system. The NIJ-CDC survey had some interesting
findings in this regard. First, it found about half of all stalking victims reported their cases to the police — and about a
quarter of the reported cases resulted in the arrest of a suspect. I would be interested in your reactions to these data,
but I was surprised at the relatively high reporting and clearance rates. Of much greater concern were the findings regarding
orders of protection. About a quarter of the female stalking victims — and about a tenth of the male victims — had obtained restraining
orders against their stalkers. But to what effect? Of all victims who obtained these orders, 69 percent of the women and 81
percent of the men said their stalkers violated the terms of the order.
So, the picture these findings paint is of a group of victims who seek the assistance of the criminal justice system at relatively
high rates — they report the stalking to the police about half the time, suspects are arrested in a quarter of those cases.
And these victims seek the unique protection of restraining orders at a very high rate — but find their stalkers routinely violate
these orders and the stalking continues.
Finally, the survey illustrates some of the psychological dimensions of stalking that cannot easily be captured in the dry
language of a criminal statute or the precision of a statistical presentation. About 30 percent of the female stalking victims — and
20 percent of male victims — seek psychological counseling as a result of their victimization. Victims of stalking are also
much more likely than other victims of crime to live in fear for their personal safety and to carry something to defend themselves.
Sometimes we think of stalking incidents as just that — isolated events that are relatively short-lived. The study dispatches
that notion with a chilling finding—the average stalking case lasts 1.8 years, and nearly one — fifth of victims are so fearful,
they move to new homes to escape their stalkers.
The NIJ-CDC survey underscores the truth that is known to victim advocates and police personnel who work with stalking victims—the
impact of this particular crime is profound and can cause deep psychological damage.
Let’s consider for a moment the implications of this research for the work of the law enforcement community.
Clearly, we have to do more to encourage stalking victims to report to the police. This is more easily said than done—particularly
when, in the eyes of many victim advocates, the police have not taken this crime sufficiently seriously. It would be my hope
this organization—representing as it does women in policing—could help change that perception. We have come a long way in
the past several years in demonstrating violence against women must be understood as different from other forms of violence—the
intimate nature of much of that violence, the setting of acts of violence within a larger context of a relationship characterized
by power and control, requires a different law enforcement and criminal justice response.
So too, this research on stalking demonstrates stalking behavior is particularly invidious, causing serious emotional harm
and often including a pattern of physical and sexual abuse—and it needs to be taken seriously. The implication for law enforcement
is the police need to listen closely to those first signs of stalking behavior—rather than minimizing the reports of the victim,
the police need to listen attentively and place those indicia of stalking into a larger context.
This research contains a particular implication for the role of the victim in responding to stalking behavior and the statutory
definition of stalking itself. The NIJ-CDC study found only half of the cases involved direct threats to the victims — even
though the victims experienced a high level of fear. As you may know, a number of State statutes defining stalking require
there be a “credible threat” for the behavior to be classified as criminal.5 This research shows the fear induced in the victim can be triggered by behavior that does not directly constitute a threat — a
car parked outside the house, a message on the answering machine, a reminder of the stalker’s presence — all of these can be
highly threatening and fear — inducing even though they might not constitute, in the strict legal sense, a “credible threat.”6
This also suggests victims can help the police in their investigations by recording carefully the times, places, and events
related to the stalking; keeping a daily log; and taking photos, if appropriate, to help the police build the case. Victims
should be encouraged to call the police whenever the intrusion leads to fear or anxiety, and the police should be encouraged
to file incident reports. It is critical in this area of criminal behavior that the pattern of behavior be adequately documented—and
both the victim and the police have critical roles to play.7
I have brought with me a handout that lists the citations for this research and other publications of the National Institute
of Justice and other components of the Department of Justice on the topic of stalking. I hope you take advantage of the work
that has been done in this area and encourage your colleagues to contact us if they have additional questions. We are now
just at the beginning of an important effort to develop more effective responses to stalking behavior—research has helped
us to understand stalking in unprecedented depth and breadth, and, fortunately, the law enforcement response is keeping pace
with our advances in understanding. For this, I commend you and thank you for your attention to this important topic.
- NIJ has funded a research project entitled “Women in Policing: Assessing the Work Environment Project,” to provide chiefs
with the tools to improve the status of women in policing. The project is being carried out by the Institute for Women in
Trades, Technology, and Science (IWITTS), and the principal investigator is Donna Milgram. The project has developed a set
of workplace environmental assessment tools that will enable law enforcement agencies to determine if the workplace is receptive
to women officers (primarily) and to minority officers (secondarily); identify and pinpoint barriers that may exist for women
and minority police officers to successfully integrate into the department; and enable police departments to self—monitor
on workplace environmental issues.
The content areas of the tools are recruitment and selection, training academy, sexual harassment/work environment, promotion,
uniforms and equipment, and childcare and pregnancy. The tools have been field tested with the Albuquerque, New Mexico, and
Durham, North Carolina, police departments under Chiefs Gerald Galvin and Teresa Chambers. Findings from these departments
and the assessment tools will be made available upon the project’s completion in the summer of 1999. For more information,
visit the IWITTS Web site at www.iwitts.org to be notified when the assessment tools will be made available.
- National Criminal Justice Association, Project to Develop a Model Anti—Stalking Code for States, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, October 1993, NCJ 144477.
- Stalking and Domestic Violence: The Third Annual Report to Congress Under the Violence Against Women Act, Washington DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Violence Against Women Grants Office, July 1998, NCJ 172207.
- Tjaden, Patricia, and Nancy Thoennes, Stalking in America: Findings From the National Violence Against Women Survey, Research in Brief, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, April 1998, NCJ 169592. Other
publications will be forthcoming from this study, including the published prevalence and incidence report, and reports on
intimate partner violence, workplace violence and racial/ethnic relationships.
- See National Criminal Justice Association, Project to Develop a Model Anti—Stalking Code for States, 1993: 45. In her review of the Model Anti—Stalking Code, Nancy K.D. Lemon of the Battered Women’s Justice Project of Duluth,
Minnesota, notes the following elements of the proposed code were “useful:” “. . . broad definition of prohibited acts; allowing
‘implied threats,’ as opposed to ‘credible threats,’ to be sufficient; the use of increasingly serious penalties to deal with
increasingly serious acts, and encompassing misdemeanor and felony sanctions; and the broad definition of intent: In other
words, if a defendant consciously engages in conduct he knows or should know would cause fear in the person at whom the conduct
is directed, the intent element of the model code is satisfied.’ The drafters made a similar comment in regard to the fear
element: ‘In some instances, a defendant may be aware, through a past relationship with the victim, of an unusual phobia of
the victim’s and use this knowledge to cause fear in the victim ... a jury must determine that the victim’s fear was reasonable
under the circumstances.’ this language may open the door to the introduction of evidence regarding the stalker’s past threats
toward the same victim, and to expert testimony on stalking generally, which will probably be beneficial to victims.”
- See National Criminal Justice Association, Project to Develop a Model Anti—Stalking Code for States, 1993. The NIJ report addresses this issue and encompasses a broad definition of the prohibited acts. In her review of the
Model Anti—Stalking Code, Nancy K.D. Lemon of the Battered Women’s Justice Project of Duluth, Minnesota, noted the following
elements of the proposed code were “useful:” the “broad definition . . . beneficial to victims.” (from page 5 of the Lemon
publication for the Web site.)
- This approach is developed extensively in Melroy, J.R., “Stalking: An Old Behavior, A New Crime,” Forensic Psychiatry 22 (1) (March 1999): 94.
Date Created: December 3, 2007