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November 30, 2000

Statistics show stalking rising rapidly

75% of victims are female: Numbers suggest growing awareness of harassment

Adrian Humphreys
National Post

A federal study on stalking suggests incidents of criminal harassment are rising sharply, but a prominent criminologist who has studied attacks against women warns against reading too much into the figures.

Official cases of stalking jumped by almost one-third between 1996 and 1999, says the Statistics Canada report.

In 1999, there were 5,382 incidents of stalking -- officially called criminal harassment -- reported to 106 police forces. In 1996 there were 4,071 cases.

Female victims accounted for more than three-quarters of the cases last year, and most of those women were stalked by a former lover.

Slightly more than half of all female victims were stalked by a current or former partner and another 25% were stalked by a casual acquaintance.

Just 7% were stalked by a stranger and less than 5% by a business contact.

By contrast, 44% of male victims were stalked by a casual acquaintance, while 16% were stalked by a current or former partner; 12% were stalked by a business contact and another 12% by a stranger.

The numbers must be judged cautiously, however, because they only gauge crimes reported to the police, said Dr. Rosemary Gartner, director of the Centre of Criminology at the University of Toronto and the author of a detailed study on lethal attacks against women.

"Stalking is not new, but the way police deal with it is," she said.

"It is a new crime, so first victims have to learn about it and realize it is a crime and something they can report to police, and then police have to be aware that this counts as this type of crime instead of something else."

That means the study may not accurately reflect the extent of the problem -- it could wildly underestimate it or mistakenly suggest it is on a rampant increase.

"I would be very wary of making anything of any trends over time for a few years until we get some better baseline data," she said. What is clear from the study is the stalker-victim relation is typically a close one, said Dr. Gartner.

"These aren't the celebrity stalkers or the psychopathic folks who develop a weird obsession with a stranger and stalk them on that basis. The stalking really is predominantly by people who know the person they are stalking quite well."

The statistics are reflected in recent cases of stalking that exploded into lethal violence. Last summer, Gillian Hadley, 35, was confronted by her estranged husband while she was bathing inside her Toronto-area home .

Four months earlier, Ralph Hadley, 34, had faced charges of criminal harassment and failing to comply with a restraining order to stay away from Ms. Hadley. He had harassed her with phone calls, driven by her home, hidden in the bushes and claimed to have compromising photos of her.

He had been charged with assaulting Ms. Hadley and later, with injuring her son.

After breaking into her home, a naked and screaming Ms. Hadley fled outside and handed her one-year-old baby to a neighbour before being dragged back inside her home by Mr. Hadley.

Minutes later, witnesses heard gunshots. Mr. Hadley had shot and killed his wife before shooting himself in the head.

Dr. Gartner said studying stalking incidents can give warning signs of impending violence. "Stalking behaviour by an ex-partner tends to be taken as a serious warning sign if it goes on for any period of time or accompanied by verbal threats."

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  • Statistics Canada
    Read the Criminal Harassment report conducted for 1999.
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