The Age

Victims of female stalkers 'not taken seriously'

The Age (Melbourne)
Saturday 1 December 2001

Victims of female stalkers often find their complaints are trivialised or dismissed, says a Melbourne researcher involved in a landmark stalking study.

Psychologist Rosemary Purcell said yesterday the study of 40 female and 150 male stalkers showed the women were less likely to assault their victims than men.

But she said female stalkers could be as tenacious and intrusive as males. They had also threatened their victims and damaged property.

In a paper published today in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Ms Purcell and psychiatrists Michele Pathe and Paul Mullen said women were seldom prosecuted for stalking.

The researchers, all directors of a stalking and threat management centre in Melbourne, said that victims of female stalkers often confronted indifference and scepticism from law enforcement and helping agencies. Some men had complained that they were told they should be "flattered" by all the attention.

About 40 per cent of the women studied had stalked "helping" professionals with whom they had consulted, the study found.

The professionals affected included psychiatrists, psychologists and family doctors, but teachers and lawyers were also targets.

According to the researchers, the paper was a first in considering the context in which stalking behaviour emerged among women.

Ms Purcell said she hoped it would lead to stalking by women being treated as seriously as similar behaviour by men.

"It (female stalking) doesn't happen as frequently as it does among men," she said.

"We hope a lot of people see the article and come forward if they have been stalked. I think when someone is involved in stalking, it should be treated seriously according to the behaviour shown, not the gender of the perpetrator."

The study showed female stalkers demonstrated the same propensity for threats and violence as their male counterparts. But more men assaulted their targets and none of the women studied sexually assaulted their stalking victims.

According to the study, 13 of the 40 female stalkers inflicted property damage. One stalker damaged her ex-fiance's sports car and another painted obscene messages on the fence of her victim's home.

The paper compared a group of women who stalked persistently with the cases of 150 male stalkers. The case material was drawn from referrals to a community forensic mental health clinic between 1993 and 2000.

The duration of stalking by the women ranged from two months to one case of 20 years. Similar figures were recorded for the men.

Other findings included:

Female stalkers were less likely than males to follow their victims, but were more likely to favour telephone calls.

With only two exceptions, the female stalkers pursued someone they knew.

Male stalkers harassed a broader range of victims, including former intimate partners, acquaintances, strangers and professionals.

Ninety-one per cent of the men harassed women, while female stalkers were equally likely to stalk men or women.

Only two of the women who stalked former sex partners reported a homosexual motivation.

Almost half the female stalkers were classed as intimacy seekers whose behaviour came from a desire for a close and loving intimacy, usually with a professional contact.

Other female stalkers were responding to the breakdown of a sexual relationship, seeking to punish those perceived as having mistreated them or trying a crude method of getting a date with their victim.

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Copyright The Age Company Ltd 2001.