In 1976, John Hinckley Jr fell head over hells for Jodie Foster after seeing her play the role of teen prostitute, Iris in the movie Taxi Driver. The obsession knew no bounds and after relentlessly stalking her for 17 months, in a desperate bid to impress her, he shot US President Ronald Reagan.
The letter he wrote to her that day read, “As you well know by now I love you very much.”
Almost three decades later, the fear of stalkers persists – among celebrities and commoners alike.
Cracking the Code of Stalking
Let’s be honest. We live in a delirious world that doesn’t acknowledge the gravity of stalking. In common parlance, any act of repeated unwanted advances to the effect of evoking fear or discomfort in the victim is stalking. It may be an explicit display of aggressive behaviour like physically following or spying, vandalising property, threatening calls or assaults. Or even seemingly innocuous acts like delivering flowers/letters, a barrage of text messages, driving by the victim’s residence, photographing the victim or family members and spreading false rumours primarily about the victim’s character.
Sadly, we are way too callous about being on guard. The hot girl who pings a guy on social media after every profile update is a “secret admirer”. The ex who waits outside your office to get you back in his life is a “die hard romantic”. On second thoughts, this is understandable. We are a country that swears by Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge – the actor who waves a bra at a woman’s face is the pin up guy who reveals his goodness as he stalks her through Europe and finally rescues her from her pigeon-hunting betrothed with everyone’s consent. What better then can you expect from us?
Institutional and Societal Failure
Undoing this cultural and gender based conditioning is the first step to take cues seriously and pre-empt any mishaps. The victim needs to have confidence to share such incidents and be taken seriously. Friends, family and teachers need to be a bulwark that doesn’t seek a “compromise” and brush it under the carpet. They need to help the victim in taking adequate privacy and safety precautions. And most importantly the criminal justice system needs to be sensitised to intervene as early as possible.
It is important to remember that Sec 354D of the IPC criminalises stalking (added in 2013). Incidentally, the number of stalking cases in Delhi have doubled in one year –from 541 in 2014 to 1,124 in 2015 (source: NCRB).
Challenges in the existing system:
- Police officials do not take the fear of the victim seriously.
- Resources aren’t dedicated for investigation at an early stage.
- Restraining orders against the suspect or police protection for victim aren’t adequately provided.
- Lack of training in cyber forensics makes it difficult to trace cyber stalkers.
- Co-ordination between officials of different jurisdictions is missing. This is necessary since a stalking victim can relocate to different places.
Knowing the Stalker
All stalkers don’t belong to a homogeneous category. They have varied motivations which need to be understood to deal with them.
Unless they talk to psychologists or specialists, they will continue their behaviour even after serving their term – posing an even greater danger. In 1993, Australian stalking expert Paul Mullen conducted behavioural studies and segregated stalkers into multiple categories – intimacy seeking; socially incompetent; resentful and predator stalkers.
Deep insights into their motives helps the law enforcement authorities predict the modus operandi of the assailant accurately and hence provide suitable protection to the victim.
Understanding the Stalking Victim
Anyone can be stalked. Statistically however, the figures (80% of the stalking cases worldwide) are primarily skewed towards women.
Research proves that certain kinds of people have a higher risk of being stalked. People working in media/entertainment/journalism and/or possessing a high profile, or those exhibiting a “saviour complex” i.e. trying to save or rescue others even at the expense of oneself are more vulnerable.
Having said that, everyone needs to be equally prepared.
- Always trust your instincts. Communicate upfront if you are uncomfortable with someone’s advances; it may be a misunderstanding.
- If advances persist, keep family and friends informed so that they do not share any personal info.
- Inform the police. Maintain a log book to record incidents and back them with testimonials.
- Do not try to reconcile with the stalker. He will think he is making progress.
- Do not hesitate to consult a psychologist to help you deal with trauma.
Stalking is like slow rape. Probably only Karuna, the 21-year-old medical student who was stabbed 22 times by her stalker, could judge whether her gruesome death was less painful than a life lost bit by bit. We failed her at every step. Only we are guilty of murder.
(The author is a freelance writer on public policy and social issues.)