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Key Findings

Stalking Behaviors: A Closer Look

Intimate partner stalking is a dangerous and prevalent problem that often has devastating impacts on victims. Despite the staggering statistics, stalking that occurs in the context of intimate relationships is a largely invisible crime that often goes without consequences for the perpetrator.

Research shows that intimate partner stalkers are the most dangerous type of stalker and that stalking is a risk factor for homicide.

In order to better understand the connections between intimate partner stalking and domestic violence homicide, the Fatality Review Project’s 106 reviewed fatalities were split into two groups: cases where stalking behaviors were identified (“stalking cases”) and cases where no stalking behaviors were identified (“non-stalking cases”). To make this distinction, each reviewed case was reassessed for the presence of stalking by utilizing a broader behavioral based definition than the Project had used in the past. Cases designated as “stalking cases” in this Annual Report included the presence of a pattern of any of the following behaviors committed by the perpetrator:

  • Following the victim or showing up at locations where the victim is likely to be
  • Driving by the victim’s home, school or work
  • Monitoring phone calls or computer use
  • Using technology to track the victim or to compile information about the victim
  • Surveillance of the victim in any form
  • Sending unwanted gifts, letters, cards or messages
  • Causing damage to home, car or other property
  • Threatening to hurt the victim, or her family, children or pets
  • Using other people to locate or contact the victim
  • Posting information or spreading rumors about the victim on the internet, in a public place or by word of mouth
  • Other actions designed to control and intimidate the victim
  • Monitoring behaviors, including microsurveillance

Given the fact that many intimate partner stalkers utilize “following” techniques to surveil their victim, it is not uncommon for a stalker to follow a victim to a public location and approach her there. In fact, in stalking cases reviewed by the Project, homicides were more likely to occur in “public” spaces, such as the home of a family member or friend, a parking lot or sidewalk, a workplace, at a public building, or on public land (such as a park). In addition to increasing the potential that bystanders could be injured or killed during these “public” incidents, many bystanders also witness these tragic events. Witnesses to the homicide were present in 56 percent of the reviewed stalking cases; 38 percent of the time, those witnesses were children.

LOCATION OF FATAL INCIDENT

WITNESSES TO FATAL INCIDENT

In stalking cases reviewed by the Project, the victim and the perpetrator shared minor children in 56 percent of cases; unfortunately, children can often be unwittingly used as information-gatherers for a stalker, which was true in many reviewed cases. Given their close proximity to the victim parent, children are often manipulated into tracking, monitoring and surveilling the victim on behalf of the stalker. Adept stalkers may ask children questions about the victim parent’s activities, or utilize the child’s technology to track the victim. Perpetrators may also track the victim by taking notice of their children’s social media “check-ins” or posts about their daily activities. Children may also be given a cell phone, tablet, or computer with spyware or Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking installed on it. In one reviewed stalking case, the perpetrator utilized the cell phone provider’s “family locator” technology to discover the whereabouts of the victim.

SHARED CHILDREN BETWEEN VICTIM AND PERPETRATOR

Not only is a history of physical assault more prevalent in stalking cases, but intimate partner stalkers also engage in threatening and intimidating behaviors at a higher rate. In stalking cases reviewed by the Project, perpetrators were more likely to have made threats to kill the victim, with the threat to “hunt down” and kill the victim noted in several cases. They were also more likely to threaten the victim with a weapon. Frequently, the weapon used to threaten the victim was a firearm, which was subsequently the method of victim death in 67 percent of stalking cases reviewed by the Project.

Intimate partner stalkers are not only dangerous to their intimate partners, but to themselves and others as well. In reviewed stalking cases, prior to the homicide, 18 percent of perpetrators threatened to kill their victims’ loved ones, including children, family members and friends. Perpetrators in reviewed stalking cases were also nearly twice as likely to wound themselves or people other than the intimate partner, including the victims’ children, family members, or new intimate partner, during the incident.

PERPETRATOR’S THREATS TO HARM

PERPETRATOR’S HARM TO SELF OR OTHERS

In 44 percent of stalking cases reviewed by the Project, the perpetrator had a history of threatening or attempting suicide prior to committing the homicide or murder-suicide. In several reviewed stalking cases, perpetrators stated they would kill themselves if their victim ever left them. Threats of suicide are sometimes used only as a means of intimidating the victim.

However, more often than not, threats of suicide signal a person who is depressed and dangerous. In 34 percent of stalking cases reviewed by the Project, the perpetrator had a history of depression. In combination, depression, suicidality and domestic violence can be lethal — not only for the suicidal perpetrator but also for the victim and other family members. Perpetrators in reviewed stalking cases completed suicide after killing the victim at nearly twice the rate of non-stalking cases. (You can read more about the suicide-homicide connection in the 2016 Georgia Domestic Violence Fatality Review Annual Report, available for download at georgiafatalityreview.com/reports

PERPETRATOR’S KNOWN HISTORY OF DEPRESSION AND SUICIDE ATTEMPTS

Strangulation, a dangerous and lethal form of physical assault, occurred in reviewed stalking cases at over twice the rate of non-stalking cases. Non-fatal strangulation has been identified in multiple studies as a significant risk factor for intimate partner homicide. In 2014, House Bill 911 added language to the existing aggravated assault statute (O.C.G.A. § 16-5-21) to make strangulation a felony offense. This legislation enables law enforcement to charge strangulation as a felony assault and allows prosecutors to address the crime of strangulation more appropriately and seek sentences that reflect the seriousness of the life-endangering offense.

While non-fatal strangulation rarely leaves visible injury, it can result in serious internal injuries that can lead to delayed death if untreated. It can also have serious emotional and physical impacts on victims including PTSD, depression, suicidal ideation, memory problems, nightmares, anxiety, severe stress reaction, amnesia and psychosis. A study of strangulation conducted by the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence (2013) revealed that 44 percent of intimate partner violence victims who completed a Strangulation Screening and Assessment had been strangled during their relationship. Of those victims, 65 percent indicated that after the strangulation incident, they were afraid, intimidated, or changed their behavior due to fear of it happening again. Additionally, perpetrators in reviewed stalking cases were twice as likely to have sexually assaulted the victim in incidents prior to the homicide than in non- stalking cases.

PERPETRATOR’S KNOW HISTORY OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND STRANGULATION AGAINST THE VICTIM