It seems to be the price of celebrity: The stalker. Catherine Zeta-Jones has received threatening letters from a
stalker who is infatuated with her husband. David Letterman has lived with it
for years. What motivates these stalkers, and how dangerous are
While celebrity stalking makes the news, far more frequently
it's those living normal lives -- women and men both -- who are stalked by
someone they know, typically a former partner or someone they're involved
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 370,000
men are stalked annually -- one in 45 men. More than 1 million women are
stalked every year; about one in every 12 women will be stalked in her
Origins of Stalking
There's a line between the overzealous pursuer and the stalker.
"Stalking is much more about inducing fear," says Brook Zitek, DO, a
forensic psychiatrist at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
"It's repeated boxes of candy, clothing, showing up at your house, putting
things through your mail slot, notes on your car -- even though you've asked
them to stop," she tells WebMD.
The overwhelming majority of stalkers are men -- four to one,
Zitek says. Psychiatrists have developed several stalker profiles:
The rejected stalker. This person was rejected in a
relationship, and they perceive it as an insult, they feel wounded, and they
are seeking vindication.
The resentful stalker. These are self-righteous, self-pitying
people who may threaten, but they are the least likely to act on it.
The intimacy-seeking stalker. They believe they are loved or
will be loved by the victim. Often they focus on someone of higher social
status. This person is mentally ill and delusional.
The incompetent. This person is socially backward. He doesn't
really understand the social rules involved in dating and romance. He doesn't
mean any harm.
The predator. This is about sex gratification, control, and
violence. The stalker doesn't necessarily know the victim. The victim may not
know she is being stalked. But a predator plans their attack, rehearses it, has
lots of sexual fantasies about it.
The rejected and predatory stalkers are most likely to assault
their victims, says Zitek.
The Person Least Likely ...
You would never guess all this while dating the person, says
John Moore, a licensed professional counselor in Chicago and author of
Confusing Love With Obsession.
"They wear a mask of charm," he tells WebMD.
"They're the kindest, nicest people. You wouldn't know what's really going
on. You only become aware when clues of their behavior show up -- when your
email provider locks you out because you've logged your password incorrectly
too many times, for example."
In many scenarios, the stalking begins as a relationship is
ending -- a divorce or breakup, says Moore. One partner becomes obsessed,
convinced that this is their ideal partner. The stalker may believe that the
victim is in love with him or her.