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Stalking

What is it?

Stalking is considered criminal harassment if it causes the person to fear for their safety or the safety of others (Canadian Criminal Code, section 264.1). Criminal harassment, also known as stalking, is a crime. It involves repeated conduct that makes someone fear for their safety or the safety of someone they care about.

What does it look like?

Examples of stalking include the following, which may be directed at the person or people they know (e.g. friends/family):

  • repeatedly following them to different places
  • repeatedly communicating with them, directly or indirectly (e.g. through others)
  • watching their residence or place of work
  • threatening comments or actions
  • making threats to someone's children, family, pets or friends that cause fear, or
  • repeatedly calling or sending gifts after being asked to stop.

What is the impact?

The impact of stalking may vary according to the victimís characteristics, past experience, current circumstances, and what they know, or donít know, about the stalker. How others respond to the victimís situation, including how the stalking is managed by authorities, can influence the overall effect that the stalking episode has on the victim. Despite the complexities that may vary an individualís experience and reaction to being stalked, research has demonstrated common patterns of response. Although female victims usually report greater levels of fear, studies have found that males subjected to stalking experience similar symptoms to those reported by their female counterparts.

Although not exhaustive, the following are some of the more common effects that victims of stalking experience:

Effects on mental health

  • Denial, confusion, self-doubt, questioning if what is happening is unreasonable, wondering if they are over-reacting
  • Frustration
  • Guilt, embarrassment, self-blame
  • Apprehension, fear, terror of being alone or that they, others or pets will be harmed.
  • Feeling isolated and helpless to stop the harassment
  • Depression (all symptoms related to depression)
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, agoraphobia (frightened to leave the house, never feeling safe)
  • Difficulty concentrating, attending and remembering things
  • Inability to sleep ñ nightmares, ruminating
  • Irritability, anger, homicidal thoughts
  • Emotional numbing
  • Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress disorder e.g. hypervigilance (always on the lookout), flashbacks of frightening incidents, easily startled
  • Insecurity and inability to trust others, problems with intimacy
  • Personality changes due to becoming more suspicious, introverted or aggressive
  • Self-medication alcohol/ drugs or using prescribed medications
  • Suicide thoughts and/or suicide attempts

Effects on physical health

  • Fatigue from difficulty sleeping, being constantly on guard, symptoms of depression
  • Effects of chronic stress including headaches, hypertension
  • Gastrointestinal problems -
  • Fluctuations in weight due to not eating or comfort eating
  • Development or exacerbation of pre-existing conditions e.g. asthma, gastric ulcers and psoriasis.
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Impact on health of increased use of alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Physical injury due to not concentrating or being under the influence of substances
  • Heart palpitations and sweating

Effects on work and school

  • Deteriorating school/work performance
  • Increased sick leave
  • Leaving job or being sacked
  • Changing career
  • Dropping out of school ñ poorer education and career opportunities

Effects on social life

  • Insecurity and inability to trust others impacting on current and future relationships and friendships,
  • Problems with physical and emotional intimacy.
  • Avoidance of usual activities e.g., going to the gym, going out.
  • Isolation through trying to protect others , feeling misunderstood or psychological symptoms.
  • Others withdrawing from the victim because they donít believe the victim, they are unable to cope with the victimís mental state or as a direct consequence of third-party victimisation.
  • Victim moving to a new area, changing their phone number, name or even their appearance.

Effects on finances

  • Loss of wages due to sick leave, leaving job or changing career.
  • Costs incurred through legal fees.
  • Expense of increasing home and personal security.
  • Cost involved in repairing property damage.
  • Seeking psychological counselling and medical treatment.
  • Cost involved in breaking leases on rented properties.
  • Expense of relocation.