Significant long-term impact of stalking found on victims' psychological health
Aug 7, 2005 - 2:39:38 PM
The first community-based study of its kind in Germany has confirmed findings from other countries, including the UK, the USA and Australia, which reveal a substantial incidence of stalking.
Furthermore, the significant long-term impact of stalking on the victims' psychological health found in this study suggests that this form of harassment deserves more attention in future community mental health research.
A postal survey was sent to a random sample of 1000 men and 1000 women aged 18-65 living in Mannheim, a middle-sized German city with 330,000 inhabitants. 400 women and 279 men responded. Their responses were compared with those of a matched sample of non-victims.
The survey included a stalking questionnaire that listed 18 possible harassing behaviours, such as unwanted communications by letters, e-mails, faxes or telephone calls; following or loitering nearby, or invading the victim's home; damage to property; or sending unsolicited goods.
All participants were also asked to complete the World Health Organisation-5 Well-Being Index, which measures psychological health, as well as a questionnaire indicating difficulties in setting boundaries and distinguishing oneself from others (psychological dependency scale).
It was found that almost 12% of the respondents (68 women and 10 men) reported having been stalked. This represents a significantly higher rate among women (17%) than men (4%). Of the stalking victims, 87% were women, whereas 86% of the stalkers were men.
Nearly all the female victims (91%) were stalked by a man, but for male victims the proportion of male and female stalkers was about equal (44% male stalkers). This indicates that same-gender stalking is a significant problem in males. Women were identified as stalkers in only 14% of cases.
In line with previous findings, this study showed that stalking is mainly a product of some form of prior relationship: about 32% of the victims were pursued by previous intimate partners. Only 24.6% of stalking was done by strangers.
Victims in this study experienced an average of five different methods of intimidation, the most common being unwanted telephone calls and loitering nearby.
Victims also ran a high risk of being physically injured, with one third of cases experiencing assaults involving physical restraint, or beating or hitting with objects. Sexual pestering was also frequent, and almost one in five victims had experienced sexual assaults.
A high percentage of victims (73%) reported changes in lifestyle as a response to stalking behaviour. 56% reported agitation as a psychological symptom, 44% anxiety, 41% sleep disturbance, 35% nausea and 28% depression. Nearly a quarter sought help from a health professional in response to stalking.
Victims were found to have higher scores than non-victims on a psychological dependency scale.
The present study is the first to show the long-term impact of stalking. Having ever been a victim was associated with current psychological distress, even when a number of factors connected with psychological health were taken into account.
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