Dr Emma Short is a Chartered Psychologist based at the University of Bedfordshire. She is registered with the Health Professionals Council as a Practitioner Psychologist in Health Psychology and is also the co-director of the National Centre for Cyber stalking Research which investigates harassment in online environments. In her role as a practitioner she works with individuals affected by bullying and harassment.
Dr Emma Short advised and featured in Evil Up Close with special attention to the William Jordan and Beverley Allitt programmes.
What kinds of characteristics do stalkers display?
People become stalkers for a variety of reasons. They are generally classified as follows, the rejected – usually ex partners, intimacy seekers – people who seek sex, love, friendship with another who does not want it – incompetent suitors, resentful or predatory.
Rejected or resentful stalkers have an overvalued sense of their entitlement and a compulsion to take control of others based on their own obsessive agenda. There also often features a narcissistic preoccupation, that is extreme self absorption and a preoccupation with their own needs and interests. Clinical evidence also shows that often this kind of stalker is poor at emotional identification and regulation.
They can’t regulate or manage their own distress or anger. This emotional regulation issue also impacts on behavioural regulation, so there will be displays of anger or distress and individuals will often take action based on those emotions. This group poses a significant threat to their victims.
What is cyber-stalking?
Threatening behaviour or unwanted advances directed at another using the Internet and other forms of computer communications” (National Centre for the Victims of Crime 2008, UK). Stalking can be defined as the course of conduct by which one person repeatedly inflicts on another unwanted intrusions to such an extent that the recipient fears for his or her safety or a coerced destructive relationship. A relationship where one person’s life is intruded upon or violated by any number of means they might engage in.
These are the sorts of behaviours that stalkers might engage in online:
• Constructing websites targeting the victim
• Transferring attack to victim’s relatives
• Use of the victim’s image
• Provoking others to attack the victim
• Following the victim in cyberspace
• Identity theft – controlling victim’s credentials
• Posting false profiles
• Posing as the victim and attacking others
• Discrediting in online communities
• Discrediting victim in workplace
• Direct threats through email/instant messaging
How has modern technology changed the way stalkers operate?
Stalking can now be a computer assisted crime using a computer as a tool. Technology means that the temporal nature of harassment has changed, time and geography are no longer important; people being stalked are not out of reach wherever they are and at whatever time of day.
Stalkers can pretend to be other people online. They can have multiple ‘friendships’ with their victim – who has no way of knowing. These fake friendships may be used to gather information and inclusion in their victim’s life - which then further arms the stalker. They can also trick other people to becoming hostile by posting false information about the person they are stalking.
What should a person do if they think they are being stalked?
To be sure there must be clear and unambiguous communication that intrusion is unwelcome and unwanted.
• From that point, the pursued person is advised not to respond to, or initiate any other contact.
• Keep the evidence or record contact.
• Call the National Stalking Helpline who can help explain your options. Visit the website for more information www.stalkinghelpline.org
• Stalking behaviour in any form is against the law and the police can take action. If you feel threatened or in danger at any point then call the police.
How seriously do the police take stalking?
More seriously than they ever have, in the UK there is a real move towards improving training. However this does need to be at a multi-level right from the point of reporting the crime up to the investigation and prosecution. Patterns of stalking need to be recognised early and responded to - almost 80% of homicides of women by ex partners in the UK have been shown to be preceded by stalking.
What precautions can we take when using social media to prevent cyber-stalking?
Don't publish any personal information, such as your address or phone number. Refrain from posting photos of your children on your blogs.
• Block and ban
• Keep a log
• Keep in mind the possibility of becoming a target if you have an online presence. Post with this in mind.
What is the difference between cyber-bullying and trolling?
Stalking is a word used to describe the obsessive pursuit or intrusion of another person. The intrusion is persistent and frequent. It causes fear and distress person being stalked. A Troll is widely accepted to be a person who posts with the intention of insulting and provoking others.
The intention is often to disrupt the normal functioning of a discussion group so it collapses. “A group is considered to be cohesively destroyed when two-thirds to three-quarters of the messages are a result of trolls," Wood 2007. Many trolls are characterised by having an excess of free time and are probably lonely and seeking attention, some extreme antisocial online behaviour may be due to a psychological need to feel good by making others feel bad.
Trolling is antisocial behaviour, just as offline antisocial behaviour is. It can be compared to recognised antisocial behaviours such as misuse of public space or nuisance behaviour such as intimidation, harassment and criminal damage. The point is, that trolling tends to be motivated by an antisocial tendency rather than a fixation on one person where is it feared and unwelcomed, that it what defines the stalking relationship.
How can we fight cyber-bullying?
Social norms are negotiated as actions are linked to consequences and that relationship is understood by the majority. Until we establish and delineate the consequences of cyber stalking/bullying, then actions won’t change.
What are Munchausen’s and Munchausen’s By Proxy?
Fabricated or induced illness (FII) is a rare form of child abuse. It is usually happens when someone who is caring for a child, fakes or causes the symptoms of an illness. In most cases the biological mother is the abuser, however, in a very small number of cases of FII others have been the perpetrator that may be another adult family member, guardian, or a healthcare professional.
FII is also known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy. The term Munchausen syndrome by proxy is sometimes used to describe when someone fabricates or causes illness or injury to others. However, healthcare professionals in the UK prefer to use the term fabricated or induced illness for the two main reasons below – taken from NHS Choices 2011…
• Munchausen syndrome by proxy places the emphasis on the person carrying out the abuse rather than the child who is the victim of abuse.
• The term Munchausen syndrome by proxy has been misinterpreted as a psychiatric diagnosis when, in fact, it was designed to describe a particular pattern of abuse.
The term Munchausen syndrome by proxy is still widely used in other countries.
What causes Munchausen’s?
It is not fully understood why FII happens, a number of theories are proposed. It could be that the person carrying out the abuse enjoys the attention of playing the role of a carer. A significant number of cases have a previous history of unresolved psychological and behavioural problems, such as a history of self harming or drug or alcohol misuse.