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Far from being a new phenomenon, stalking is simply a new classification for old behaviour (Mullen, Pathé & Purcell, 2000a; Meloy, 1999) which has emerged as a significant social problem (Purcell, Pathé, & Mullen, 2000; Sheridan, Blauuw & Davies, 2003). It did not magically appear in the 1990's with the inception of "anti-stalking" laws, but occurred under the influence of media reports on celebrity stalkers (Dressing, Henn & Gass, 2002). The influence of media depictions of stalking has even introduced new words into the English language, with the phrase "bunny-boiler" (from the actions of Glenn Close in the film Fatal Attraction) appearing in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Mathieson, 2003).
However, while there are certainly cases that may contain elements of those seen on the big screen and on the front page of newspapers, most cases are fairly routine or mundane by comparison. The girl next door is more likely to be stalked by a former intimate than a Hollywood celebrity is by an obsessed fan. A very small number of cases involve actual violence, with most harassment being mental rather than physical. The reality is that obsessional followers are far from the sensationalism of their media archetype.
This chapter will provide an overview of stalking. Much of the available literature on the subject has thus far focused on the treatment and management of stalking from a clinical or forensic perspective. This chapter is less concerned with these issues and will focus more on stalking as both criminal and a deviant behavior. This will hopefully provide a clearer picture of what stalking is and how it manifests with individual victims. It will discuss what constitutes the offense of stalking, how it may be viewed as deviant, the behaviors typical of stalkers, the incidence and prevalence of stalking, and the effects of stalking on victims.
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