Should workplaces do more to protect employees from stalkers?

Professor Craig Jackson says stalking is a 'deadly workplace phenomenon'

The concept of stalking may seem confined to 'CSI Whatever Town', but one professor is looking to highlight the issue. He's also asking if workplaces can take reasonable precautions for what he calls a deadly workplace phenomenon. 

A recent report published the University of Gloucestershire found stalking was present in 94% of the 358 murder cases they looked at. The research was led by Dr. Jane Monckton Smith, a former police officer turned criminologist. 

Speaking to Newstalk.com Craig Jackson, Professor of Occupational Health Psychology at Birmingham City University, says the report is not a surprise.  

"A decade of stalking research shows that many stalking behaviours and the perpetrators go unreported or are not dealt with early enough. This is partly due to under-reporting by victims, but also by agencies not knowing what to act upon and how."

Jackson defines stalking as "unwanted and unwarranted continued attention and contact from the perpetrator to the victim, which results in distress or fear".

Stalkers

Many of us may jokingly think of a stalker as a person who snoops through friends of friends' social media accounts, but in reality, there are a number of types of stalker, as Jackson explains. 

"Some stalkers can, of course, be colleagues of the victim, or even customers or clients who have come into some form of contact. A smaller number of stalkers choose a victim in a particular workplace just because the job gives them easy access, such as telephonists or receptionists. Not all workplace stalkers have the same “psychopathology”, and there is some evidence to suggest there can be a typology of stalking."

Jackson has identified the following types of stalker. 

  • Rejected stalker: arises from the breakdown of a relationship. They are usually a former sexual partner of the victim and this appears to be the biggest single typology.

  • Resentful stalker: arises from a perceived mistreatment or humiliation, with the power over the victim itself seen as “settling the score”. They often present themselves as the victim.

  • Intimacy-seeking stalker: arises from a lack of close relationships and intimacy — the victims become “fantasy” figures, and these desires can be the result of some severe mental health problems/psychosis (eg erotomanic delusion).

  • Incompetent suitor: arises from loneliness but does not seek intimate relationships, merely short-term sexual relationships. There is occasional overlap with a mild learning disability or cognitive impairments on behalf of the stalker.

  • Predatory stalker: arises in the context of deviant sexual practices and interest in the victim. The stalking can be gratifying and instrumental at the same time, becomes a way of gaining pleasure (eg voyeurism), and can also help provide information about the victim.

"Almost half of stalkers present themselves at their victim’s workplace, creating not only risks for the victims but for other colleagues who may interact with the stalker, as well as other members of the public who may be at the premises legitimately."

There are a number of different actions that stalkers take to unnerve their victims. Professor Jackson states this can range from personal visits to workplaces through to virtual contact via social media, and through a proxy. These can include:

  • telephone calls (silent calls or pleading/angry/threatening conversations)

  • following or giving the impression the victim has been followed

  • retrieving personal information/details (physically or online)

  • threats

  • false complaints to employers

  • false legal claims

  • criminal damage (home/work/vehicle)

  • blackmail

  • sexual assault

  • sending unsolicited gifts

  • signing the victim up for services they do not want

  • excessive contact (letter writing/emails/text messages), often over short periods of time

  • watching/monitoring

  • social network abuse

  • visiting the workplace

  • physical assault

  • computer hacking

  • time-wasting

  • rumour-spreading

Workplace 

Professor Jackson is now working to highlight the issue of stalking to employers to ensure they are properly equipped to deal with it."Most stalking is brought about through workplaces and yet workplaces are still quite unprepared to deal with stalking behaviors. 50% of victims leave their jobs as a mix of health difficulties but also because they see it as the only way to escape the stalker."

"Most stalking is brought about through workplaces and yet workplaces are still quite unprepared to deal with stalking behaviors. 50% of victims leave their jobs as a mix of health difficulties but also because they see it as the only way to escape the stalker."

"Not tackling stalkers early on reinforces to the stalkers that what they are doing is harmless and that they can get away with it. Paradoxically many early low-level stalker behaviors do not get on the victim's radar at the time - only, later on, do they often realise there has been a pattern of unusual things happening," explains Jackson.

Jackson believes stalking policies should be in place to minimise the risk to all those involved. 

"(Such a policy would help) keep the victim working while being stalked if they so wish, and support the victim if they need time off work, due to the effects outlined above, as well as for legal matters. Such policies should also make it clear that employees who engage in stalking behaviours themselves will be investigated, and disciplinary action will be taken against any such employee if criminal procedures are initiated."