The Emotional Impact of Stalking: Unraveling the Role of Relationships

The emotional impact of stalking

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Abby Neef
Faces of Hope Foundation

Stalking is a serious problem affecting many people, more commonly women. Stalking can occur in many different social associations, such as intimate partners, relatives, acquaintances and strangers. Stalking causes a variety of negative consequences, such as emotional and financial problems. Even though we understand more about it now, studying stalking is still relatively new. It became a crime in the ’90s after some high-profile cases, like actress Rebecca Shaffer’s murder. While we know stalking causes emotional distress, we’re still figuring out how it affects people’s emotions in relation to the  direct relationship between the stalker and the victim.

Defining stalking can be tough to report because it’s similar to harassment. Stalking differs from harassment when it’s directed at one person, repeatedly, making them feel unsafe. Sometimes, what a victim determines to be stalking might not be seen that way by the law, affecting how many cases are reported. 

Researchers have tried to sort stalkers into groups based on their relationship with the person they’re stalking. Researchers found that being stalked by a current or past intimate partner is considered the most dangerous cases.

The Emotional Toll

Stalking can really mess with how someone feels. It can make them feel scared, stressed, sad, and even physically sick. Some studies show that people who are stalked have trouble sleeping and might even think about hurting themselves. Different stalking actions trigger varied negative emotions, with intensifying stalking associated with increased distress and violence risks. Longer stalking durations, notably in ex-partner cases, correlate with heightened stress levels.

Researchers want to learn more about how the relationship between the stalker and the person being stalked influences the emotional toll. They looked at lots of people who went through stalking and found that those stalked by current partners were in the highest distress, followed by people stalked by ex-partners. Others, like friends or strangers, showed lower distress, however it is important to note that the levels of emotional distress are substantial. Even after considering things like age, gender, and where they live, the relationship between the stalker and the person being stalked still mattered.

Understanding how relationships play a role in stalking is really important, especially for helping those going through it. It can help make sure they get the right kind of help and support. Stalking can really mess with how someone feels, and knowing more about it can help make things better for those going through it. Tailored support and empathy in criminal justice responses make a difference.

How you can help

Offering support to someone dealing with stalking can make a significant difference in their situation. Take their concerns seriously and listen without judgment. Help them keep a detailed record of all stalking instances and incidents – emails, texts, and social media messages included. These can be crucial for a protection order. 

If you’re in Boise, please encourage them to reach out to Faces of Hope for emotional support, safety planning, legal guidance, and resources like video doorbells and pepper spray. However, please respect their privacy and don’t speak to law enforcement without their consent if they do not wish to report. This is one way you can give back control to the victim. Overall, regular check-ins help them feel safer and supported. It takes all of us to help victims of stalking navigate a path forward.

This blog post is a condensed version of my BSU master’s thesis entitled “Stalking Victimization: Examining the Influence of Victim-Offender Relationship on Victim Emotional Distress.” I am happy to send the full paper to you if interested. My email is

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