How stalkers affect their victims' mental health - and how to stay safe

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One of the women posted a video of the off-duty officer online, prompting others to come forward with similar allegations. One commented: "If this is the same person which I'm almost certain it is, he was stalking me over the summer in Sai Ying Pun on my top flat on Second Street.

"He would frequently come up to my roof, tried to get into my flat and left me inappropriate objects and notes."

American pop star Taylor Swift has had so many stalkers that she's resorted to carrying around bandages for gunshot or stab wounds. "You get enough stalkers trying to break into your house, and you kind of start prepping for bad things," she said in a 2019 interview with Elle magazine.

A Hong Kong police constable is expected to be dismissed following suspicions he pursued two women home and asked them to be ‘his mistresses’, according to a police source.
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Stalking has been the subject of several Hollywood films, from Glenn Close's bunny-boiler in 1987's Fatal Attraction to The Bodyguard (1992) and more recently, The Girl on the Train. Celebrities including Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Kendall Jenner and Halle Berry have exposed the dark side of fame by sharing their stalker stories.

In 2021, two fans of Chinese actor and singer Wang Yibo were arrested after boasting online about placing a tracker on his car. His case and others prompted the Chinese government to take drastic measures to rein in the country's obsessive fan culture.

Members of K-pop groups Twice and Exo have also had issues with stalkers.

Hong Kong-based psychotherapist Gabrielle Tüscher says there are many reasons why non-violent stalking must be taken seriously. It's not just terrifying, but can also cause lasting psychological damage.

"The actions of a stalker impact all aspects of victims' lives, from their mental and physical health to employment and social life," says Tuscher.

"Victims aren't traumatised just once; they're perpetually unsettled by attempts at contact and often begin to feel like there's no safe place to go," she says.

Those targeted, she says, can experience a range of damaging effects, from chronic stress, anxiety and depression to eating disorders, loss of confidence and feelings of isolation.

"In some cases, victims have attempted suicide and experience symptoms associated with trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder," Tüscher says. It's not uncommon for victims to become so fearful and ashamed that they don't feel safe leaving their home.

Stalking can also affect a victim's livelihood, job, relationships and social life. "Some change jobs, schools or even move house after being targeted," she says. "Some don't go out in fear of being followed or encountering the individual, and isolate themselves from friends and family."

Tuscher says it is important to stress that victims are not responsible for the actions of stalkers. "If you're being stalked, don't make excuses for the stalker or tell yourself you are overreacting," she says.

"Tell a friend or family member what's happening so you have a support person and a witness."

If you are in immediate danger or are being followed, call the emergency services (in Hong Kong, dial 999), Tuscher says. "There's no price for overreacting, but underreacting to stalking can, in extreme cases, be fatal."

As for the psychology of a stalker, it's not black and white, she says. "To stalk is to seek relevance," she says. "When someone breaks into your home or physically assaults you, it is clearly recognisable as a criminal act and undoubtedly prompts a quicker call to action.

"Stalkers often emphasise that they 'love' their victims and occasionally say they stalk to keep others safe," she says. An example, she says, is when an abusive ex-husband might say he stalks his ex-wife to ensure she's properly caring for their children.

"Psychologically, however, stalking is a crime of control. Stalkers see their victims as possessions who are rightfully theirs, and stalking behaviours are frequently activated by a break-up or an ex-partner's new relationship."

Some mental health issues can lead to stalking, Tüscher says. "People with personality issues may have trouble letting go of relationships and sometimes use manipulative tactics to control people.

"Erotomania is a delusion in which a person believes that another person - often a celebrity - is in love with him or her, and this can lead to stalking."

The overwhelming majority of stalkers are men. Cultural and gender norms may contribute to stalking behaviour, and the highest risk cases often stem from a history of family violence.

"Non-delusional stalking is about power and control, similar to domestic abuse. It's a conscious decision made by the perpetrator; they are not out of control. At its core, stalking consists of repeated attempts to gain control over or terrorise someone," Tüscher says.

Tuscher's tips for staying safe

  • Change your routine frequently so it's more difficult for your stalker to find you.
  • Instruct friends, family, and employers not to give out information about you without your express permission.
  • Keep a log of every incident so you have evidence if you need to press charges.
  • Seek a restraining order against the stalker, and call the police immediately if he or she violates the order.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.