Leaving an Abusive Relationship Isn’t Easy (Part 2) — Stalking behavior by the abuser
How the abuser behaves when the victim is on the cusp of leaving
Let’s consider the abuser’s sudden nice behavior when he has either been told by the victim that she is leaving, or he suspects that she may leave. I would like to suggest that the abuser’s new acts of kindness have nothing to do with a repentant heart, as the church often wants victims to believe, but rather the abuser’s improved behavior is the sign of stalking behavior.
“Oh, now wait,” you may be thinking, “Not stalking? That’s a bit harsh? Isn’t stalking what a really bad guy does when he becomes obsessed with a woman he doesn’t really even know that well, and he ends up abducting and killing her?” Well, that is what movies often portray, but in fact, no, that is a myth. De Becker describes stalking as having two broad categories: unwanted pursuit by a stranger, and unwanted pursuit by someone the victim knows. He explains that unwanted pursuit by a stranger is very rare and is also the least likely to end in violence. Rather the majority of stalking situations involve people who know each other, particularly those involved in romantic relationships.
To have a better understanding of stalking let’s look at the definition of stalking, the motive behind stalking, and some typical behaviors of stalkers. Knowing what stalking is and what it looks like may help abuse victims to be able to relate it to their abusers and thus able to better protect themselves and aid in making future decisions. (The following information is taken from The Women’s Center website and their article titled, “Violence & Domestic Abuse – Stalking”.)
Stalking refers to repeated unwanted contact that harasses and threatens a person, causing him or her fear. It does not always involve physical contact, but can escalate to the point of physical violence. Stalking behaviors come from the need for a stalker to maintain a sense of power and control, as seen in domestic abuse.
Note: this definition includes the stalker’s desire for power and control. Exactly the mentality of domestic abusers.
Stalkers are motivated by a desire to control their victims’ actions and feelings, and by a desire to maintain some type of connection with them – regardless of their victims’ wishes – through manipulation and control. Stalkers will frequently threaten and harass, and in some instances the behavior will progress to physical violence.
Note: the stalker persists regardless if the victim has clearly said she wants to end the relationship. In other words, regardless of the fact that she has clearly told him “no”.
Three Phases of Stalking Behavior
While every stalker’s pattern of behavior is slightly different, there are predictable stages which a stalker may follow. Understanding how a stalker may move through the stages is helpful to show how stalking behavior can escalate in frequency, intensity, destructiveness and level of danger.
Phase 1: Unwanted Contact (Stalkers “woo” their victim)
The efforts here are designed to either establish or maintain a relationship against a victim’s wishes. They attempt to “prove their love” to victims by:
- gathering personal information from the victim’s friends, employers, family members, neighbors, post office, etc.
- Making repeated phone calls, sending long or a large volume of emails, letters, electronic pages
- sending notes, flowers, and other romantic gestures
- following, waiting for, and “coincidentally” running into the victim
- asking other people to try to “talk to” or “convince” the victim to have or continue a relationship with the stalker.
Phase 2: Escalation (Stalkers begin to use more intrusive behavior)
When a stalker’s initial advances are rejected, or they no longer feel connected to their victim, the intrusiveness, frequency, and severity of the harassment and stalking behaviors usually increases.
- Spread rumors, negative things, and false information about the victim to friends, family members, employers, faith organizations, schools (often, abusers threaten to “expose” their victim, even if the “exposure” is based upon falsehoods and lies – an effort to control other people’s perception of the situation).
- Make direct and indirect threats through intimidating phone calls, emails, pages and sending/leaving notes (IT IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR A VICTIM TO KEEP COPIES OF ALL COMMUNICATION FOR DOCUMENTATION IN THE EVENT THAT THEY NEED TO PROVE THEY HAVE BEEN STALKED). Threats may be of kidnapping, taking the children, bitter divorce or custody battle, murder or bodily harm, taking the victim to court, destruction of property etc.
- Become more persistent in following the victim
- Leave evidence to remind a victim of their presence
- Break into a victim’s home
- Leave dead animals where a victim will see them
- Leave weapons or bloody objects where a victim will see or find them
Phase 3: Violence (Stalkers resort to more violence)
As in domestic violence relationships, stalkers may turn to violence when the other behaviors either do not get them what they want, or have stopped working. When stalkers/abusers feel they are losing control, they may resort to using violence to assert their power and dominance over their victims. Stalkers may use:
- severe threats, including blackmail
- vandalism of the victim’s vehicles and property
- physical attacks
- sexual assaults, including rape
- attempted murder
Other stalking behaviors may include:
- harassing phone calls – either in frequency, or in the content of the call
- threats – entering or threatening to enter a victim’s home when no one is at home; threatening to report the victim to authorities when no crime has occurred; other threats which cause apprehension or fear
- monitoring the victim’s activities — through GPS devices and other techno-stalking methods; by using a victim’s friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers to monitor and report back on the victim’s whereabouts and activities; by requiring that a victim “check in” at certain intervals, or answer their phone at all times
- spying on the victim — a subset of monitoring the victim; may include literally hiding and spying, overtly showing up at an event or appointment and keeping watch, using the children to spy on the victim, or cyberstalking.
Profile of a Stalker
Some stalkers begin the abuse during a relationship with the victim, and use stalking to maintain and demonstrate continued power and control over their victims after the relationship has ended. At other times, an abuser may begin to use stalking behaviors when a victim has asked for changes in the relationship, has asked for or filed for a divorce, or has initiated a separation. These are common situations which lead to an escalation in abuse, including either the onset or the worsening of stalking behaviors. In fact, domestic violence victims are in great danger of being seriously harmed or killed when they are being stalked by their abusers. Stalkers can become more violent as they feel less control over their victims.
How many of these types of behaviors have you experienced when you were leaving your abuser? No doubt, at least some — maybe quite a few. These stalking behaviors are typical of domestic abusers and often the abuser is quite persistent with them because he is quite determined in his goal – maintaining power and control of his victim.
Persistence can be a deceiving thing. One would think that if a person is that persistent in obtaining or maintaining a relationship, he is being motivated by his love for the person. And that may be so if we are dealing with a normal person, one who is not driven by a mentality of power, control, and entitlement. But the abuser does not have a normal mentality. He is driven by power and control. He does feel entitled to that power and control, and he does feel justified in whatever means he needs to use to maintain that power and control. Love is not the abuser’s motive. De Becker shines a revealing light on what persistence really means when he says,
Persistence only proves persistence — it does not prove love. The fact that a romantic pursuer is relentless doesn’t mean you are special — it means he is troubled.
Of course, we know that abuse victims are special. De Becker is not saying that the victim is not special, rather he is clarifying for the victim that the abuser’s persistence is evidence of his problem, and I will add — it is a problem the victim cannot fix.
De Becker has been involved in successfully lobbying and testifying for stalking laws in several states. Yet regardless of the success of these laws he says what would be even more effective is if there was a class or a course that would teach men how to hear “no”, and teach young women to say “no”, a course that would also include strategies for getting away. I want to mention the one thing, the one rule, that De Becker would stress in such a class and his thoughts on why this rule is important and what he means by it. (Note: What De Becker discusses is not feasible for all abuse victims. Those with minor children, for example, would not be able to completely follow his advice, but possibly you could modify his advice to fit your situation.)
The one rule that applies to all types of unwanted pursuit is this: “Do not negotiate.” He explains,
Once a woman has made the decision that she doesn’t want a relationship with a particular man, it needs to be said one time, explicitly. Almost any contact after that rejection will be seen as negotiation. If a woman tells a man over and over again that she doesn’t want to talk to him, that is talking to him, and every time she does it, she betrays her resolve in that matter. . .
If you tell someone ten times that you don’t want to talk to him, you are talking to him — nine more times than you wanted to. . .
When a woman gets thirty messages from a pursuer and doesn’t call him back, but then finally gives in and returns his calls, no matter what she says, he learns that the cost of reaching her is leaving thirty messages. For this type of man, any contact will be seen as progress. Of course, some victims are worried that by not responding they’ll provoke him, so they try letting him down easy. Often, the result is that he believes she is conflicted, uncertain, really likes him but just doesn’t know it yet.
We have discussed on the blog the effectiveness of the “no contact” strategy. Some of our readers are in a position that they are able to use a “no contact” strategy with the abuser, but for many victims that have minor children and for other reasons, “no contact” is understandably not possible. In those situations we encourage “low contact”. How that will look is different for each situation, but the goal behind “low contact” is to only engage with the abuser when necessary: don’t respond to emails, letters, texts, or calls that don’t require an answer, don’t elaborate on events or situations that the abuser doesn’t need to know about, and don’t feel the need to defend yourself to your abuser. As De Becker points out if the abuser knows he can get a response out of you he will continue his persistence.
Leaving can be very difficult. In some cases almost as difficult as being in the relationship with the abuser. Abusers can be very persistent and convincing when trying to keep their victims from leaving. The abuser’s behavior can appear to be that of a repentant person, their actions can be deceivingly kind and loving. The unwisdom of Christian leadership or friends will often be for the victim to show her abuser more grace (be nice) and the victim will probably be encouraged to reconcile. And all the while society’s message to “let him down easily” is resounding in her head. No wonder it typically takes an abuse victim several attempts to leave before she finally does.
I hope that by having a better understand of the abuser’s persistent actions when the victim leaves and having some strategies for getting away will lessen the confusion and make it a bit easier for the victim. It is true that leaving an abuser is never easy. Leaving will indeed require strength, stamina, and courage. But one thing I have found is that some of the strongest and most courageous people I have met are abuse victims.
Posts in this series
Part 2: Is this post.