Stalking is a form of violence that may lead to physical injury or homicide and
may have disabling social and psychological consequences
(1,2). Although the legal definition varies among jurisdictions, all 50 states have antistalking laws
(3). Louisiana defines stalking as the willful, malicious, and repeated following or harassing of another
person with the intent to place that person in fear of death or serious bodily injury
(4). Information is limited on the prevalence of stalking and its impact on the victim
(3,5). To gather population-based surveillance data on stalking and other forms of interpersonal
violence, the Louisiana Office of Public Health conducted a random-digit--dialed telephone
survey among residents regarding experiences and perceptions related to safety and
violence. This report summarizes the results of the survey, which indicate that 15% of the
women surveyed reported being stalked during their lifetime.
Data were collected from Louisiana residents aged
>18 years on a monthly basis from July 1, 1998, to June 30, 1999. Eligible households were selected randomly from
a list of possible telephone numbers that had been filtered to eliminate unused
and business exchanges. The respondent interviewed from each household was
selected randomly. If an eligible household refused to participate or if the desired
respondent could not be reached, a substitute number was selected randomly from the list.
The survey ensured confidentiality, and respondents gave informed consent for participation.
Of 4763 eligible respondents, 1808 (38%) completed the interview; 1171 (65%)
were women. This report describes the findings among women respondents. Age and race
of survey participants matched the 1990 census data for Louisiana, except that
women aged 18--24 years composed 8% of the survey sample and composed 14% of women
in Louisiana. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 99 years (median: 46 years); 71%
were white, and 28% were black, whereas among female Louisiana residents aged
>18 years, 69% were white, and 29% were black. Participants were classified as having ever
been stalked if they answered "yes" to the question, "Have you ever been stalked,
harassed, or threatened with violence for more than one month by someone who would not
leave you alone?" Women who reported having been stalked also were asked whether
they had experienced physical injuries and stress-related problems and the level of
fear invoked by stalking.
One hundred seventy-six (15%) women reported having been stalked during
their lifetime, and 23 (2%) women reported currently being stalked. Of the 176, 132
(75%) women reported they believed the stalking to be somewhat dangerous or life
of these, 89 (67%) indicated they had reported the situation to the police. Other
measures reported to stop harassment included changing usual behavior (70%), moving
(36%), purchasing a gun (11%), and obtaining a restraining order (11%) (Table 1).
Forty-two (32%) of the 132 women reported injuries from being assaulted by their stalker, such
as swelling, cuts, scratches, bruises, strains or sprains, burns, bites, broken teeth, or
knife or gunshot wounds. Seventy-one (55%) women reported experiencing stress
that interfered with their regular activities for >1 month.
Among the women who perceived their stalking to be dangerous or life
threatening, 67 (51%) identified the perpetrators as someone with whom they had had an
intimate relationship (i.e., boyfriend, former boyfriend, spouse, or former spouse); no
stalking was reported among same sex partners. Forty-three (33%) women identified
the perpetrator as someone known to them but other than an intimate partner (i.e.,
relative, acquaintance, friend, or other). Seventeen (13%) women were stalked by a stranger,
and five (4%) were stalked by a perpetrator that they were unable to identify.
Those women who had been in an intimate relationship with their stalker were
more than four times as likely to report that they had sustained an injury than those
women who had not been in an intimate relationship with their stalker (35 of 67 versus seven
of 60; relative risk=4.5; 95% confidence interval=2.2--9.3). None of the women who
reported having been stalked by a stranger and who believed the stalking was
somewhat dangerous or life threatening reported sustaining an injury.
Reported by: M Kohn, MD, State Epidemiologist, Oregon Health Div. H Flood, MPH, J
Chase, MSPH, PM McMahon, PhD, Injury Research and Prevention Section, Louisiana Office of
Public Health. Family and Intimate Partner Violence Prevention Team, Div of Violence
Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.
The findings in this report indicate that 15% of women surveyed
in Louisiana reported having been stalked during their lifetime. Social and
psychological sequelae of stalking were more prevalent than physical sequelae. More
reported experiencing stress from being stalked than experiencing physical injury.
The findings in this report are consistent with data from the National Violence
Against Women Survey (NVAWS) (3); both surveys showed that stalking had
adverse psychological and social consequences. NVAWS did not measure physical
injuries resulting from stalking because their definition of stalking precluded physical
contact; however, NVAWS separately measured physical violence and found that 81% of
those reporting stalking also reported having been physically assaulted by the same
The findings in this report are subject to at least two limitations. First, quantifying
the validity of self-reports of stalking is difficult because no "gold standard" exists
for comparison. Additional research is needed on experiences of violence to determine
the validity and reliability of different data collection methods (e.g., face-to-face
interviews, telephone surveys, and paper and pencil surveys). Second, the population surveyed
may not be representative of Louisiana. Because persons without telephones were
not surveyed, and because of the low response rate, nonparticipants may differ
from participants on study outcomes. However, the racial composition of survey
participants was representative of the state.
The data in this report suggest that reliable estimates of stalking may be difficult
to obtain using traditional data sources (e.g., health-care providers and law
enforcement agencies) because 68% of the women who experienced stalking did not sustain a
physical injury and 33% did not report the stalking to the police. A population-based survey
may help characterize the burden of stalking and other types of interpersonal
violence. However, the identification of victims in health-care and law enforcement settings
also may help characterize persons at high risk for injury from stalking and enable referral
of those persons for services and secondary prevention activities.
Surveillance is the basis for the epidemiologic approach to public health
problems (6). If violence prevention is to be approached using the public health model, an
accurate description of the problem is the first step
(7). State- and local-level data on the
prevalence of interpersonal violence can assist health departments in tailoring intervention
programs to the specific needs and conditions in their communities.
- Meloy JR. Stalking: an old behavior, a new crime. Psychiatry Clin North Am 1999;22:85--99.
- Pathe M, Mullen PE. The impact of stalkers on their victims. Br J Psychiatry 1997;170:12--7.
- Tjaden P, Thoennes N. Stalking in America: findings from the National Violence
Against Women Survey. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, and US Department of
Health and Human Services, CDC, April 1998; publication NCJ 169592.
- The National Center for Victims of Crime. Stalking legislation: Louisiana: Rev. Stat.
Section 14.40.2 Stalking. 1992. Amended 1997.
- Fremouw WJ, Westrup D. Stalking on campus: the prevalence and strategies for coping
with stalking. J Forensic Sci 1997;442:666--9.
- Teutsch SM, Churchill RE, eds. Principles and practice of public health surveillance.
New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
- Foege WH, Rosenberg ML, Mercy JA. Public health and violence prevention. Current Issues
in Public Health 1995;1:2--9.
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