FANATIC SHADOWING

Inside the disturbed mind of a stalker

When a stalker’s attempts to connect or reconcile fail, they frequently seek revenge.

In Summary

• People who stalk can be very dangerous. They can threaten, attack, sexually assault or even kill their victims.

• Police need to take stalking offences with more seriousness.

Ivy Wangechi, who was hacked to death by a stalker who claimed to be her boyfriend
Ivy Wangechi, who was hacked to death by a stalker who claimed to be her boyfriend
Image: courtesy

Kenyans on Twitter on April 16 took to Twitter to condemn the rise in murders of women by their ex-lovers, husbands, boyfriends and stalkers, using the hashtag #StopKillingForLove.

The past week alone has featured many violent crimes against women. They include the murder of Ivy Wangechi, who was axed to death by her spurned lover, and the murder attempt of Peninah Wangechi, who was stabbed 17 times by her husband and is in hospital.

Other cases are the murder of a 24-year-old Nyeri woman by her boyfriend, and the stabbing of a Pwani University student by an ex-lover. She is fighting for her life at Kilifi County Hospital.

 

IHC Phoenix psychologist Charlene Denousse defined stalking as repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact or any other behaviour directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel uncomfortable.

Research shows, a  stalker does not have to be a stranger or an ex. A husband or a boyfriend can also qualify as a stalker.

Men are also stalked. Two men shared their experiences with the Star with the aim of getting the police to treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves.

BOMBARDED WITH TEXTS, CALLS

Facebook Messages sent to John made him fear
Facebook Messages sent to John made him fear
Image: courtesy

Lecturer Bob Mwangi (not real name) was stalked by one of his students. It started with a text message two days after she passed her test.

"She sent me a message which said, 'Part of me wishes I hadn't passed my test because I would have got to spend more time with you'," he recalls.

"I didn't reply, but the texts just kept coming all night. They got darker and darker. I thought she might be at risk so I called the police, who took the matter lightly."

But the bombardment of texts and phone calls carried on every night. Bob never replied. He says she would leave voicemails up to 15 times a night, but police told him there was nothing they could do because  Mary* (the student) had not made direct contact.

One night, Mary turned up at his flat and texted him to say she was outside and wanted to talk to him. She had followed him home.

"I'm a grown man, but I felt very vulnerable and anxious," he says. "The next evening, my doorbell rang repeatedly. I looked out of the window and it was her again. She then phoned me eight times while she was outside. I reported the matter to the police, who did not intervene."

'IT'S SUFFOCATING'

Bob says the ordeal has had a lasting impact. "It's horrible. It's almost suffocating. It changes your life, how you feel about people. You feel as if you're not quite being taken seriously because you're a man," he says.

"Some people might think it's harmless, that it's just a woman giving you some attention. It's not, because the attention is unwanted, unsolicited, and was never reciprocated. I'm very cautious now, always looking around me when I go outside. I don't feel safe."

James* (not his real name), 44, was harassed by a former neighbour after they had a one-night stand.

Days later, the woman started bombarding him with threatening texts, calls and social media messages.

"She was saying she was waiting outside my flat, that if I didn't reply to her she would get angry, vengeful; that I wouldn't like her when she was angry. On one occasion, she was standing outside my flat when I was inside."

James became increasingly worried about his safety. "I couldn't sleep at night," he says.

Eventually, the woman was convicted of harassment and subjected to an order banning her from contacting James directly or indirectly.

But this did not stop her. Two months later James, began getting calls from the woman at work. On a night out, she came over to James in a bar. The order she had breached was amended to stop her going within a certain distance of James's home, but he says it's still an ongoing problem.

"I report it to the police every time she breaches the injunction, but I now think that I will be doing it for the rest of my life. I've had to have my phone cut off. I have no visible presence on social media. It's a constant worry, it affects everything, every decision I make about where I go, what I do. It feels like it is never ever going to end."

Faith Mwanza from Faith Trust says, "I understand stalking is under-reported generally, and men report less than women. We must ensure we encourage people to come forward.

"I know men and women are sometimes concerned that when they do report, they won't be taken seriously. We advise officers to be non-judgemental regardless of gender, and not make assumptions of anyone."

STALKING NOT AN OFFENCE

Regional police commander Philip Ndolo told the Star that stalking is not an offense handled by police.

“Police do not intervene in cases of love admiration or stalking. The involved parties need to solve such cases among themselves,” he says.

He, however, says the police can only intervene when the stalker harms their victim.

“The police come in when the stalker stabs you, touches you inappropriately, for example, and there is physical evidence,” he says.

There's a line between an overzealous pursuer and a stalker. "Stalking is much more than just inducing fear," says Charlene Denousse, a counselling psychologist. "Stalking involves a continuous array of attention," she tells the Star.

The overwhelming majority of stalkers are men, Charlene says.

She says psychiatrists have developed five stalker profiles.

One is rejected stalking. He or she has experienced the unwanted end of a close relationship, most likely with a romantic partner, but also with a parent, work associate or acquaintance.

Charlene says when the stalker’s attempts to reconcile fail, they frequently seek revenge.

Two is the intimacy seeker identifies a person, often a complete stranger, as their true love and begins to behave as if they are in a relationship with that person.

"Many intimacy-seeking stalkers carry the delusion that their love is reciprocated," she says.

Three is the incompetent stalker like the intimacy seeker hopes their behaviour would lead to a close relationship, satisfying their need for contact and intimacy. 

She says, however, this type of stalker acknowledges that their victim is not reciprocating their affection while they still continue their pursuit. 

"Given their inability to comprehend and carry out socially normal and accepted courting rituals, he or she  uses methods that are often counterproductive and frightening."

 Four is the resentful stalker experiences feelings of injustice and desires revenge against their victim rather than a relationship.

"Their behaviour reflects their perception that they have been humiliated and treated unfairly, viewing themselves as the victim," she says.

The focus on a distressing past and the compulsive reliving of this pain she says can contribute to a mood disorder or a paranoid disorder.

Five is the predator stalker also has no desire for a relationship with their victims, but a sense of power and control.

She says they find pleasure in gathering information about their victim and fantasizing about assaulting them physically, and most frequently sexually. 

All stalkers assault their victims either emotionally psychologically or physically

, says Charlene.

WHEN TO BE CONCERNED

The red flags are one when you immediately start getting several phone calls or emails right after meeting the person.

Secondly, when the person is clingy, controlling, or upset if you want to spend time with friends and family.

"Don't make any sudden moves," says psychologist Faith Mwanza. "Don't tell them, 'I don't want anything to do with you.' By rejecting that person, there is a chance of violence. If you reject that person, often times they feel angry, threatened. There is the possibility of violence."

Psychologist Charlene says a victim should cut all possible avenues of communication. 

Take action by one, telling everyone you know that this is going on: your employer, friends and family.

Secondly, gently but firmly tell the person you've decided to move on. Don't get drawn into discussions of why. Just say, "This situation isn't right for me" or "I'm not ready yet." Whatever you need to say, but say it gently.

If this doesn't work, you may need to take legal action, Charlene says. File a police report, file a restraining order, change your email and ATM passwords. "Their fantasy is that you love them. You really need to be on the offensive. There's no harm in changing passwords."

"Never, ever underestimate a threat. Don't take it lightly, even if it's in an email. Take it to the authorities. Ignore it at your own peril. It will only get worse," Mwanza says.

Mwanza said law enforcement officials often don't act on reports of stalking, “If you call the police and say, 'My ex-boyfriend is stalking me,' they may not actually do anything about it. They'll say, 'Call us if he comes on your property.”

For stalkers, Charlene says if you see this obsessive pattern in yourself, see a therapist.

She notes that professionals should focus on the stalkers not as criminals but as vulnerable, distressed individuals, whose behaviours reflect, at least in part, the influence of a serious underlying mental disorder.

"The most important step in the management of stalkers is to see them as individuals in need of psychological help."

LEGAL PROTECTION

Criminal Advocate-John-Lewis Onkendi
Criminal Advocate-John-Lewis Onkendi
Image: courtesy

Nairobi based criminal advocate John-Lewis Onkendi of Onkendi Ombiro Advocates defines stalking as unwanted and obsessive attention that an individual shows and is deemed to intimidate or harass a person.

This intimidation can be done using emails, text messages, physical attacks and other methods. However, these methods are not mentioned in any act of Parliament.

What the law provides for is the protection and relief of victims of domestic violence. It defines stalking as pursuing or accosting a person. The act defines harassment as also domestic violence.

“If someone watches or loiters around a building you live in, work in or study in, they are harassing you. If they make repeated unwanted contact or attempt to contact you via post, telephone or any other electronic means, they are harassing you,” he says.

Onkendi says it does not matter whether or not you engaged in conversation with them. If someone sends you offensive or abusive documents, they are also harassing you.

The law provides remedy for stalking.

First, it highlights the duties of police officers in relation to domestic violence. When you go to the police, they should inform you of all the options you have to protect yourself against an abusive person. These options include access to shelter and medical assistance. They should also tell you how to get protection under the Protection Against Domestic Violence Act and how to lodge a criminal complaint against the perpetrator.

A  victim has the right to lodge a criminal case against the abuser. He or she can also claim compensation for any loss or injury caused by domestic violence.

Stalking does not only end at physical activity. More often than not, it is also perpetrated online. Onkendi says, “The Kenya Information and Communications Act and the Cyber Crime and Computer-Related Crimes Bill of 2014 also deals in part with online stalking and cyber bullying."

The state has come up with laws where harassing and stalking someone on Facebook or Twitter can now earn you a 10-year prison sentence or a Sh20 million fine, or both.”