Intimate Partner Stalking: Fear, Psychological Distress and Health Impacts

This Web page is based on Research on Partner Stalking: Putting the Pieces Together (pdf, 27 pages), prepared by T.K. Logan for NIJ.

Partner stalking victims have higher levels of fear and distress, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression symptoms. Several studies indicate that partner stalking independently contributes to victim fear and distress.

  • In general, stalking victimization is associated with a range of fears and significant psychological distress. [1-11] from a study of stalking victims, of which 68 percent were stalked by an ex-partner, 78 percent had mean scale scores for somatic symptoms, anxiety, social dysfunction and severe depression that were similar to symptoms reported by psychiatric outpatient populations. [12]
  • When partner stalking occurs within the context of a current or former relationship that was violent, victim fear and distress is significantly increased. [13-15]
    • Partner stalking victims with histories of partner violence experienced over three times as many anxiety symptoms as stalking victims with no history of partner violence with the stalker. [16]
    • From a sample of 187 women stalked by an ex-partner, women who experienced violence during the relationship had higher distress levels than women who had not experienced violence during the relationship. [17]
  • Studies also suggest that partner stalking contributes uniquely to fear and/or distress after controlling for other forms of partner violence. [18-20]
    • In a comparison of the experiences of three groups of partner violence victims who had obtained civil protective orders (1) partner violence victims who experienced no stalking and no protective order violations, (2) partner stalking victims who experienced ongoing protective order violations but no stalking, and (3) partner violence victims who experienced protective order violations and stalking, results indicate that stalking victims experience significantly higher fear of future harm and distress than even those with ongoing violations but no stalking. [21]
    • Partner violence victims experience a wide range of fears. [22] A study found that partner stalking victims had significantly higher levels of fear across a variety of dimensions, including physical and sexual assault, ongoing harassment and threats, ongoing coercive control, harm and harassment of friends and family, child threat and interference, economic harm, and public humiliation. [23]
  • Partner stalking is associated with sleep and health problems. [24-29] Health problems may develop from or be exacerbated by the stress and distress from stalking, the cumulative stress and trauma from past violence and abuse and ongoing stalking. [30]
  • There is evidence of a dose response relationship with the intensity, frequency, and/or duration of stalking associated with increased fear and distress. [32-39]
  • Several other studies suggest that explicit threats are significantly associated with violence from the partner stalker. [40-45]
  • In one study, researchers concluded, "Though perhaps counter to expectations, it appears that the sense of looming vulnerability that accompanies threats may be more productive of psychological distress in stalking victims than the reality of actual physical assault, which importantly, may precipitate a more sympathetic response, particularly from law enforcement." [46]
  • This is consistent with others who have concluded that the harm from stalking is often more psychological than physical. [47-53]


[note 1] Amar, A., "College Women's Experience of Stalking: Mental Health Symptoms and Changes in Routines," Archives of Psychiatric Nursing 20(3) (2006): 108-116.

[note 2] Baum, K., S. Catalano, M. Rand and K. Rose, "Stalking Victimization in the United States," Special Report, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2009, NCJ 224527.

[note 3], [note 34] Cupach, W., and B. Spitzberg, The Dark Side of Relationship Pursuit: from Attraction to Obsession and Stalking, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004.

[note 4], [note 27] Davis, K., A. Coker and M. Sanderson, "Physical and Mental Effects of Being Stalked for Men and Women," Violence and Victims 17(4) (2002): 429-443.

[note 5] Kuehner, C., P. Gass and H. Dressing, "Increased Risk of Mental Disorders Among Lifetime Victims of Stalking—Findings from a Community Study," European Psychiatry 22 (2007): 142-145.

[note 29], [note 52] Spitzberg, B., and J. Rhea, "Obsessive Relational Intrusion and Sexual Coercion Victimization," Journal of Interpersonal Violence 14(1) (1999): 3-20.

[note 6] Logan, T., R. Walker, C. Jordan and C. Leukefeld, Women and Victimization: Contributing Factors, Interventions, and Implications, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Press, 2006.

[note 7] Logan, T., and R. Walker, "Toward a Deeper Understanding of the Harms Caused by Partner Stalking," Violence and Victims 25(4) (2010): 440-455.

[note 8], [note 39], [note 51] Purcell, R., M. Pathé and P. Mullen, "When Do Repeated Intrusions Become Stalking?" [Editorial], Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology 15(4) (2004): 571-583.

[note 9] Sheridan, L., E. Blaauw and G. Davies, "Stalking: Knowns and Unknowns," Trauma, Violence, and Abuse 4(2) (2003): 148-162.

[note 10] Spitzberg, B., and J. Rhea, "Obsessive Relational Intrusion and Sexual Coercion Victimization," Journal of Interpersonal Violence 14(1) (1999): 3-20.

[note 11] Westrup, D., W. Fremouw, R. Thompson and S. Lewis, "The Psychological Impact of Stalking on Female Undergraduates," Journal of Forensic Sciences 44(3) (1999): 554-557.

[note 12], [32] Blaauw, E., F. Winkel, E. Arensman, L. Sheridan and A. Freeve, "The Toll of Stalking: The Relationship between Features of Stalking and Psychopathology of Victims," Journal of Interpersonal Violence 17(1) (2002): 50-63.

[note 13], [note 17], [note 25] Brewster, M., "Trauma Symptoms of Former Intimate Stalking Victims," Women and Criminal Justice 13(2/3) (2002): 141-161.

[note 14], [note 30]Logan, T., J. Cole, L. Shannon and R. Walker, Partner Stalking: How Women Respond, Cope, and Survive, New York: Springer Publishing, 2006.

[note 15] Mechanic, M., T. Weaver and P. Resick, "Intimate Partner Violence and Stalking Behavior: Exploration of Patterns and Correlates in a Sample of Acutely Battered Women," Violence and Victims 15(1) (2000): 55-72.

[note 16], [28] Nicastro, A., A. Cousins and B. Spitzberg, "The Tactical Face of Stalking," Journal of Criminal Justice 28 (2000): 69-82.

[note 18] Basile, K., I. Arias, S. Desai and M. Thompson, "The Differential Association of Intimate Partner Physical, Sexual, Psychological, and Stalking Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms in a Nationally Representative Sample of Women," Journal of Traumatic Stress 17(5) (2004): 413-421.

[note 19] Logan, T., and J. Cole, "The Impact of Partner Stalking on Mental Health and Protective Order Outcomes over Time," Violence and Victims 22(5) (2007): 546-562.

[note 20] Logan, T., L. Shannon, J. Cole and R. Walker, "The Impact of Differential Patterns of Physical Violence and Stalking on Mental Health and Help-Seeking Among Women with Protective Orders," Violence Against Women 12(9) (2006): 866-886.

[note 21], [note 23] Logan, T., R. Walker, W. Hoyt and T. Faragher, "The Kentucky Civil Protective Order Study: A Rural and Urban Multiple Perspective Study of Protective Order Violation Consequences, Responses, and Costs" (pdf, 183 pages), final report to the National Institute of Justice, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, 2009, NCJ 228350.

[note 22] Dutton, M., L. Goodman and R. Schmidt, "Development and Validation of a Coercive Control Measure for Intimate Partner Violence," final report to the National Institute of Justice, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, 2006, NCJ 214438.

[note 24], [note 33] Botuck, S., P. Berretty, S. Cho, C. Tax, M. Archer and L. Cattaneo, "Understanding Intimate Partner Stalking: Implications for Offering Victim Services," final report to the National Institute of Justice, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, 2009, NCJ 227220.

[note 35] Dietz, N., and P. Martin, "Women Who Are Stalked: Questioning the Fear Standard," Violence Against Women 13(7) (2007): 750-776

[note 36] Kamphuis, J., P. Emmelkamp and A. Bartak, "Individual Differences in Post-traumatic Stress Following Post-intimate Stalking: Stalking Severity and Psychosocial Variables," British Journal of Clinical Psychology 42 (2003): 145-156.

[note 37] Mechanic, M., M. Uhlmansiek, T. Weaver and P. Resick, "The Impact of Severe Stalking Experienced by Acutely Battered Women: An Examination of Violence, Psychological Symptoms and Strategic Responding," Violence and Victims 15(4) (2000): 443-458.

[note 40] Brewster, M., "Exploration of the Experiences and Needs of Former Intimate Partner Stalking Victims," final report to the National Institute of Justice, grant number 1995-WT-NX0002, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, 1999.

[note 41] Brewster, M. "Stalking by Former Intimates: Verbal Threats and Other Predictors of Physical Violence," Violence and Victims 15(1) (2000): 41-54.

[note 42] McEwan, T., P. Mullen, R. MacKenzie and J. Ogloff, "Violence in Stalking Situations," Psychological Medicine 39 (2009): 1469-1478.

[note 43] Palarea, R., M. Zona, J. Lane and J. Langhinrichsen-Rohling, "The Dangerous Nature of Intimate Relationship Stalking: Threats, Violence and Associated Risk Factors," Behavioral Sciences and the Law 17 (1999): 269-283.

[note 44] Rosenfeld, B., and R. Harmon, "Factors Associated with Violence in Stalking and Obsessional Harassment Cases," Criminal Justice and Behavior 29(6) (2002): 671-691.

[note 45] Thomas, S., R. Purcell, M. Pathé and P. Mullen, "Harm Associated with Stalking Victimization," Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 42 (2008): 800-806.

[note 46] McEwan, T., P. Mullen and R. Purcell, "Identifying Risk Factors in Stalking: A Review of Current Research," International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 30 (2007): 1-9.

[note 47] Collins, M., and M. Wilkas, "Stalking Trauma Syndrome and the Traumatized Victim," in Stalking Crimes and Victim Protection: Prevention, Intervention, Threat Assessment, and Case Management, ed. J. Davis, Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2001: 317-332.

[note 48] Logan, T., and R. Walker, "Partner Stalking: Psychological Dominance or Business as Usual?" Trauma, Violence, and Abuse 10(3) (2009): 247-270.

[note 49] Mustaine, E., and R. Tewksbury, "A Routine Activity Theory Explanation for Women's Stalking Victimizations," Violence Against Women 5(1) (1999): 43-62.

[note 50] National Center for Victims of Crime, "The Model Stalking Code Revisited: Responding to the New Realities of Stalking (pdf, 78 pages)," retrieved May 5, 2008

[note 53] Spitzberg, B., "In the Shadow of the Stalker: The Problem of Policing Unwanted Pursuit," Law Enforcement, Communication, and the Community, ed. H. Giles, Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2004.

Date Created: April 20, 2012