Among the five arrested for abducting Snapdeal employee Deepti Sarna is Devendra, described by police as a “psychopath” who obsessively stalked her for over a year before whisking her away in an auto-rickshaw at knifepoint last week.
Though stalker-led abductions are rare, stalking – defined as the wilful, malicious, and repeated unwanted attention that makes the victim feel harassed, violated or threatened – is far more common than believed. The harassment may end in violence, such as personal attacks on social media, wrecking property and, in some cases, molestation, assault, rape and acid attacks.
What makes a person so fixated with someone that he/she cannot stop themselves from intrusively texting, calling or following their victim? Is the obsessive behaviour fuelled by delusion or does narcissism, lack of empathy and an overriding sense of entitlement also play a role?
“All stalkers are psychologically unstable, either suffering from erotomania (delusions about a person being in love with them), or an undiagnosed psychosis or mental illness that makes them fixated on the imagined relationship that it becomes the sole priority for them,” says Dr Samir Parikh, director of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences at Fortis, Gurgaon.
Much like sex offenders, stalkers can rationalise their behaviour and be blind or indifferent to the effect they are having on the victim. They don’t see stalking as wrong, threatening or intimidating and don’t believe society’s rules to them.
They simply believe they are being persuasive. “They don’t see it as harassment and are convinced that it’s just a matter of time before the victim comes around and appreciates them for their love and devotion. They are also highly sociopathic and don’t feel discomfort or embarrassment if caught or humiliated publicly and almost never seek treatment,” says Dr Parikh.
Four types of stalkers
All stalkers are obsessive and guilt-free, but each may have a different quirk fuelling their delusion.
Delusional: They refuse to accept no for an answer and are convinced the victim loves them but just doesn’t know it. In their heads, their obsession is a fairytale romance where persistence will make their victim fall for them and the two will live happily ever after.
Such stalkers are usually loners with obsessive tendencies, and may or may not suffer from erotomania, paranoia, schizophrenia, and delusional thinking. “They identify someone, usually a complete stranger, as their true love and convince themselves that it is only a matter of time that their love will be reciprocated,” says Dr Parikh.
Avenging: These are people motivated by a real or imagined slight or unfair treatment and believe the victim – who can be an ex, a colleague, a neighbour, an employer or a stranger – must be taught a lesson to right the wrong.
Eighty per cent of victims know their stalker and the most common stalker is an ex – usually obsessive, controlling and abusive – who cannot accept they have been rejected. Such stalkers are usually driven by anger and want to avenge themselves by embarrassing, threatening or intimidating their targets. The ‘rejected’ stalking cases often escalate to violence and one in two who make a threat, act on it.
Controlling: Some stalkers, like rapists, are not driven by emotion and are driven by power and the need to have control over the victim. They are often highly clinical in their pursuit and use psychopathic precision to stalk their victim. Some may be driven by paraphilia, which is characterised by abnormal sexual desires, typically involving violence. These obsessively self-absorbed narcissists don’t believe their actions are criminal, or even wrong.
Loners: “Many stalkers are loners with low self-esteem and don’t have a relationship outside the imagined one with their victim, which make them desperate to establish it,” says Parikh. Like controlling stalkers, loners know their victim doesn’t care for them but are still compelled to stalk because they don’t have the social skills or emotional depth to establish a real relationship.
Six signs of a stalker
• Won’t take no for an answer
• Has an obsessive personality
• Loner with few personal relationships
• Lacks guilt, embarrassment or discomfort
• Low self esteem
• Sociopathic, no guilt, doesn’t learn from past behaviour
Stalking, online and real-time
You are being stalked if someone’s sending/giving you:
• Frequent and intrusive texts, calls or emails
• Unwanted attention, gifts, or flowers
• Following or hanging around your home, school or office
• Threatening to harm you or your children, family, friends, or pets
• Damaging or threatening to damage your property
• Posting information or spreading rumours, both online and offline
• Seeking personal information about you by following you, talking to friends and family, stalking on social media or through online search