The Veiled Truth of Ex-Partner Stalking: Social and Legal Implications

Jeff Forshay

Perceptions of stalking and its realities do not go hand in hand. Ex-partners are much more likely to be guilty of stalking than are stranger, and consequences tend to be more severe.1,2

(James & Farnham, 2003, Rosenfeld & Lewis, 2005, etc.). These findings stand in stark contrast to perceptions of stalking behaviour found by Scott, Lloyd, & Gavin (2010).

Participants in one study were given a vignette in which a girl is being harassed by either a stranger, an acquaintance, or an ex-partner. Participants were asked: “To what extent do you consider the behaviour stalking”, “Do you think police intervention is necessary…” and “To what extent is the victim responsible for encouraging the behaviour”.

·       Compared to stalking by ex-partner & acquaintances, participants were much more likely to label the strangers behaviour as stalking, that police intervention was more necessary, and that the behaviour posed greater risks of harm

·       They also thought that the victim was less responsible for encouraging the stranger’s behaviour

Stalking by ex-partners may be taken less seriously as a whole—even though it’s usually more damaging.

In many western countries anti-stalking laws are quite vague and subjective. They rely heavily on the apparent severity of the situation and assumed intent of the perpetrator

A study of 167 stalking cases in the UK found that almost half (41%) of them were thrown out when the perpetrator was an ex-partner, compared to none when the perpetrator was a stranger.4 (Harris, 2000).

Police officers were also much less likely to even consider bringing up stalking-related charges when ex-partners were involved, labeling them as “domestic issues.”5                

Bottom line:  Ex-partners pose an even greater threat to the well-being of the victim then do strangers, and it is long past time that our societal and judicial attitudes reflect this.


1James, D. V., & Farnham, F. R. (2003). Stalking and serious violence. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 31, 432-439.

2Rosenfeld, B., & Lewis, C. (2005). Assessing violence risk in stalking cases: A regression tree approach. Law and Human Behavior, 29, 343-357.

3Scott, A., Lloyd, R., & Gavin, J. (January 01, 2010). The Influence of Prior Relationship on Perceptions of Stalking in the United Kingdom and Australia. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 37, 11, 1185-1194.

4Harris, J. (2000). An evaluation of the use and effectiveness of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (Home Office Research Study 203). London, UK: Home Office.      

5Pathé, M., Mullen, P. E., & Purcell, R. (2000). Same-gender stalking. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 28, 191-197.