All 50 states have criminal laws that make stalking a felony. Most HR or security professionals typically see stalking as an event that most often affects employees off the job, usually involving ex-partners or former spouses. But some cases can originate in the workplace and can become quite terrifying for victim-employees.
While it’s more common for ex-partners or soon-to-be ex-spouses to become obsessed with their former partners and stalk them, workplace stalking cases involving coworkers, customers, vendors, or clients who become infatuated with employees are difficult events to manage. Whereas in most stalking cases involving broken love relationships, the perpetrator bothering or threatening the employee is known, making it easier to track this person’s behavior, work with law enforcement, or create physical or electronic barriers to keep the victim-employee safe. In those cases, the stalker knows he or she is not anonymous and often doesn’t care if his or her behaviors are obvious, made public, or threaten others. They become fixated and focused on the person who has broken their hearts, and they are often visible in their stalking, threatening, or vandalism activities. But in some workplace stalking cases where the stalker has gone to great lengths to stay anonymous, these cases can be hard to manage.
As notable Hollywood security expert Gavin de Becker puts it, “When we know who both the subject and the victim are, we must manage the subject’s behaviors. But when we don’t know who the subject is, then we must manage the victim’s fears.” It’s obviously easier to manage the intrusions, e-mails, phone threats, or text messages of a threatener we know. But for those workplace cases where the stalker is operating from a position of stealth, not only does the fear factor for the victim increase (e.g., “My stalker could be anyone in this building!”) but also the remedies are fewer because the security investigators don’t always know who they’re dealing with. It could be a current or former employee; a vendor or visitor; a customer or client; a coworker or group of coworkers playing a cruel joke on the victim; or someone who has wanted revenge for a long time and is only now acting out.
In the 1990s, then-Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Lieutenant John Lane was the founder of the Threat Management Unit (TMU). As he and his team of detectives began working on stalking cases involving Hollywood celebrities and City of Los Angeles employees, Lane realized he needed a better description of the types of stalkers they were dealing with. Lane worked with San Diego, California forensic psychologist Dr. Reid Meloy and LAPD psychiatrist Dr. Michael Zona to develop a set of behavioral criteria to more accurately define the three main stalker typologies all seen in law enforcement and forensic work.
Common or simple obsessional stalkers: There was a love relationship between the victim and the subject, and the subject wants it to continue or wants to frighten or harm the victim because he or she knows it ultimately will not continue. This type has the highest risk for viable threats and lethal violence.
Love obsessional stalkers: There was no previous love relationship, but the subject wants to initiate one. This is most common for celebrity stalkers. The risk for violence is low, but the irritation factor for the target and the investigators and the longevity of these cases is high and long.
Erotomaniacs: These are often female stalkers who have a delusional and fixed belief that they are somehow romantically connected to or married to the target.
Each of these types has its threat management challenges.