December 3, 1999

How to Handle a Stalker

Every year about 1.4 million Americans are victims of stalking. One victim, Denver psychiatrist Doreen Orion, M.D., shared advice with hundreds of forensic psychiatrists at the October annual meeting of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law on how to deal with stalkers, especially those with erotomania. Her knowledge comes from years of study and a decade of being stalked by a patient she treated for just two weeks.

Among the most important bits of wisdom she imparted was to tell the stalker "no" only one time. "Repeating it gives him what he wants—contact with you. The more you respond, the more you teach him that his actions will elicit a response." Remember, Orion said, that it is pointless to try to reason with erotomanic stalkers. Their obsession leaves them incapable of responding as the victim—or the police—would hope. The stalker rationalizes any evidence that the victim has no interest in returning his or her love and turns it into inconveniences or minor impediments that will soon be overcome.

It is also critical that stalking targets know it is not their fault. "Shame just helps the stalker," she cautioned. "It’s their best weapon against you."

In addition, tell everyone that you are being stalked, pass out pictures of the stalker if you can get one, and tell friends, neighbors, coworkers, and relatives to give out no information, she strongly advised. Don’t change your phone number once the stalker learns it. Let an answering machine in a little-used room pick up calls on your current phone number and then get a new unlisted number that you give only to a select few.

Getting a dog is also a good idea, she pointed out, and it is particularly important to document every contact with the stalker, Orion stressed. She also urges stalking victims to attend support groups "that are springing up all over the country."

Unfortunately, taking all of the right steps may still fail to deter the stalker. "Often there is no end, no resolution. It just drags on and on with the victim never knowing if it is finally over," Orion said.