Azara Blog: Stalking allegedly a frequent occurrence

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Date published: 2005/11/01

The BBC says:

One in 10 people experience being stalked, and a third still suffer psychological distress a year later, research reveals.

Despite this, stalking is too often thought of as a rare phenomenon or its seriousness underplayed, say experts.

A British Journal of Psychiatry study finds the psychological consequences are severe even among stalking victims who do not seek help.

The authors say more recognition of the desperation that can result is needed.
To determine whether the same was true among people who chose not to seek help, an Dr Rosemary Purcell and her Australian colleagues from Melbourne University sent out questionnaires to 3,700 men and women living in Victoria.

From the 1,844 completed forms that were returned, 196 had reported experiencing an episode of brief harassment for up to two weeks and 236 said they had experienced a protracted stalking that typically lasted for months.

Compared with 432 respondents of similar age, sex and background but who had never been stalked, mental health problems were much higher among those who were victims of stalking for longer than a fortnight.

Just over a third (34.1%) of these still had psychiatric illness a year after the stalking had ended.

Distress appeared to be particularly high immediately after the event, however, and was most severe when the stalking was prolonged.

About 10% of the respondents who had been stalked said they had considered taking their own life as a result.

Almost certainly the 1844 people who completed the questionnaire are not representative of the general public, so the alarming statistics quoted are rather meaningless. People who have been stalked (or believe they have been stalked) are much more likely to fill out such a questionnaire. And the numbers quoted in the article are inconsistent. If 432 (=196+236) people really reported being stalked then that is 23% (=432/1844) not 10%. 23% really is rather unbelievable. According to this study, 1 in 4 of your friends have been stalked and 1 in 3 of those have psychiatric illness a year later. (Of course the BBC does not say whether some random drunk accosting you counts as "stalking", if so anybody who has been in a city centre in Britain on a Friday or Saturday night has been "stalked".) How do these kinds of studies which rely on non-random data ever get published in supposedly serious journals?

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