SBS World News Radio: Researchers conducting one of the largest studies of stalking in Australia hope their findings will lead to more support for victims.
Researchers conducting one of the largest studies of stalking in Australia hope their findings will lead to more support for victims.
Stalking is becoming more common in Australia with new figures from Victoria showing a rise of almost 11 per cent over the past two years.
The targets of stalking are more commonly women than men but stalking can affect anyone.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics says 19 per cent of adult women and nearly eight per cent of men experience an episode of stalking during their lifetime.
The Bureau defines stalking as behaviours, such as loitering and following, which a person believes are intended to harm or frighten them.
All Australian states and Territories have anti-stalking legislation in place.
And now researchers from Western Australia's Curtin University are conducting one of the largest studies on stalking since anti-stalking legislation was introduced in 1994.
Doctor Lorraine Sheridan is a global expert on stalking and is the leading the project.
She says stalking is a serious offence that can have devastating outcomes.
"I think people don't realise how dangerous stalking is, you know, that it's a bit of romance gone awry or a bit of unwanted attention, I don't think enough people realise how frequently stalking is associated with really severe negative consequences, that can include murder."
Doctor Sheridan's research has found a minority of stalkers are mentally ill.
It also found members of the LGBTI community are more likely to be stalked than heterosexuals.
In Victoria, the Crime Statistics Agency has reported a 10.8 per cent jump in stalking over the past 24 months.
Dr Troy McEwan is a Melbourne-based forensic psychologist who's published a number of articles on stalking and partner violence.
She says her investigations have found there are many triggers that can influence a stalker.
"Just under half of stalking cases arise out of former intimate or romantic relationships. The other - just over - half are people who have had some sort of acquaintanceship with the stalker, perhaps a co-worker or a neighbour or someone they have had a professional relationship with like a doctor and a client, and then you've got a group of about 20 per cent, one in five, stalkers who are actually strangers to the victim previously and they've chanced upon the victim in some way and then commenced stalking them. So it's definitely related to intimate relationships and romantic partnerships but by no means is that all stalking is about: in fact that is a minority of all stalking cases."
Harassment online and using technology is one type of stalking to be explored in the study.
From November 2014 to June last year, more than six per cent of incidents reported to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network, or ACORN were related to cyber-bullying and stalking.
Curtin University's Dr Lorraine Sheridan says cyber-stalking is not an isolated issue.
"Cyber-stalkers are more likely to be caught than people that don't stalk via the internet because they leave a trail of evidence, but what we're looking at more and more, we've done some massive studies on it in Australia and when I was back in the UK, and what we're finding is that cyber-stalking is not really a thing on its own, really it's another method that stalkers have got to constantly surveil and harass their victims."
Dr McEwan's says victims of stalking are more susceptible to developing mental illnesses and they need more support.
"We know that stalking victims do have, as a group, higher rates of things like depression and anxiety and substance use and certainly post-traumatic kind of symptoms, and so where you have a very serious stalking situation where the victim does have mental health and consequences, it92de6bf3bÉuZvery important that they are able to access appropriate mental health support for that. But equally it's important that they're able to speak to people who understand stalking and understand the dynamics of that situation and can integrate the treatment with the fact that in reality many of these victims are experiencing ongoing trauma and ongoing harm because the stalking is continuing. So it's unfortunate there's not enough mental health practitioners who really have a good understanding of stalking and its legal ramifications, and that's a real challenge I think for victims in Australia. "