Most stalkers portrayed in the media are male, and they are usually portrayed as stalking a lover or ex-lover. Incidents involving female stalkers seem less common; but the high-profile stalking of David Letterman and Brad Pitt have focused attention on the fact that women also stalk. A study in the December 2001 issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry by Rosemary Purcell and her colleagues looked at the characteristics of male and female stalkers. The authors found that female stalkers were different from male stalkers in several ways:
Male stalkers reported a history of criminal offenses. Higher rates of substance abuse were also noted among the male stalkers, but the psychiatric status of the groups did not otherwise differ. The duration of stalking and the frequency of associated violence were equivalent between groups. The nature of the prior relationship with the victim differed, with female stalkers more likely to target professional contacts and less likely to harass strangers. Female stalkers were also more likely than male stalkers to pursue victims of the same gender. The majority of female stalkers were motivated by the desire to establish intimacy with their victim, whereas men showed a broader range of motivations....
A female stalker typically seeks to attain a close intimacy with her victim, who usually is someone previously known and frequently is a person cast in the professional role of helper. While the contexts for stalking may differ by gender, the intrusiveness of the behaviors and potential for harm does not. (Purcell, et.al., 2001)
The researchers found that 40% of female stalkers pursued someone with whom they had professional contact, such as psychiatrists psychologists and family doctors (compared to less than 20% for males while only slightly more than 20% stalked intimate partners (compared with 30% for males). Almost half of the female stalkers pursued other females, while less than 10% of males pursued other men.
Male stalkers were more likely to have had a history of criminal offences and substance abuse. In a copyrighted story in Reuters, Charnicia Huggins quoted Purcell as saying: "When women engage in stalking behavior, they are as tenacious and as intrusive as their male counterparts, and are just as likely to threaten or damage property.... In our group of female stalkers, there was a particular tendency to pursue helping professionals...as professional concern or empathy of these individuals was often re-interpreted as romantic interest."
It is also interesting that the study looked at 150 male stalkers and 40 female stalkers. This suggests that males probably are more likely to stalk than females - or at least that they are more likely to get in trouble for this behavior. As barriers between the sexes continue to come down these will these gender differences persist? Hopefully follow-up studies will answer this question.
Reference: Am J Psychiatry 158:2056-2060, December 2001