Michelle Ward: 'Jessica Gonzales’ story made my blood run cold.'

What happens when unrequited love becomes a fatal obsession? Stalked: Someone's Watching host Michelle Ward should know. Recently, we sat down with criminal psychologist and stalking victim herself to talk about our NEW series and what we can do to protect ourselves from being stalked.

Stalked: Someone's Watching host Michelle Ward

Why do stalkers become stalkers?

Almost all stalkers have a mental or emotional problem. The crime can be motivated by different types of psychopathology, including psychosis and severe personality disorders. Stalkers pursue their victims for a variety of reasons, but all tend to have a narcissistic sense of entitlement to the victim.

Stalkers are obsessed with their victims, and this infatuation is expressed in many ways. Reasons for this obsession include control, power, and sometimes revenge. Most stalkers have abandonment issues and cannot bear the thought of being ignored.

Who is most at risk from stalking?

Most stalkers are former partners or friends of their victims and obscene or threatening phone calls or letters tend to be the most common types of stalking behaviour experienced.

Are all stalkers the same?

Stalkers tend to fit into one of five different groups.

“Rejected” stalkers are usually an ex-partner but can also be a family member or friend. The initial motivation of a rejected stalker is either an attempt to reconcile the relationship, or to exact revenge for a perceived rejection.

“Resentful” stalkers harass their victims with the sole intention of causing fear. They are often suffering from a paranoid illness and stalk people like lawyers and doctors who they believe to have failed them in some way.

“Intimacy seekers” are in love with their victims and are desperate to start a relationship. They are indifferent or oblivious to their victim’s lack of interest and have high rates of mental disorders.

“Incompetent suitors” stalk in the context of loneliness or lust and target strangers or acquaintances. Their motivation is not to establish a loving relationship, but to get a date or short term sexual relationship.

“Predatory” stalkers derive pleasure from gathering information about the target and fantasizing about the assault. They often have prior convictions as sexual deviants.

What are the consequences of stalking for the victim?

Victims of stalkers often suffer from depression, stress and sleep loss. Stalking creates a fear that can lead to psychological and social damage to the victim. Many have to quit their jobs, move home and restrict their social lives.

What’s the most important thing you can do if you’re being stalked?

Alert law enforcement straight away. If you are receiving anonymous calls or emails of a threatening nature try to save or record them. Threats can be a prediction of the stalker’s next move so always go to your local station to report any suspicious activity. Also, ignore the stalker’s attempts at communication – even if it’s to tell them to go away. You cannot reason with a stalker. They are obsessed and will not be rational. You also risk encouraging and upping their level of activity. Remember, they do not respect you, your rights of your privacy.

Be careful about keeping your personal information confidential. Don’t make it easy for stalkers by listing your number and address. I’d suggest having a policy of never giving your email address to a stranger – not even the hot guy who flirts with you in a bar. Ask for his number instead. Also, make sure you have strict security settings set on all of your social media accounts, and as tempting as it is post information about your whereabouts or hangouts online, don’t!

Any advice for people who are struggling with a break-up and fear they’re entering stalking territory themselves?

Tormenting and harassing a former partner is pathetic and a sure-fire way NOT to get them back. See them as a separate person, respect their rights and don’t infringe your loneliness on them. Try to surround yourself with family and friends and request that they distract during those low moments when you’re more likely to text or call an ex. Texting someone at 3 am in the morning and leaving countless voicemails is overstepping the mark and is not acceptable behaviour.

Which story from Series 4 struck a chord?

All the stories in Stalked are distressing and disturbing. In Series 4, I was horrified by the tragic case of Jessica Gonzales. Her three young daughters, aged seven, nine and ten, were abducted by her estranged husband and killed after the Colorado police refused to enforce a restraining order against him. I found her story extremely upsetting and was angered by the lack of support she received from authorities when her estranged husband was stalking her.

How do you feel about current anti-stalking laws in the US?

I would like stalking laws to be consistent across all states, taking their lead from California. In California, both criminal and civil laws address stalking. According to the criminal laws there, a stalker is someone who wilfully, maliciously and repeatedly follows or harasses another (victim) and who makes a credible threat with the intent to place the victim or victim's immediate family in fear for their safety. Crucially, the victim does not have to prove that the stalker has the intent to carry out the threat. I’d also like male victims of stalking to be taken seriously – their pleas for help are often ignored with people telling them to ‘man up.’