Available Research Indicates: Psychological Treatment May Not Be Protective Against Stalking Recidivism

Available Research Indicates: Psychological Treatment May Not Be Protective Against Stalking Recidivism

Data from 70 clients of Dutch community forensic mental health clinics was used to investigate the prevalence of stalking recidivism, risk factors, and any potential protective effect of psychological treatment. Over 50% of the sample was reported to the police for stalking over a period of two years. Furthermore, no risk factors were significantly related to future stalking, and psychological treatment was unrelated to recidivism. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in The International Journal of Forensic Mental Health. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | International Journal of Forensic Mental Health | 2020, Vol. 19, No. 2, 127-141

Risk Factors for Stalking Recidivism in a Dutch Community Forensic Mental Health Sample


Troy E. McEwan, Center for Forensic Behavioral Science, Swinburne University of Technology and Forensicare
Lianne Harder, Research Department, De Forensische Zorgspecialisten
Cleo Brandt, Landelijke Eenheid Politie – DLOS – Rechechepsychologen, Nationale Politie, Zoetermeer
Vivienne de Vogel, Research Department, De Forensische Zorgspecialisten; Research Department, De Forensishe Zorgspecialisten, University of Applied Sciences Utrecht


There are few studies of stalking recidivism and none examining risk factors for recidivistic stalking of the same victim versus a different victim. Data from 70 clients of Dutch community forensic mental health clinics was used to investigate the prevalence of stalking recidivism, risk factors, and any potential protective effect of psychological treatment. Over 50% were again reported to police for stalking over two years, including 21% who stalked a new victim. No risk factors were significantly related to future stalking and psychological treatment was unrelated to recidivism. Possible explanations for these findings and directions for future research are discussed.


Stalking; recidivism; community forensic mental health; policing; offender treatment

Summary of the Research

“Stalking involves a pattern of unwanted intrusions during which one person repeatedly imposes themselves into the life of another, to the point that their behavior causes fear or significant distress…There is now a considerable body of research into stalking, but there remains relatively little research into the role of risk and protective factors for stalking recidivism. Moreover, given the targeted nature of stalking behavior, it is unclear whether risk factors for continued stalking of the same victim differ from those associated with stalking someone new. This study aimed to contribute to the nascent literature in this area using a novel sample of Dutch stalkers” (p.127).

“…Validating studies of the two existing stalking risk assessment tools suggest that risk factors for, and so risk management of, these different patterns of stalking recidivism may be different…Research that distinguishes between these two outcomes, and separately investigates risk factors for each, is clearly required to inform practice and the design of future studies of stalking recidivism and risk assessment. The present study aimed to assist with this task by providing an estimate of the prevalence of stalking recidivism involving the same versus a different victim in a clinical/forensic sample. We also aimed to investigate risk factors for each of these outcomes, as well as for stalking recidivism generally, to determine whether risk factors may differ depending on the definition of recidivism used…” (p.130).

“We made the following hypotheses with regards to risk factors.
a. Predictors of any stalking recidivism. To replicate Rosenfeld (2003) and Eke and colleagues’ (2011) work, and test common risk factors from the SRP [Stalking Risk Profile] and SAM [Stalking Assessment and Management], it was hypothesized that personality disorder, Cluster B personality disorder/traits, history of stalking, history of violence, and an ex-intimate relationship between stalker and victim would all be positively related to any stalking recidivism…we also undertook exploratory analyses of the predictive value of stalker social isolation (both generally and being single at the time of intake as a specific form of isolation) and whether the index stalking episode was ongoing at the time of the intake…
b. Predictors of specific types of stalking recidivism. The absence of any previous research into specific risk factors for stalking of the same or a different victim meant that the relationship with each of the above risk factors was also tested against these outcomes to identify any (dis)similarities. It was further hypothesized (based on SRP) that some risk factors would have a specific positive association with stalking recidivism involving the same victim: duration of the stalking episode at the time of intake, the presence of intimate partner violence during the prior relationship, and the presence of shared children. In addition, we aimed to investigate whether amount or completion of forensic psychological treatment had any relationship with stalking recidivism…” (p.130).

“The sample consisted of 70 stalkers…responsible for 71 stalking episodes targeting discrete victims…recidivism data were collected directly from Netherlands National Police databases…Stalking recidivism during the follow-up period was defined as follows.
a. Stalking of the same victim: Any report to the police of contact from the stalker by the same victim as in the index stalking episode, which may or may not have resulted in an arrest for stalking…
b. Stalking of a different victim: A contiguous pattern of police reports by the same person suggesting stalking of a different victim, which may or may not have resulted in an arrest for stalking or breach of restraining order.
c. Any stalking recidivism: the combination of the above two types of recidivism” (p.132).

“…Approximately 50% of stalkers in this Dutch community forensic mental health sample had evidence of subsequent stalking over the average 30-month follow-up, with 75% of offenders continuing to target the person that they had stalked prior to their forensic assessment and 40% stalking a different victim (16% stalked both the same and a different victim)…None of the hypothesized risk factors for stalking recidivism were shown to be significant once the effects of multiple testing were controlled. This is potentially partly due to lack of power associated with the small sample size leading to false negatives. Given this, effect sizes were examined to identify possible relationships that could guide hypotheses in future research with larger samples. Interestingly, no risk factors that had larger effect sizes (>.20) for any stalking recidivism obtained similar sized effects for both future stalking of the same and a different victim…The fact that no risk factors in this study achieved similar effect sizes for both the same and different victim stalking recidivism does suggest that risk factors may play different roles in predicting these two outcomes…” (p.136).

“Overall, effect sizes provided no indication that personality disorder generally nor the specific presence of Cluster B personality traits or disorder were associated with any form of stalking recidivism…The results did not support our hypotheses about specific risk factors thought to be associated with further stalking of the same victim…The current results suggest that there was no relationship between amount or completion of forensic psychological treatment and stalking recidivism in this sample…findings suggest that the substantial variation in estimates of stalking recidivism in studies to date likely reflects differences in the definitions of stalking used, rather than being a result of variation in follow-up time or actual differences in stalking recidivism between samples…” (p.136-137).

“Patterns of mental disorder in this [forensic/clinical] sample were largely consistent with those observed among samples of ex-intimate stalkers, with high rates of mood, substance use, and personality disorder and low rates of psychosis…The only substantial differences in this sample were very high rates of impulse control disorder (ICD; 42%) and far lower rates of no diagnosis (1% compared to 20-30% in previous samples). It is likely that these findings are both a consequence of service characteristics, as accepting a client for treatment at the Dutch service required a diagnosed mental disorder…In 83% of cases where an ICD was diagnosed, there was no other disorder present. It seems likely that the stalking behaviors themselves were used to justify the diagnosis in many of these cases…” (p.139).

Translating Research into Practice

“…The results suggest that future research should continue to investigate the relevance of different risk factors to future stalking of the same victim versus different victims…This study also provides further, indirect, evidence that police find it challenging to respond to stalking in a timely way…There is a clear need for further research that can inform improved police practices so that they can respond to stalking recidivism at the earliest possible opportunity and in the most effective ways…” (p.139).

“…The findings suggest that nonstandardized or stalking-specific forensic mental health treatment may not protect against future stalking behavior, although further, better designed, research is clearly required. These results emphasize the need to improve responses to stalking to reduce its impacts on victims and the community more widely. This involves not only improving police recognition and the prosecution of stalking offenses, but also the development and evaluation of theoretically informed psychological interventions for those judged to be at greatest risk of future stalking behavior. Future research should address different risk factors depending on whether they are intended to reduce the risk of stalking the same or a different victim” (p.140).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Forensically involved stalkers have high rates of mental disorder, with depression, psychoses, substance use, and personality disorders commonly diagnosed…Stalking-related violence has been shown to be common among stalkers in forensic contexts, with prevalence ranging from 9%…to 46%…and ex-inmates being pre-dominately responsible. Threats are ubiquitous, and property damage common…However, equally as damaging as violence is the sheer persistence of some stalkers…Studies of stalking recidivism remain scarce, and different studies have produced very different estimates of reoffending rates, possibly due to variations in the definition of recidivism used, the follow-up time, and failure to control for time at risk of offenders…” (p.128-129).

“…If stalking is understood as an extension of coercive control tactics used during a relationship, as proposed by Davis and colleagues [2012], it might be expected that individuals with a history of intimate partner violence would be more likely to persistently stalk following the end of the relationship due to underlying psychological needs sustaining the behavior…It is possible that the unexpected negative direction of the relationship in this sample was a result of more intensive management of stalking cases in which there is a history of intimate partner violence…Alternatively, it is possible that victims who experience both IPV and stalking simply give up hope reporting to the police over time…” (p.136-137).

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Authored By Amber Lin

Amber Lin is a clinical psychology doctoral student at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her research interests include forensic assessment, competency to stand trial, and the refinement of instruments used to assess the psychological states of criminal defendants.

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