Stalking: definition of the construct, phenomenological facets, and related behaviors

Stalking: definizione del costrutto, aspetti fenomenologici, comportamenti associati

V. Caretti*, S. Ciulla*, A. Schimmenti**

* Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università di Palermo; ** Facoltà di Psicologia e Scienze della Formazione, Università Kore di Enna


Scientific literature on stalking behaviors is not sufficiently uniform and shows no clear definition of the theorical construct of stalking. In order to respond to current scientific criteria for defining a psychological and behavioral construct, the definition of “stalking” should be exhaustive and specific at the same time. There must be also a positive consensus by scholars on a definition of a construct, for that definition becoming operationalized and therefore profitably appliable in theory and research.


Exploring the theoretical definitions of stalking that are privileged in current literature, and reviewing the different behavioral markers suggested for identifying the construct, this article analyzes the multifaceted characteristics of stalking behaviors. The review of literature was based on international database of peer-reviewed articles (Psychinfo, ProQuest, Psycharticles) as well as authoritative Italian and international books on the topic, and it allowed to detect specific categories of behaviors enacted by a stalker against his or her victim. These categories include both the most violent acts (such as physical and sexual assaults, threats and harassments), which are ever considered as disturbing, and the less violent, more silent and intrusive, stalking behaviors. Some stalking behaviors are in fact most difficult to detect, and victims often misinterpret such behaviors as a simple search for intimacy by the stalker: this easily leads to “false negatives”, in research terms, while practically results in the victim missing the chance to protect him- or herself from the stalker. The article also highlights potential motivation and drives underlying different stalking behaviors, and it explores the specific aims pursued by different typologies of stalkers in relation to their victim. The information on stalking behaviors were ultimately discussed emphasizing the direction of future researches and suggesting the development of appropriate strategies for prevention, intervention and harm reduction related to such disturbing behaviors.


This review of the international literature concerning the behaviors of stalkers leads to an operational definition of stalking. “Stalking” consists in an interpersonal behavior characterized by threats or harassment toward a specific victim; it has relational purposes, it is repeated over time and/or it results particularly intense, and it is perceived as disturbing by the victim of such behaviors. This definition seems comprehensive enough to encompass the entire range of stalking behaviors and it is not limited only to the behaviours of romantic stalkers; at the same time, this definition should result detailed enough to be operationalized in theoretical and empirical reasearches on the construct. The discussion of stalkers’ typology based on their possible motivation could be further useful for future reasearch, opening the doors toward new promising directions.


A review of the national and international literature on stalking behaviors shows that still are present some uncertainties on this topic, and a lack of scientific exactness in relation to the construct, but it allows anyway to develop more exhaustive and at the same time comprehensive definition of “stalking”, which are particularly needed for research and theory in this field. The definition proposed in this article could perhaps patch a little such a big hole.

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