By Kristian Wilson
February 1, 2019
The popularity of Lifetime’s You on Netflix has prompted important conversations about stalking — both in real life and in the media — and how media influences the public’s views on stalking and harassment.
“Positive media portrayals of stalking — like those where the pursuer is rewarded by ‘getting the girl’ — can lead people to see stalking in a more positive light,” Julia R. Lippman, Ph.D, who wrote her dissertation on the intersection of media portrayals and public perceptions of stalking, says in an email to Bustle. She adds that this could lead to an increase in “stalking-type behaviors” and “decreased likelihood of victims seeing the behavior as a problem and therefore seeking help.”
In spite of this, promotional material for YA writer Kathleen Hale’s forthcoming essay collection, Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker, uses the author’s own history of self-described “light stalking” as a selling point. In her 2014 essay for The Guardian, Hale recounts “prowling” the Instagram of a blogger who reviewed Hale’s novel negatively, noting that her “self-loathing deepened” as she examined the details of her target’s life. She also reveals how she obtained the blogger’s home address, rented a car, and showed up, unannounced, at the other woman’s home. Yet, publisher copy for the collection downplays the severity of her actions. It reads: “Kathleen Hale has been known to stalk people from time to time. Not recently, of course, and only online. Well, mostly online.”
In an email to Bustle, Safe Horizon’s Vice President of Criminal Justice and Court Programs Maureen Curtis says, “To the people who are cyberstalked through e-mail or via instant messaging, stalking is no laughing matter.”
Stalking often forces victims to move or change jobs and can lead to “anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression,” according to the Stalking Resource Center (SRC). Michael Welner, M.D., a forensic psychiatrist and chairman of The Forensic Panel, tells Bustle that even the “nuisance of stalking as it affects the victim… can and should be sympathetically depicted,” not only because it makes it easier for law enforcement and the public to take the stalker’s escalated actions more seriously, but also because it helps to humanize the target for people with stalking tendencies.