The behaviour escalated to property damage and physical
assaults. He broke into her home on multiple occasions. On one occasion,
he hit her car intentionally with his, trapping her against a tree.
The physical assaults included repeatedly punching her leg, severely
bruising it, stabbing her in the leg with a knife, and head-butting
her chest, pinning her to a wall.
She described constant anxiety. She would meet him unexpectedly
in the parking lot or other areas of the airport. Even though he
was no longer an employee, he still had access to publicly restricted
areas through previous connections or still retained keys for access.
He would hang around her workplace, leaving hundreds of letters,
notes and presents such as flowers. On another occasion,
he showed up at the airport prior to a scheduled flight, began calling
her names, and threw water at her, drenching her. The airport police
became involved, and consequently, she was removed from a flight
on which she was scheduled to work.
Ms K obtained a criminal trespassing warrant against him, but he
violated this on 2 occasions. The police discouraged her from pursuing
criminal harassment (stalking) charges; they reported that the law
was restrictive and led to few convictions. The second of these
incidents involved a loud commotion in the early morning hours outside
her apartment, with 5 policemen, with their guns drawn. Despite
this, Mr A was released from jail in less than 24 hours. Dealing
with the police, along with her shock, fear, and distress, all prevented
her from going to work that morning.
Mr As behaviour interfered with her work in many other ways.
He took mail from her workplace to the extent that she failed to
receive notices from her manager in charge of attendance. He flattened
her tires and fiddled with her cars remote keyless entry,
causing her to be late for work. On one occasion, while her new
boyfriend was visiting, Mr A punched the bedroom window, broke clay
pots and the lights at her front porch, and cut her tires and her
telephone lines. Trapped inside, distressed and frightened that
he was still outside, she did not go out until light, thus missing
another work flight.
As a result of the stalking Ms K suffered various losses. She became
isolated because friends became more distant, either through fear
or disapproval of her previous relationship and condemnation that
she encouraged the behaviour. To spare others the involvement and
to avoid embarrassment, she became detached. She didnt talk
as much to her mother, with the hope that she would worry less.
She also avoided going out socially to avoid Mr A. She no longer
brought her goddaughter to her home for fear of what might happen.
She avoided dating for a long time, fearing a violent encounter
or, at the very least, a humiliating incident. Ms K also suffered
financial loss from money he took, car damage, property damage,
and time away from work. Ultimately, as a result of poor attendance
for the first time in her 10-year work history, she was fired from
her position as a flight attendant.
Ms Ks mental health deteriorated. She was frequently tearful
and depressed, and she felt humiliated and ashamed. She felt guilty
for her mothers pain, for being in the relationship in the
first place, and for being manipulated. She blamed herself for not
stopping the behaviour somehow. She saw her life as being out of
control and described feeling helpless and hopeless. She had difficulty
with sleep, diminished appetite, and weight loss (10 to 15 lbs in
8 months). Her self-esteem and concentration were reduced. She lost
interest in her normal pleasures.
She also developed severe anxiety. She feared constantly that he
might show up and do something to either hurt, embarrass, or cause
problems for her. She had muscle tension and headaches and was always
tired. Her sense that the police were unsupportive and unsympathetic
compounded all her emotional suffering. Law enforcements powerlessness
made her feel ineffectual and lowered her self-esteem further. As
she described it I felt like a fool . . . He could manipulate
the cops better than me.
She experienced symptoms of a PTSD. These included an increased
sense of vulnerability; recurrent and intrusive distressing thoughts,
images, and nightmares about the stalker; intense psychological
distress and chest tightness on exposure to cues that reminded her
of Mr A; attempted avoidance of thinking or talking about the stalking;
and feelings of detachment from others. She also described a restricted
range in affect, with symptoms of increased arousal including difficulty
with sleep and concentration, irritability, hypervigilance, and
an exaggerated startle response.
Following her firing, she was unable to work for 2 years. Gradually,
her depression and anxiety lessened. Her interests, concentration,
appetite, and sleep returned to normal. She had hopes for the future.
Although her self-esteem improved, she remained disappointed in
herself, feeling that she should have dealt with the situation better.
She still had some difficulty trusting others and infrequently had
distressing recollections or dreams.
Symbols that related to her stalker could still periodically evoke
anxiety. She continued to have some anxiety symptoms, such as worry,
muscle tension, and headaches related to her distress at the loss
of her job and the ordeal while trying to get it back, which involved
a long process culminating in an arbitration hearing.
In summary, being stalked by a former partner may affect a victims
ability to work in 3 ways. First, the stalking behaviours often
interfere directly with the ability to get to work (for example,
flattening tires or other methods of preventing leaving the home).
Second, the workplace may become an unsafe location if the offender
decides to appear. Third, the mental health effects of such trauma
may result in forgetfulness, fatigue, lowered concentration, and
disorganization. These factors may lead to the loss of employment,
with accompanying loss of income, security, and status.
There has been limited research on the impact of stalking that
specifically relates to an individuals ability to work. Clearly,
we need future studies on the occupational impact of stalking. We
know, however, that stalking victims suffer from many emotional
symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Likewise, they
may suffer guilt, embarrassment, lowered self-esteem, and isolation
from others. All these symptoms worsen after losing a job, owing
to the effects of the stalking on the victim and on the work record.
Employers who understand these stalking consequences can assist
employees rather than adding to their problems by terminating employment.
Aside from the opportunity to function in a caring and humanitarian
fashion toward an individual, an employer has the opportunity to
contribute to a positive workplace atmosphere. Satisfied and emotionally
stable employees are better workers. In this case, the patient was
an employee with an excellent work record until factors related
to stalking affected her job performance. Therefore, it is in the
employers best interest to show sensitivity toward employee
stressors and mental health sequelae.
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Manuscript received July 2001, revised February 2002, and accepted
1 Assistant Professor in Psychiatry, University of Toronto; Active
Staff, Programme in Womens Mental Health, University Health
Network, the Toronto General Hospital, Department of Psychiatry,
8EN-224, 200 Elizabeth Street, Toronto, ON M5G 2C4
2 Professor in Psychiatry and Obstetrics/Gynecology, University
of Toronto; Director, Programme in Womens Mental Health, University
Health Network, the Toronto General Hospital, Department of Psychiatry,
EN8-231, 200 Elizabeth Street, Toronto, ON M5G 2C4