Stalking is a set of many behaviors (e.g., telephone harassment, sending unwanted gifts, pursuing, or surveillance). The focus on stalking as a set of behaviors helps to demystify the phenomenon and offers a degree of understanding and control for the observer. Another aspect of stalking behaviors that needs to be explained is that such behaviors can be produced by individuals with very different backgrounds, motivations, and psychological disorders. In other words, a stalker who harbors delusions that the victim is in love with him performs behaviors that are often similar to an ex-partner who seeks revenge for being rejected. The variety of specific strategies employed and behaviors displayed by stalkers are limited only by the creativity and ingenuity of the stalkers themselves. Suffice it to say, virtually any unwanted contact between a stalker and their victim which directly or indirectly communicates a threat or places the victim in fear can generally be referred to as stalking.

The legal definition of stalking is defined primarily by state statutes. While statutes vary, most define stalking as a course of conduct that places a person in fear for their safety.

Is Stalking a New Phenomenon?

No -- the history of stalking behavior is as old as the history of human relationships. Stalking has always been with us -- what is new is that, until recently, it was never labeled as a separate and distinct class of deviant behavior. Prior to its common usage and its subsequent designation as a crime, stalking was referred to as harassment, annoyance or, in some cases, simply as domestic violence.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, numerous high-profile cases involving celebrities began to catch the attention of the media and public policy leaders. Only then did such behavior begin to be described as "stalking."

Since then, stalking has become a common subject in the popular media. With the advent of blockbuster films -- such as Fatal Attraction, Cape Fear, and Sleeping with the Enemy -- and its coverage by the news media, "stalking" has become a household word.

The most common form of stalking, however, is perpetrated by individuals who had a prior relationship of some type.