Section 1: Stalking in Canada, 2014

by Marta Burczycka

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Highlights

  • Defined as repeated and unwanted attention that causes the victim to fear for their personal safety or for the safety of someone they know, stalking was experienced by almost 2 million Canadians in the five years preceding the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization). This represented about 8% of women and 5% of men aged 15 and older.
  • Self‑reported data indicate that the prevalence of stalking decreased by one‑third between 2004 and 2014, from 9% to 6% of Canadians. Declines were recorded among both women and men. Over a similar period of time, police‑reported criminal harassment also decreased (-19%).
  • According to the 2014 General Social Survey, almost half of stalking victims were between 15 and 34 years of age (48%), and most victims were women (62%). While most stalkers were male, the proportion that were female increased between 2004 and 2014 (15% to 19%).
  • Most often, victims said the stalking took the form of threats or intimidation against someone else they knew (reported by 39% of victims), repeated, obscene or silent phone calls (31%), and unwanted emails, texts or social media messages (28%). This latter type of stalking increased substantially from 2004, when it had been reported by 6% of victims.
  • In addition to the stalking they experienced, one‑third of victims endured physical intimidation or threats of violence consistent with Criminal Code definitions of assault (32%). One in five (18%) stalking victims experienced actual physical violence.
  • Half of stalking victims reported that their stalker was someone they knew other than an intimate partner (49%), while 27% were stalked by strangers. Current or former intimate partners were identified by 21% of victims.
  • Based on multivariate analysis, key risk factors for experiencing stalking include experiences of child abuse, learning disabilities and perceived negative neighbourhood characteristics.
  • Certain populations, including Aboriginal people and those identifying as homosexual or bisexual, were overrepresented among stalking victims. A multivariate analysis shows that Aboriginal identity or sexual orientation are not themselves risk factors, however, and provides other possible explanations for why these groups are overrepresented as victims.
  • Two in five (39%) victims reported the stalking to police, and a minority of these (21%) said that charges had been laid. One‑quarter (25%) of victims who had reported to the police said that to their knowledge, restraining orders had at some point been issued against the person who stalked them.
  • Intimate partner stalking was different from other kinds of stalking in important ways—for example, it was the only kind of stalking that did not decrease between 2004 and 2014. The over‑representation of women as victims, greater association with violence, and higher levels of reporting to police were other key differences.
  • A multivariate analysis identified distinct risk factors for intimate partner stalking, suggesting a link to victims’ experiences with specific kinds of intimate relationships—in particular, spousal relationships that had ended. These risk factors included having children in the home or living alone.

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Introduction

Stalking is defined as repeated and unwanted attention that causes a person to fear for their personal safety or for the safety of someone they know, a definition which qualifies as criminal harassment under the Criminal Code of Canada (s. 264).Note Note  While stalking, by definition, makes someone feel unsafe, it can take the form of actions that do not include overt threats of physical violence. Examples include threats to divulge sensitive personal information and unwanted romantic advances that make the person feel unsafe, despite not including threats of physical harm. Stalking can encompass a range of behaviours, such as someone waiting outside a person’s home, school or work, physical or electronic surveillance, damage to property and various kinds of unwanted communication, as further outlined in the Criminal Code (ss. 372(2) and (3)). Stalking often involves a pattern of repeated behaviour, as opposed to one occurrence of a harassing phone call, email, or other action.

According to definitions used by both the Criminal Code and the General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization), stalking itself does not include verbalized threats of physical violence directed at the victim, nor physical violence itself. These actions are separate under the Criminal Code, and constitute the offences of uttering threats (s. 264.1) and assault (s. 265). Police‑reported data show that these crimes often occur together (Justice Canada 2012). As such, the GSS asks Canadians who had been stalked about their experiences with actual or threatened physical violence through a separate, but related, series of questions.

Stalking happens in the context of different kinds of relationships, including current or former intimate partnerships, between acquaintances, and between strangers. Research into the motivations of stalkers show that motives are often tied to the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. Some stalkers are motivated by “a delusional belief in romantic destiny, a desire to reclaim a prior relationship [or] a sadistic urge to torment the victim” (Miller 2012); those who stalk strangers, meanwhile, are often found to have mental illness (McEwan and Strand 2013). Regardless of a stalker’s motivations, the impact of this kind of victimization on those who are targeted can be significant.

Victims of stalking can experience serious psychological harm that can have long‑lasting effects and limit their daily activities. Sometimes, victims are also subjected to violence and physical attacks. Research has shown that in the context of intimate partner violence in particular, stalking often precedes violent assaults and homicides (McFarlane et al. 2002). As such, criminal justice and victim services professionals consider stalking to be both a serious crime in itself, as well as a warning that more serious violence may occur (Justice Canada 2012). In Canada, guidelines for police and prosecutors draw links between stalking and violent crimes such as assault and homicide (Justice Canada 2012).

This Juristat article explores the prevalence and nature of self‑reported stalking victimization in Canada, including a look at how stalking has changed over time. Included is an analysis of the different interpersonal relationships involved in stalking behaviour, with a specific focus on stalking in intimate partner relationships that is presented in Part 2. Multivariate analysis using logistic regression is used to isolate various risk factors associated with stalking victimization, and an overview of how stalking affects victims—and what they do to seek help—is presented.

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How the General Social Survey measures stalking

The 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadian’s Safety (Victimization) included several questions designed to measure respondents’ experiences with several behaviours related to stalking. These behaviours mirror conduct outlined in the Canadian Criminal Code’s definition of criminal harassment. The questions asked in the GSS were:

In the past five years, have you been the subject of repeated and unwanted attention that caused you to fear for your safety or the safety of someone known to you? By that I mean:

  • …has anyone phoned you repeatedly or made silent or obscene phone calls?
  • …has anyone sent you unwanted messages through e‑mail, text, Facebook or any other social media?
  • …has anyone sent you unwanted gifts, letters, or cards?
  • …has anyone tried to communicate with you against your will in any other way?
  • …has anyone followed you or spied on you either in person or through an electronic tracking device (such as a GPS)?
  • …has anyone waited outside your home?
  • …has anyone waited outside your place of work or school or other places you were, when they had no business being there?
  • …has anyone persistently asked you for a date and refused to take no for an answer?
  • …has anyone posted inappropriate, unwanted or personal information about you or pictures on a social media site?
  • …has anyone attempted to intimidate or threaten you by threatening or intimidating someone else?
  • …has anyone attempted to intimidate or threaten you by hurting your pet(s)?
  • …has anyone attempted to intimidate or threaten you by damaging your property?

To be considered stalking, the behaviour must have made the respondent fear for their safety or for the safety of someone known to them.

The 2014 cycle of the GSS represented the second time that detailed information on stalking was collected by the survey. The first came with the 2004 survey cycle; since that time, detailed questions on stalking are included every other time that the survey’s victimization cycle is collected. Slight modifications to some questions were made for the 2014 cycle, in order to account for changes in technology:

  • Unwanted texts, Facebook, or other social media messages were added to the question about emails as examples of unwanted communications;
  • The use of electronic tracking devices such as GPS was added to the question about being followed or spied upon;
  • A new question was added to ask about the posting of unwanted personal information online.

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Part 1: Prevalence, characteristics and trends in self‑reported stalking

Stalking victimization decreases between 2004 and 2014

Findings from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians’ Safety (Victimization) show that about 1.9 million Canadians were the victims of stalking at some time in the five years preceding the survey. This represented about 6% of Canada’s population aged 15 and older. About 8% of women and 5% of menNote  reported having been stalked (Table 1).Note 

Self‑reported data show that stalking victimization decreased by one‑third between 2004 and 2014.Note  In comparison to 2014, in 2004 almost one in ten (9%) Canadians reported having been stalked in the previous five years. Similar declines were recorded among women (down from 11% in 2004) and among men (down from 7% in 2004) (Table 2). During this same time period, the overall rate of self‑reported violent victimization decreased by 28% (Perreault 2015).

The decrease in self‑reported stalking recorded between 2004 and 2014 was in line with a decline in its police‑reported correlate, criminal harassment, which occurred over a similar period of time. According to the most recent police‑reported data available, the rate of criminal harassment decreased by 19% between 2006 and 2016; overall violent crime, meanwhile, declined by 24% (Keighley 2017).Note 

In 2014, the percentage of people indicating that they had been stalked was generally similar among the provinces and territories, with a few exceptions.Note  For example, people in Newfoundland and Labrador experienced a lower prevalence of stalking (4%) than those in most other provinces and territories. Another exception was the Northwest Territories, where people experienced stalking more often (10%) than those in the provinces (except for Manitoba and Saskatchewan). Besides these, few differences existed between the provinces, and differences among the territories were not statistically significant.

Incidentally, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories are among the provinces and territories that consistently experience higher rates of both self‑ and police‑reported violent crime (Keighley 2017; Perreault 2015; Perreault and Simpson 2016). Police‑reported criminal harassment, specifically, was higher in the Northwest Territories than in any other province or territory except Nunavut in 2016; interestingly, however, it was lowest in Manitoba and close to the Canadian average in SaskatchewanNote —a marked contrast to what was seen with self‑reported stalking data.

As in Canada as a whole, self‑reported stalking was more common among women than men in most provinces and territories. The exceptions were Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan and Nunavut, where stalking rates for women and men were not statistically different (Chart 1). In comparison, in 2004, stalking rates for women and men were statistically similar in Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Manitoba.

Chart 1 Self-reported stalking, by sex, provinces and territories, 2014

Data table for Chart 1
Data table for Chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 1. The information is grouped by Province and territory (appearing as row headers), Females and Males†, calculated using percent of population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Province and territory Females Males†
percent of population
Newfoundland and Labrador 5Note E: Use with caution 3Note E: Use with caution
Prince Edward Island 5Note E: Use with caution 5Note E: Use with caution
Nova Scotia 8Note * 4
New Brunswick 8Note * 4Note E: Use with caution
Quebec 8Note * 6
Ontario 7Note * 5
Manitoba 10Note * 5Note E: Use with caution
Saskatchewan 9 6Note E: Use with caution
Alberta 8Note * 4
British Columbia 7Note * 4
Yukon 12Note E: Use with cautionNote * 4Note E: Use with caution
Northwest Territories 14Note E: Use with cautionNote * 6Note E: Use with caution
Nunavut 10Note E: Use with caution 7Note E: Use with caution
Canada 8Note * 5

Between 2004 and 2014, the largest provincial decreases in self‑reported stalking were noted in Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia (-4 percentage points each) (Chart 2). Meanwhile, rates in Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and Saskatchewan did not change in a statistically significant way. Of note, these were also the provinces where stalking rates against females did not show a decrease, reflecting the fact that provincial stalking rates are largely indicative of rates of stalking against women.

Chart 2 Self-reported stalking victimization, provinces, 2004 and 2014

Data table for Chart 2
Data table for Chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 2. The information is grouped by Provinces
(appearing as row headers), 2014 and 2004†, calculated using percent of population units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Provinces
2014 2004†
percent of population
Newfoundland and Labrador 4Note * 7
Prince Edward Island 5Note E: Use with caution 8Note E: Use with caution
Nova Scotia 6Note * 10
New Brunswick 6Note * 8
Quebec 7Note * 9
Ontario 6Note * 9
Manitoba 8 10
Saskatchewan 7 8
Alberta 6Note * 10
British Columbia 5Note * 9
Canada 6Note * 9

Most stalking victims were female, aged between 15 and 34

As with all violent crime, stalking was most common among young people, and its incidence declined with age (Perreault 2015) (Chart 3). Just under half of all stalking victims (48%) were between 15 and 34 years of age; almost one in ten (9%) people in that age group reported having been stalked, making stalking significantly more common for them compared to other age groups. After controlling for other factors, such as sex, marital status, and various other characteristics, people aged 15 to 34 were more likely to be stalked than those who were older (Model 1).Note 

Chart 3 Self-reported stalking victimization, by sex and age group, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 3
Data table for Chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 3 Age group (years), 15 to 34†, 35 to 54, 55 and older and Total, calculated using percent of victims units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age group (years)
15 to 34 35 to 54 55 and older Total
percent of victims
Males 18 14 6 38
Females 31 20 11 62
Total 48 35 17 100

Women made up the majority of stalking victims in 2014 (62%). Young women, in particular, were over‑represented: almost one‑third of all stalking victims (31%) were females between the ages of 15 and 34. This over‑representation of young women situates stalking among other forms of victimization, including sexual assault, violence within dating relationships and the most severe forms of spousal violence—where there are also disproportionate numbers of women victims (see, for example, Burczycka and Ibrahim 2016; Conroy and Cotter 2017; Perreault 2015). After controlling for many other factors known to be associated with stalking and other forms of victimization, being female resulted in 85% greater odds of being a victim of stalking (Model 1).

Stalking most often includes threats, intimidation of someone known to the victim

Most often, the kind of stalking or harassing behaviourNote  that victims experienced was threats or intimidation against someone else in the victim’s life, such as the victim’s child or other family member—reported by four in ten (39%) victims (about 720,000 Canadians).Note  Just under a third of victims reported repeated, silent or obscene phone calls (31%), while 28% said that they had received unwanted emails, texts or social media messages that made them fear for their safety or the safety or someone they knew. Damage to property was reported by almost one‑quarter of stalking victims (24%) (Table 3).

Male and female stalking victims were targeted in different ways. For example, 46% of male victims reported threats and intimidation against someone they knew, compared to 35% of female victims; males were also more likely to report that their personal property had been damaged (28% compared to 21% among females). Meanwhile, females were considerably more likely than males to have received repeated, silent or obscene phone calls (38% versus 20%) or unwanted emails, texts or social media messages (31% versus 23%), and to have been spied on in person or electronically (21% versus 12%).

In his study on cyberbullying and cyberstalking of young people in Canada, Hango (2016) found that a high proportion of Canadians aged 15 to 29 had experienced repeated use of electronic communication meant to harass or frighten them.Note  These behaviours affected 17% of the population aged 15 to 29, and declined with age (Hango 2016). This may reflect the fact that younger people are in general more likely to be stalked: when looking at which types of stalking are most prevalent among victims of various ages, the present study found no significant difference between victims aged 15 to 34 and those aged 35 to 54 when it comes to cyberstalking. In other words, receiving unwanted emails, texts or communications via social media was as common among younger victims as among those in the older group (31% and 28%, respectively), as was having had unwanted personal information posted on social media (5%E and 7%E).Note 

Large‑scale changes in how people use technology are reflected in changes in stalking behaviour. In 2004, for example, the social media platform Facebook was in its infancy (Blodget 2012), while services like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat had yet to emerge. One study showed that even over the relatively short period of 2010 to 2012, the proportion of internet‑using Canadians who used social networking sites rose from 58% to 67% (Statistics Canada 2013).

In 2004, the General Social Survey (GSS) asked about stalking that took the form of unwanted communication via email, and found that 6% of stalking victims had had this kind of experience. The question was expanded in 2014 to include unwanted texts and other social media messages (see Text box 1), and the resulting data showed that 28% of victims had been stalked in this way. This difference of 22 percentage points was the largest shift among the types of stalking measured in 2004 and 2014. Though it is possible that some people stalked through the early social media platforms available in 2004 may not have reported it to the GSS because of the way the question was phrased, it is perhaps more likely that the difference reflects the overall increase in people’s engagement in online social networks (Chart 4).

Chart 4 Types of stalking experienced by victims, Canada, 2004 and 2014

Data table for Chart 4
Data table for Chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 4. The information is grouped by Type of stalking behaviour (appearing as row headers), 2014 and 2004†, calculated using percent of victims units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Type of stalking behaviour 2014 2004†
percent of victims
Threatening or intimidating someone else 38Note * 43
Repeated, silent or obscene phone calls 31Note * 47
Damaging victim's property or hurting victim's petsData table Note 1 28Note * 20
Unwanted email, text, social media communicationData table Note 2 28Note * 6
In-person or electronic spying/surveillanceData table Note 3 17Note * 28
Waiting outside victim's home 17 15
Waiting outside victim's work or school 15Note * 19
Persistently asking for a date 11 12
Other unwanted communication 8 8
Unwanted gifts, letters, cards 5Note * 9
Posting unwanted information on social mediaData table Note 4 5Note E: Use with caution Note ..: not available for a specific reference period

Another significant increase in the kinds of stalking most commonly experienced by victims was with damaging property or hurting pets (20% of victims in 2004 to 28% in 2014).Note  The largest decreases were with respect to being spied on (28% in 2004 to 17% in 2014) and receiving repeated, silent or obscene phone calls (47% in 2004 to 31% in 2014). This latter decrease may arguably be linked to an ongoing decrease in “voice to voice” conversations by phone, which have largely been replaced with email and texting (Dillman 2017).

In 2014, the majority of stalking victims said that they believed that the stalking that they had experienced during the previous five years had ended (78%), a proportion that was similar between men and women. Slightly more than one in ten (12%) said that they believed that the stalking was ongoing, while 10% were not sure if the stalking had ended or not.

Overall, most stalking victims reported that they had experienced stalking for either one week or less (26%) or for more than a year (24%). Men were more likely than women to report one week or less of stalking (33% versus 22%), while stalking that lasted between one and six months was more common among women (24% versus 17% among men). No statistically significant difference was found between men and women when it came to stalking that lasted for a year or more (Table 4).

Some variation was found among different types of stalking when it came to their duration.Note  For example, in‑person or electronic spying was slightly more likely to have lasted for less than one week (58%) than were most other types of stalking.

Threats and physical violence often associated with stalking

Both the Canadian Criminal Code and the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) draw a distinction between criminal harassment/stalking and threats of physical violence directed at the victim, as well as physical violence itself. However, police‑reported data show that these crimes often occur together (Justice Canada 2012). In 2016, for instance, 29% of police‑reported incidents of criminal harassment involved another crime; when criminal harassment was itself the most serious offence among these crimes, almost one‑third (32%) of the incidents also involved uttering threats.Note  Among incidents where criminal harassment was present but not the most serious offence, assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm (assault level 2) was most commonly the most serious offence (30%) (Statistics Canada 2017a).

In parallel, the GSS asks Canadians who had been stalked about whether violence or threats of physical violence had been associated with the stalking that they experienced. Findings from these self‑reported data show that threats of physical harm were fairly often associated with cases of stalking. Just under one third of all stalking victims (32%) reported that during the most recent incident of stalking that they had experienced, the person responsible had physically intimidated them or threatened them with violence. Additionally, many stalking incidents involved violent physical contact. Almost one in five stalking victims (18%) indicated that the person stalking them in the most recent incident had grabbed or attacked them in some way.

Interestingly, men were more likely than women to report stalking‑related physical intimidation or threats (40% versus 27%), and also more likely to report physical violence associated with stalking (22% versus 16%). Part of the explanation may lie with how stalking is defined by the GSS on Victimization (and by the Criminal Code). To be categorized as stalking in the GSS, an experience must have caused the victim to feel fear (for themselves or others) and to report it as such to the survey. Researchers have long argued that gender norms may create an image of masculinity that includes bravery and fearlessness. Consequently, some males may internalize this messaging to the degree that they may not perceive some situations as fear‑inducing as readily as some females might (Sutton and Farrall 2005). It is possible, therefore, that the incidents of stalking that males report to the GSS—requiring de facto the element of fear—may be biased towards those more severe incidents, where violence or overt threats of violence had occurred. In essence, men might report fewer of the less‑severe incidents, thereby raising the overall severity of male‑reported stalking incidents present in the data. Similar explanations have been put forward with regards to men’s perceptions of safety in their neighbourhoods, for instance (Perreault 2017).

The idea that the reporting of victimization is gendered is supported by the fact that among stalking victims, more women (37%) than men (28%) reported fearing for their lives during the most recent incident. Though by definition, an element of fear must be present for an incident to be considered stalking, fearing for one’s life represents a more severe and traumatic experience. It is arguable that male victims may have been less likely to either perceive their experience this way, or be less likely to report it to the GSS. Overall, more than one‑third of stalking victims (34%) feared for their life as a result of the most recent incident of stalking.

Not surprisingly, many victims who were physically intimidated or threatened with violence feared for their lives (48%), though many of those who did not experience that level of severity did so as well (27%). Victims who had been grabbed or attacked by a stalker were also more likely to fear for their lives (48% versus 30% of victims who had not).

Victims who had been stalked by males were more likely to say that the stalking had made them fear for their lives (36%), compared to victims who had been stalked by females (26%). However, the stalker’s sex had little bearing on whether or not stalking incidents involved physical intimidation or threats of violence or actual grabbing or physical attacks: the prevalence of these was the same whether stalking involved male or female perpetrators.

The proportions of stalking victims who said that they had been threatened with violence, physically grabbed or attacked, or that they had feared for their lives did not change between 2004 and 2014.

Stalking and sexual assault

Recent Canadian research has linked stalking to a higher overall risk of sexual assault. Using data from the 2014 General Social Survey, Conroy and Cotter (2017) found that people who had been stalked in the 12 months preceding the survey were the victims of sexual assault at a rate over ten times higher than that reported by people who had not been stalked (182E versus 17 per 1,000 population).Note  Among women specifically, those that had been stalked in the preceding 12 months had a rate of self‑reported sexual assault that was eight times higher than that among women who did not experience stalking (246E versus 29 per 1,000).Note  While these data represent stalking and sexual assault incidents that happened during the same 12 month period, it is unknown which crime occurred first or if the same individual was responsible for both crimes.

Conroy and Cotter (2017) also found that some forms of stalking had a greater association with sexual assault. In particular, stalking victims who reported having been watched by someone waiting outside their home, school, workplace or elsewhere during the preceding five years reported high rates of sexual assault (163E per 1,000 population). Additionally, findings presented by Conroy and Cotter (2017) showed that a sizable proportion of sexual assault victims who had also been stalked reported physical violence (being grabbed or attacked) by the person who stalked them (22%E).

Fear, anger, confusion and frustration were common emotional impacts of stalking

Most stalking victims reported some sort of emotional impact at the time of their victimization (Table 5). Over one‑third (35%) reported feeling fearful during the experience.Note Note  Being fearful was a more common reaction for female victims (44%) than for male victims (20%). Other common emotional impacts felt by male and female victims of stalking were feeling upset, confused or frustrated (31%) and feeling angry (27%). No difference was noted in the proportions of men and women who experienced the latter two kinds of emotional impact.

Fewer than one in ten victims (8%) indicated that they had experienced no emotional consequences whatsoever, and one in twenty (5%) reported that the experience had “not much” of an emotional effect. Male victims were more likely to report either no emotional impact (14%, compared to 5%E among females) or a “not much” effect (8%E versus 3%E).

Most stalkers are male, but proportion of females increasing

With respect to the most recent incidentNote  that occurred in the past five years, almost three‑quarters of victims indicated that the person who had stalked or harassed them was male (74%). Just under one in five reported that a female had been responsible (19%), while 7% stated that they did not know the sex of the stalker.

Women were more likely to indicate that a male had stalked or harassed them (79%, compared to 65% of male victims). Conversely, men were more likely to report that they had been stalked or harassed by a female (25% versus 15%). The majority of stalking victims reported that one individual had been responsible for all of the stalking incidents that they had experienced over the past five years (77%).

The proportion of stalkers who were female increased since 2004, according to self‑reported information provided by victims. Specifically, in 2014 the proportion of victims who indicated that they had been stalked by a female was higher than in 2004 (19% versus 15%) (Chart 5). In particular, female stalkers were considerably more common among male victims (25%, compared to 18% in 2004). Among female victims, in contrast, there was no corresponding increase in the proportion who said that their stalker was female.

Chart 5 Self-reported stalking perpetrated by females, by sex of victim, Canada, 2004 and 2014

Data table for Chart 5
Data table for Chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 5. The information is grouped by Year (appearing as row headers), Males, Females and Total, calculated using percent of victims units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Year Males Females Total
percent of victims
2004† 18 14 15
2014 25Note * 15 19Note *

Victims most often stalked by someone they know

In 2014, most victims indicated that they had been stalked by someone that they knew. Half of all victims (49%) identified their stalker as someone that they knew who was not a current or former intimate partner (Table 6). These people included friends (16%), coworkers or classmates (9%), people known to the victim by sight (9%), relatives (8%) and neighbours (8%). The types of relationships between victims and stalkers were similar among male and female victims.

Over one‑quarter of victims were stalked by a stranger (27%). Stalking by a stranger was more prevalent among male victims (31%) than it was among females (24%).

Intimate partners—that is, current or former legally married or common‑law spouses, as well as current or former dating partners—were identified by one in five (21%) victims as being the person responsible for the most recent incident of stalking in the previous five years. More victims were stalked by dating partners (12%) than by spouses (8%). Overall, stalking by an intimate partner was considerably more prevalent among female victims (25%) than among males (14%).

Stalking by intimate partners differs from stalking by others known to the victim or by strangers in a number of different ways, including the levels of violence with which it is associated and its known risk factors. For these reasons, and because of the particular risk it poses for women, intimate partner stalking is reviewed in more detail in Part 2 of this report.

Vulnerable populations overrepresented as victims of stalking

Numerous studies have shown that in Canada, certain groups are often overrepresented when it comes to many different forms of victimization. These groups include people with disabilities, people with a history of childhood victimization, people with a history of homelessness, people identifying as gay, lesbian or bisexual, and Aboriginal people (Beauchamp 2004; Boyce 2016; Burczycka and Conroy 2017; Cotter forthcoming 2018; Perreault 2009; Perreault 2015; Rodrigue 2016). Data from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) show that these groups are also disproportionately affected by stalking. As with other forms of victimization, stalking was especially prevalent among female members of these vulnerable groups. However, multivariate analysis shows that not all of these groups have higher odds of being stalked, when other factors are taken into consideration—suggesting that a set of complex dynamics underpins stalking victimization.

People with a history of victimization in childhood had an especially high prevalence and increased odds of being stalked as adults. In general, those who experienced physical and/or sexual abuse in childhood are at a high risk for various other kinds of victimization later in life, including violence within interpersonal relationships and violent victimization in general (Burczycka and Conroy 2017; Perreault 2015). This was also the case for stalking victimization: the prevalence of stalking was three times higher among people with history of child abuseNote  (12%) compared to those who had no such history (4%). Stalking was three times as common for women who had been abused as children (15%, versus 5% among those not abused as children) as well as for men (9% versus 3%) (Table 7).

Even when other known risk factors for stalking victimization were present, people with a history of childhood physical and/or sexual abuse had almost three times higher odds of being stalked during adulthood. This finding makes having a history of child abuse one of the strongest risk factors for stalking victimization measured by the 2014 GSS (Model 1).

Similarly, a history of homelessness has been identified as a factor associated with victimization (Perreault 2015; Rodrigue 2016). When it came to having been stalked, the prevalence was more than three times higher among those with a history of homelessness than among those who had never been homeless (16% versus 5%). Almost one in five women with a history of homelessness had been stalked (19%), along with 12% of their male counterparts. When multiple other known risk factors for stalking victimization were considered, having been homeless remained a significant risk factor for being stalked.Note 

Research has identified learning disability as a risk factor for victimization (Cotter forthcoming 2018). Findings from the 2014 GSS show a particularly high incidence of stalking victimization among people with a learning disability.Note  One in five people (21%) who had a condition that makes it hard for them to learn indicated that they had been the victim of stalking, compared to 6% of those without such a condition. Stalking was especially common for women with a learning disability (25%), and was also prevalent among their male counterparts (16%). Even after controlling for a multitude of factors often associated with victimization risk, the odds of being stalked were double among people who reported a learning disability (Model 1).

As with learning disability, stalking was considerably more common among people with an emotional, mental or psychological disability that limits their daily lives (19%),Note  when compared to people without this kind of condition (6%). Stalking was experienced by 21% of women and 15% of men who stated that they have an emotional, mental or psychological disability. The odds of being stalked were 55% higher among those with this kind of disability, even after other risk factors were accounted for (Model 1). Those with a physical disabilityNote  also had higher odds of being stalked, after other factors commonly associated with victimization were considered (including other kinds of disabilities) (Model 1). In terms of prevalence, one in ten (10%) people with a physical disability experienced stalking, compared to 6% of those with no such limitation. This was the case for women with a physical disability (12%) as well as for men (7%).

In Canada, Aboriginal people experience different kinds of victimization more often than non‑Aboriginal people (Boyce 2016; Perreault 2015). This was also the case with stalking: one in ten (10%) people reporting an Aboriginal identity was victimized this way, compared to 6% of non‑Aboriginal people (Table 7). As with other kinds of crime, Aboriginal women were particularly over‑represented (14%). However, once other risk factors—including history of child abuse, homelessness, and mental/psychological and learning disability—were taken into account, being Aboriginal did not itself translate into higher odds of stalking for neither women nor men.

This finding reflects the fact that as a group, Aboriginal people have a higher incidence of other risk factors for stalking; it is the prevalence of risk factors such as child abuse, mental illness, and history of homelessness that increases stalking victimization among Aboriginal people. Indeed, Canadian studies have indicated that Aboriginal people have a higher incidence of child abuse (Burczycka and Conroy 2017), homelessness (Boyce 2016) and mental illness (Boyce et al. 2015). Studies of Aboriginal peoples’ risk of other forms of victimization have reached similar conclusions, and identified a concentration of risk factors present among Aboriginal people (Boyce 2016; Perreault 2015). Many have tied the presence of these risk factors to experiences of colonialism and racism and the intergenerational trauma that these engender (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada 2015).

As is the case with Aboriginal people in Canada, people who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual represent a community at high risk for various kinds of victimization (Beauchamp 2004; Perreault 2015). In line with this, stalking was more than twice as common among this group (14%) as it was for heterosexual people (6%). This was true for men and women. However, as was seen with Aboriginal people’s risk of stalking, when risk factors such as child abuse and homelessness were accounted for, being gay, lesbian or bisexual did not increase the odds of stalking victimization. This suggests that the risk profile for gay, lesbian and bisexual people may have more to do with these other risk factors. For example, people identifying as members of this group report a higher incidence of child abuse (Burczycka and Conroy 2017), a risk factor for stalking victimization.

Drug use, frequent evenings out increase odds of being stalked

For decades, theories of victimization have suggested that people’s risk is related to how much their particular routines and lifestyles place them in situations where victimization is likely to occur. Lifestyle‑routine activity theory has been successfully applied to identify victimization risk factors and widely utilized in the research community (Bunch et al. 2015; Reyns et al. 2016). In their 2015 study, Bunch et al. used longitudinal data collected through the American National Crime Victimization Survey to analyze victimization risk and situate previous research based on cross‑sectional data. Their findings reveal that increased risk of victimization is inarguably tied to certain demographic traits like age, sex and marital status, and that some lifestyle characteristics (for example, frequency of evening activities out) impact the degree of risk associated with those demographic traits.Note  This suggests a complex relationship between victimization risk and various demographic and behavioural characteristics, which may exist with respect to stalking as it does with other forms of victimization.

The findings presented by Bunch et al. (2015) help to contextualize information on stalking coming from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS). For example, being the victim of stalking was slightly more common for people who lived alone, compared to those who shared their household with others (7% versus 6%) (Table 7). However, when factors such as age, sex and marital status were accounted for, living alone did not translate into higher odds of being stalked. This suggests that some other characteristics typical of people who live alone—for example, marital status and age—may have a greater impact on whether or not they become a victim of stalking (Model 1).

Similarly, binge drinking—that is, having consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting during the previous month—has been identified as a risk factor for overall violent victimization by some studies (Perreault 2015). Likewise, being stalked was slightly more common among those who had engaged in binge drinking during the past month than among those who had not (7% versus 6%), particularly among women (11% versus 7%). However, once age, sex, and other relevant factors were accounted for, binge drinking itself did not increase the odds of stalking victimization.

In contrast, after other key risk factors were accounted for, drug useNote  during the past month was shown to increase the odds of being stalked by one‑half (52%) (Model 1). In terms of prevalence, those who used drugs during the previous month had over twice the incidence of being stalked than those who did not (14% versus 6%). Among female drug users, the prevalence of being a victim of stalking was particularly high (23%), while one in ten (10%) males who had used drugs reported stalking. It is important to note that the GSS does not provide for a temporal ordering of events (that is, whether a certain trait came before or after the victimization); behaviours such as binge drinking and drug use may be a response by some people to their experiences of victimization.

Broadly, frequent evenings out of the house—whether to socialize, work, or attend classes—were associated with a slightly higher risk of stalking victimization. Stalking was more prevalent among people who reported more evening activities per month: 8% of people who reported eleven or more evening activities a month had been stalked, with stalking victimization being most common among women with this frequency of evenings out (10%). In contrast, 5% of people with ten or fewer evening activities per month reported having been stalked. After accounting for factors such as age, sex, drug use and others, the frequency of evening activities was found to be a risk factor for stalking victimization, when people who went out in the evenings ten times a month or fewer were compared to those that did so eleven times or more. These findings are consistent with Reyns et al.’s (2016) analysis of data collected by the 2004 cycle of the GSS, which found a corresponding effect on number of evenings out on risk of stalking victimization.

Stalking victims live in neighbourhoods they see as disordered

People who had negative feelings about their neighbourhoods and communities had a higher prevalence of stalking than those who described their neighbourhoods more positively. For example, stalking was twice as common among those who said that their neighbourhood had signs of social disorderNote  (8%) than it was among those who did not describe their neighbourhood this way (4%) (Table 7). This was the case among men (7%) and among women (10%). Said another way, more than seven in ten stalking victims (70%) reported that their neighbourhood had at least one of the characteristics typical of social disorder, compared to 51% of people who had not been stalked. Even after various other risk factors were accounted for, living in a neighbourhood characterized by social disorder was associated with increased odds of stalking victimization (Model 1). Interestingly, there was no relationship between household income and odds of being the victim of stalking.

Similarly, people who thought that their neighbours were somewhat unlikely or not at all likely to call the police if they witnessed a crime had a higher prevalence of stalking (12%) than those who said their neighbours would be very or somewhat likely to call (6%). This was true for both women (14%) and men (10%E). Once other risk factors were taken into account, living in a place where one thought the neighbours would not call the police was associated with higher odds of being stalked (Model 1).

In line with how people viewed their neighbours and neighbourhoods, it was more common for people who reported a somewhat or very weak sense of belonging to their community to have been stalked (10%) than it was for those whose sense of belonging was strong (5%). Having a weak sense of belonging to the community was associated with stalking risk even when other factors—including neighbourhood social disorder and perception of neighbours—were taken into account (Model 1).

It is important to note that while an association appears to exist between social disorder, perceptions of neighbours, community belonging and stalking experiences, the General Social Survey does not provide for a temporal ordering of these events: in other words, it is not known whether being stalked influences the way victims perceive their communities, or whether certain aspects of communities increase the residents’ odds of being stalked.

Although perceptions of neighbourhood social disorder and low feelings of community belonging are more common in large urban areas (Cotter 2016; Schellenberg 2004), stalking was not concentrated in areas of high urbanization. Those living in census metropolitan areasNote  reported the same prevalence and odds of stalking victimization as those who lived outside of these areas, when other factors were accounted for.

Four in ten stalking victims report having spoken about it to police

About four in ten (39%) stalking victims indicated that their experiences had been reported to the police, a proportion that was similar for men and women (Table 8). This is comparable to other forms of victimization measured by the 2014 General Social Survey. For example, police became involved in 29% of instances of spousal violence, according to self‑reported data (Burczycka and Ibrahim 2016). The likelihood that an incident of stalking was reported to police was statistically similar for almost all types of stalking.Note  Furthermore, the proportion of stalking incidents that were reported to police was statistically similar regardless of whether male or female perpetrators were involved.

Stalking that was associated with more violent and threatening behaviour was more often reported to the police.Note  Victims that feared for their lives were most likely to report police involvement (53% of victims who feared for their lives), followed by those who were intimidated or threatened (52%) and those who were grabbed or attacked (48%).Note 

Victims who did not report to the police most often said that the crime was minor and not worth taking the time to report (21%), and that the incident was private and was handled informally or the victim did not want others to find out about it (19%). These reasons were equally as common among male victims as among their female counterparts.

Charges laid in fewer than one‑quarter of stalking incidents

Most victims of stalking indicated that even among those instances that were reported to police, few resulted in further action by police or the courts. Just over one in five (21%) victims who reported their stalking experience to the police indicated that to their knowledge, charges were laid against the perpetrator in the most recent instance—a proportion that was similar for both male and female victims (Table 9).Note  Where charges were laid, victims indicated that the most common charge was assault (38%). Just over one‑quarter of charges laid were harassment (27%E), followed by threats (24%E) and mischief (7%E). Other charges, including probation violations, property damage and weapons offences, represented 21%E of charges laid in instances of stalking.

Cases where victims were grabbed or physically attacked were most likely to result in charges (30%E). Charges were laid in 27% of cases where the victim feared for their life and 23% of cases that involved physical intimidation or threats. Note  When it came to the sex of the stalker, incidents that involved male stalkers were more likely to have resulted in charges being laid (24%, compared to 13%E of incidents involving a female stalker), despite the fact that cases involving male perpetrators were not more likely to involve physical intimidation and threats or grabbing and physical attacks.

One‑quarter (25%) of victims who had reported to the police said that to their knowledge, restraining orders had at some point been issued against the person who stalked them.Note  Restraining or protective orders were more common in stalking incidents that involved female victims (30%) compared to males (14%E) (Table 9). However, when it came to male stalkers versus female stalkers, there was no difference in the proportion of incidents in which a restraining or protective order was issued (Chart 6).

Chart 6 Stalking incidents reported to police, resulting in charges and in restraining/protective orders, by sex of stalker, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 6
Data table for Chart 6
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 6 Reported to police, Reported and resulted in charges and Reported and restraining/protective order issued, calculated using percent of victims units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Reported to police Reported and resulted in charges Reported and restraining/protective order issued
percent of victims
Male stalker† 42 24 26
Female stalker 35 13Note E: Use with cautionNote * 24Note E: Use with caution
Total 39 21 25

Stalking victims indicated that in cases where restraining or protective orders had been enacted, two in five (41%) had been violated. Most of them (72%) indicated that they had reported the violation to the police.

The proportion of stalking victims who engaged with the police and the courts did not change between 2004 and 2014. There were no differences in the proportion of victims who reported the most recent incident of stalking to the police, nor were there changes in the proportions who reported that charges were laid, or that a restraining order was issued. Among victims who indicated a restraining order had been put into place, similar proportions of victims in 2004 and in 2014 reported that the order had been violated and, if so, that they had reported the violation to police.

Most stalking victims speak to someone about the experience

Aside from speaking with police, most victims of stalking (84%) spoke to someone in their lives about what they had experienced. This was a marked contrast to many other forms of victimization, where few victims discuss their experiences with others (for example, see Burczycka and Conroy 2017; Conroy and Cotter 2017; Perreault 2015). Women were more likely than men to have spoken to someone about the stalking (87% compared to 77%) (Chart 7).

Chart 7 People other than police that victims of self-reported stalking spoke to, by sex of victim, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 7
Data table for Chart 7
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 7. The information is grouped by Person spoken to (appearing as row headers), Males†, Females and Total, calculated using percent of victims units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Person spoken to Males† Females Total
percent of victims
Spoke to someone—total 77 87Note * 84
Family member 68 67 67
Friend or neighbour 60 62 61
Co‑worker 21 20 20
Counsellor or psychologist 7Note E: Use with caution 13Note * 11
Lawyer 8Note E: Use with caution 7 7
Doctor or nurse 1Note E: Use with caution 6Note E: Use with cautionNote * 5Note E: Use with caution
Spiritual advisor Note F: too unreliable to be published 3Note E: Use with caution 2Note E: Use with caution
Other 7Note E: Use with caution 8 8

Most often, the person or people victims spoke to were family (67%) or friends or neighbours (61%). Some victims also spoke with coworkers (20%) or counsellors or psychologists (11%). Speaking to people like doctors or nurses, lawyers, spiritual advisors and others was less common among victims.

Part 2: Self‑reported stalking in intimate partner relationships

Three‑quarters of intimate partner stalking victims are female

Stalking perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner differs from stalking committed by strangers or other people in important ways. Key among these is the over‑representation of women as victims of intimate partner stalking. Previous Canadian studies have confirmed that women and girls face a greater risk of violent victimization by dating partners, as well as a greater severity of violence within spousal relationships (Burczycka and Ibrahim 2016). Findings from the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians' Safety (Victimization) indicate that stalking by current and former spouses and dating partners is situated within this same matrix of women’s victimization by intimate partners.

Data from the 2014 GSS show that women in Canada are over‑represented as stalking victims: although they make up exactly one‑half (50%) of the Canadian population (Statistics Canada 2017b), women constitute almost two‑thirds (62%) of stalking victims—including those stalked by acquaintances and others (61%) and by strangers (57%) (Chart 8). However, the greatest gap between women and men in terms of stalking victimization was in relation to intimate partner stalking: here, women represented about three‑quarters (74%) of all victims—about 284,000 women. Overall, one in fifty Canadian women aged 15 and older reported having been stalked by an intimate partner in the previous five years.

Chart 8 Self-reported relationship of stalker to victim, by sex of victim, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 8
Data table for Chart 8
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 8. The information is grouped by Sex of victim (appearing as row headers), Stranger, Intimate partner and Other known person, calculated using percent of victims units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Sex of victim Stranger Intimate partner Other known person
percent of victims
Males 43 26 39
Females 57 74 61

In addition to the over‑representation of women as victims, a key feature of intimate partner stalking is its relative stability over time. While stalking overall decreased from 2004 to 2014, intimate partner stalking was the sole kind of stalking victimization that remained unchanged (Table 10). Among women, intimate partner stalking was the only stalking type that did not decrease between 2004 and 2014.

Intimate partner stalking most common among young people

While stalking was more common among younger people in general, the prevalence of intimate partner stalking was especially high for this group. Relative to other kinds of stalking, a significantly higher proportion of those stalked by an intimate partner were aged 15 to 34. In 2014, six in ten people (60%) stalked by an intimate partner were between 15 and 34 years of age, compared to 47% of those stalked by someone else they knew and 44% of those stalked by a stranger. Meanwhile, stalking by an intimate partner was as common as other types of stalking for those aged 35 to 54, and less common for those aged 55 and older. These patterns were reflective of the experiences of female victims: the prevalence of different kinds of relationship was similar among male victims of different ages (Chart 9).

Chart 9 Self-reported relationship of stalker to victim, by age group of victim, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 9
Data table for Chart 9
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 9. The information is grouped by Age group (years) (appearing as row headers), Stranger, Intimate partner† and Other known person, calculated using percent of victims units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Age group (years) Stranger Intimate partner† Other known person
percent of victims
15 to 34 44Note * 60 47Note *
35 to 54 33 35 35
55 and older 23Note * 5Note E: Use with caution 17Note *

Even after other known risk factors were accounted for, young people had higher odds for experiencing both intimate partner stalking and stalking by strangers or other known people (Model 2; Model 3).

Intimate partner stalking more likely to involve unwanted digital communication, property damage

Stalking perpetrated by an intimate partner—whether by a current or former spouse or common‑law or dating partner—involved a different set of behaviours than stalking committed by stranger or someone else the victim knew.Note  Victims of intimate partner stalking were the most likely to have received unwanted email, text messages or communication through social media (41%), with a prevalence almost double that among those who had been stalked by someone else that they knew (24%).Note  One‑third (33%) of intimate partner stalking involved damage to the victim’s property, compared to 20% of stalking by another known person and 13%E of stalking by strangers. Situations where the stalker waited outside the victim’s home (27%) or school or workplace (20%) were also considerably more common when the stalker was an intimate partner (Table 11). Several of these types of stalking became proportionally more common since 2004, as did intimate partner stalking itself, suggesting that these increases are connected (see Chart 3).

One‑third (33%) of people who had been stalked by a current or former intimate partner reported stalking that had lasted a year or more and 29% had been stalked for one to six months. In general, stalking by an intimate partner had a longer duration than stalking by a stranger, though durations were similar compared to stalking by someone else that the victim knew (Table 12).

Physical attacks more prevalent when people stalked by intimate partners

Research on intimate partner violence has shown that stalking and harassment by an intimate partner is often more severe and dangerous than stalking by other people (McFarlane et al. 2002). These findings are supported by the 2014 General Social Survey, which showed that threats, physical attacks, and fear for life were more common for victims of intimate partner stalking. Women were especially affected by these more severe aspects of stalking victimization.

Physical violence against a stalking victim was considerably more common when the stalker was an intimate partner. One‑third (33%) of victims of intimate partner stalking reported having been grabbed or physically attacked (Table 12). This was considerably more common than stalking‑related physical attacks by a stranger (12%E) or someone else the victim knew (16%). Women, in particular, were at greater risk of physical violence if they were stalked by an intimate partner (34%) than if they were stalked by someone else that they knew (13%).Note 

About two in five people stalked by an intimate partner indicated that they had experienced threats of violence and physical intimidation (42%). While this was similar to the experiences of those stalked by someone else that they knew (36%), it was more than double the proportion among those who had been stalked by a stranger (19%). For women specifically, stalking by a current or former intimate partner was more likely to involve physical threats or intimidation than stalking by a stranger or another known person (45%, compared to 11%E and 28%).

About two in five people who had been stalked by an intimate partner said that they feared for their lives as a result (42%). Women were particularly affected in this way, with almost half of female intimate partner stalking victims indicating that they had feared for their lives (47%, versus 27%E among men).

Stalking and violence in intimate partner relationships

Stalking committed by an intimate partner has correlations with violence that extend beyond physical attacks that happen during the stalking incident itself. Research on intimate partner violence—that is, physical or sexual violence committed by a current or former legally married or common‑law spouse or dating partner—has documented the link between this kind of violence and stalking behaviour (McFarlane et al. 2002). Many of those involved in victim services and protection identify stalking as a potential warning sign, pointing towards escalation to physical and sexual violence within intimate partner relationships (Justice Canada 2012).

Information on Canadians’ experiences with spousal and dating violence gathered through the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) reveals the pervasiveness of intimate partner violence among victims of stalking. Violence in dating relationships was especially prevalent: this was reported by more than one in five (22%) people who had been stalked, compared to 2% who had not. Women who had been stalked were especially at risk of dating violence, with over one‑quarter (27%) also reporting physical and/or sexual abuse by a dating partner. Among men, 14% of stalking victims had been subjected to dating violence (Chart 10).

Chart 10 Prevalence of self-reported dating violence among victims also reporting stalking, by sex, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 10
Data table for Chart 10
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 10 Males, Females and Total, calculated using percent of victims of dating violence units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Males Females Total
percent of victims of dating violence
Stalked 14Note * 27Note * 22Note *
Not stalked† 2 2 2

As with dating violence, spousal violence—that is, physical or sexual violence by a current or former legally married or common‑law spouse—was much more prevalent among people who had also been stalked. Spousal violence was more than four times as common among people who had been stalked (14% versus 3%). Unlike dating violence, males and females who had been stalked had similar incidence of spousal violence (13% and 15%, respectively) (Chart 11).Note 

Chart 11 Prevalence of self-reported spousal violence in victims also reporting stalking, by sex, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 11
Data table for Chart 11
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 11. The information is grouped by Sex of victim (appearing as row headers), Males, Females and Total, calculated using percent of victims of spousal violence units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Sex of victim Males Females Total
percent of victims of spousal violence
Stalked 13Note * 15Note * 14Note *
Not stalked† 4 3 3

The nature of GSS data is such that it is impossible to know if the person responsible for a victim’s stalking experience is the same individual responsible for intimate partner violence. However, people who reported being stalked as well as having experienced intimate partner violence most often said that the person who had stalked them was a current or former intimate partner. For example, 61% of stalking victims who had also experienced dating violence reported that the person who had stalked them was a current or former intimate partner; the same was true for 42% of stalking victims who had been subjected to spousal violence (Chart 12). These proportions were similar among male and female victims.

Chart 12 Relationship of stalker to victim among self-reported stalking victims also reporting intimate partner violence, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 12
Data table for Chart 12
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 12 Spousal violence, No spousal violence, Dating violence and No dating violence, calculated using percent of victims of stalking units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Spousal violence No spousal violence Dating violence No dating violence
percent of victims of stalking
Stranger 19Note E: Use with caution 30 16Note E: Use with caution 25
Intimate partner 42 15 61 20
Other known person 35 50 22 53

Those stalked by intimate partners more often report to police

In addition to risk factors, severity and other characteristics, intimate partner stalking differs from stalking by other people when it comes to how often incidents were reported to police. However, once police found out about the incident, cases of intimate partner stalking and cases of stalking perpetrated by someone else had relatively similar trajectories through the justice system.

Almost half (47%) of intimate partner‑related stalking was reported to the police, according to victims describing the most recent incident they had experienced. This compared to 37% of stalking involving others with whom the victim had a relationship and 37% of stranger‑perpetrated stalking (Table 13). Female victims of intimate partner stalking were more likely than their male counterparts have reported the stalking to police (51% versus 35%E). Female victims of intimate partner stalking were also much more likely to report to police than women stalked by strangers (35%) or other known people (38%); among male victims, no statistically significant differences were found based on relationship to stalker.

Victims of intimate partner stalking who did not report the crime to the police gave various reasons for not doing so, the most common being that the incident was a private matter and they did not want others to find out about it (27%) and because they considered the crime to be minor and not worth reporting (17%E) (Table 13).Note  Overall, reasons provided by intimate partner stalking victims more closely resembled those given by people stalked by others they knew, than by people stalked by strangers.

In incidents of intimate partner stalking that did come to the attention of police, fewer than a quarter (22%) of victims reported that charges had been laid in the case at the time of the surveyNote  (Table 13). The types of charges included assault (50%E), harassment (33%E), and threats (27%E).Note  Restraining or protective orders had been laid against 37% of those accused in intimate partner stalking cases that were reported to police.Note  Almost half of the time, these orders were violated (47%); if that was the case, most victims reported these violations (78%).

When it came to justice system responses such as charges and restraining orders, intimate partner stalking was similar to stalking by other people. The proportion of cases that resulted in charges and the kinds of charges laid were similar, as was the frequency of restraining orders being laid and violated (Table 13).

Aside from speaking to police, most people stalked by an intimate partner reported that they had spoken to someone else about the experience (83%) (Chart 13). Among them, almost three‑quarters (72%) spoke to a friend or neighbour and 18% spoke to a counsellor or psychologist; intimate partner stalking victims were significantly more likely to reach out to these kinds of people than those stalked by strangers or other people that they knew. Like those stalked by strangers or other known people, most intimate partner stalking victims (68%) discussed the experience with family members.

Chart 13 People other than police spoken to among victims of self-reported stalking, by relationship of stalker to victim, Canada, 2014

Data table for Chart 13
Data table for Chart 13
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for Chart 13. The information is grouped by Person spoken to (appearing as row headers), Stranger, Intimate partner† and Other known person, calculated using percent of victims units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Person spoken to Stranger Intimate partner† Other known person
percent of victims
Friend or neighbour 56Note * 72 61Note *
Family member 69 68 66
Counsellor or psychologist 4Note E: Use with cautionNote * 18 12Note *
Co‑worker 23Note * 14 21Note *
Lawyer 3Note E: Use with cautionNote * 9Note E: Use with caution 9
Doctor or nurse Note F: too unreliable to be published 8Note E: Use with caution 4Note E: Use with caution
Spiritual advisor Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published Note F: too unreliable to be published
Other 8Note E: Use with caution 6Note E: Use with caution 8Note E: Use with caution
Overall—spoke to someone 83 83 85

Former partners often implicated in intimate partner stalking

Data from the 2014 General Social Survey show that stalking by a former intimate partner was more common than stalking by a current partner: 18% of stalking victims had been stalked by a former partner (including former spouses and former dating partners) (Table 14). This compared to 3%E of victims who indicated that a current intimate partner had stalked them. Women were particularly at risk of stalking by former partners (21% of victims) compared to men (12%).

Among the more severe behaviours associated with stalking, threats of violence or physical intimidation were more common among people stalked by a current partner (59%) than a former partner (39%). There were no differences when it came to having been grabbed or physically attacked, nor with having feared for one’s life.Note 

Stalking more common in dating relationships than in marriages

Overall, stalking was more common in current or former dating relationships than in current or former marriages or common‑law unions (12% versus 8% of victims) (Table 14). This was particularly the case for male victims (9% versus 5%E); for female victims, stalking prevalence was statistically similar between these two kinds of relationships.

Physical violence was about as common in dating partner stalking as it was in spousal partner stalking, as were threats of violence and physical intimidation. Similarly, victims of either kind of stalking were more or less as likely to have feared for their lives.Note 

When it came to involvement with the justice system, people stalked by a current or former spouse were more likely to have contacted police (56%), compared to those stalked by a current or ex‑dating partner (41%). However, the prevalence of charges being laid and restraining or protective orders being issued or broken was about the same for those stalked by a current and former spouse and those stalked by a current or former dating partner.

Key risk factors for intimate partner stalking include having children, living alone

Regardless of the kind of relationship between victim and stalker, some victim characteristics resulted in heightened odds of stalking victimization. For example, having a learning disability and being the victim of child abuse greatly increased the odds of being a victim of stalking by an intimate partner as well as stalking by someone else. Drug use and homelessness were also persistent factors (Model 2; Model 3). Meanwhile, as with stalking overall, people identifying as gay, lesbian or bisexual did not have greater odds of either intimate partner stalking or stalking by other people.

Otherwise, significant differences exist when it comes to what puts people at risk for stalking by an intimate partner, compared to stalking by someone else.Note  While the victim’s sex was a risk factor for both kinds of stalking—in that women had higher odds of both—the difference between men and women was greatest when it came to stalking by an intimate partner. The odds of being stalked by an intimate partner were almost four times higher for women than for men, compared to one‑half higher when it came to stalking by someone else. Likewise, those who were separated or divorced had moderately higher odds of non‑intimate partner stalking when compared to those who were married or common‑law; this jumped to a nearly sevenfold increase in the odds of being victimized when it came to intimate partner stalking. A similar relationship existed with respect to single (never married) people.

A significant risk factor for intimate partner stalking was found to be the presence of children in the home.Note  This risk persists independently of other factors, such as the victim’s age and marital status. Conversely, the presence of children is not a significant factor for being a victim of stalking by someone other than an intimate partner. Other risk factors identified only for intimate partner stalking were living aloneNote  and engaging in binge drinking,Note  both of which increased the odds independent of other criteria.

An entirely different set of risk factors was identified specifically for stalking by people other than intimate partners. These included going out in the evening more than 10 times a month, living in a neighbourhood with social disorder, thinking neighbours would not call the police in the event of a crime,Note  and having a weak sense of community belonging,Note  all of which increased the likelihood of non‑intimate partner stalking. Having a physicalNote  or psychological or mental disabilityNote  were also risk factors, unlike for intimate partner stalking.Note 

These findings hint at complex dynamics that may underlie different types of stalking victimization. Victimization by people other than intimate partners appears closely linked to the broader social environment surrounding the victim, including social disorder and potential criminality in the neighbourhood and weak ties between community members; meanwhile, having a mental or physical limitation may contribute to increased odds of stalking by making one appear vulnerable in the eyes of offenders.

Both of these characteristics dovetail with the lifestyle‑routine activity approach to victimization research, which identifies exposure to motivated offenders (for example, high‑crime neighbourhoods) and target suitability (such as inability to physically defend one’s self because of a disability) as key elements of victimization risk.Note  While much of this research has focussed on violent victimization and property crime, other studies have successfully applied these concepts to stalking victimization (Reyns et al. 2016). The data presented in Model 2 and Model 3 of the present study suggest that stalking by people other than intimate partners may be well suited to this type of analysis, which is effective at describing crimes involving strangers and acquaintances in general.

In contrast, stalking involving intimate partners notably excludes variables associated with exposure to motivated offenders, such as neighbourhood characteristics, as well as variables associated with target suitability (such as disabilities). Instead, risk factors appear to be linked to relationship breakdown: for example, the presence of children suggests a serious, longer‑term relationship (the breakup of which may engender more stalking risk than would less‑serious, shorter unions); it may also point to a partner using custody or other child‑related threats as a form of harassment, which is frequently observed (Hayes 2015; Miller and Smolter 2011). Living alone may also be indicative of a post‑relationship phase: analyses of data from the 2016 Canadian Census link living alone to separation and divorce (Statistics Canada 2017c). These victims would not yet have entered a new marriage or common‑law relationship, which can be considered a protective factor, based on the relationship between marital status and stalking risk.

In other words, the information provided in this analysis does little to inform us of intimate partner stalking risk, besides describing the post‑relationship scenario in which one would expect this kind of victimization to occur. Further work to explore potential risk factors is warranted, as the path from intimate partner stalking to intimate partner violence is well‑established.

Summary

By definition, being stalked causes victims to fear for their safety. Though it can encompass a wide range of behaviours—from the seemingly innocuous to the overtly dangerous—the fear experienced by victims is real and the potential for violence to occur is substantial. Of the 1.9 million Canadians who were stalked during the five years preceding the 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) on Canadians' Safety (Victimization), over 334,000 experienced actual physical attacks associated with the stalking behaviour.

Researchers and justice professionals have defined a link between stalking and intimate partner violence, and data from the 2014 GSS show that these interrelated forms of victimization are present in the lives of many Canadians—especially women. Though a relatively large proportion of victims engaged with the justice system by reporting their experiences to police, few reported that charges had been laid or restraining orders issued in relation to their cases. Further study into why many intimate partner stalking victims did not see tangible justice system outcomes is warranted, to ensure victims receive adequate protection from their stalkers—and from the violence which has been shown to correlate with stalking behaviour.

Some risk factors for stalking are unique to stalking by an intimate partner—for example, the presence of children or living alone. Stalking by strangers or other known people has other risk factors, including mental and physical disabilities and negative neighbourhood characteristics. These differences suggest the need for different prevention strategies which target different kinds of individual vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, some risk factors appear central to stalking risk, regardless of the relationship involved: a history of child maltreatment, presence of learning disabilities, and history of homelessness are as significant with respect to all types of stalking as they are with many other kinds of victimization. The present study into Canadians’ experiences with stalking may therefore serve as further evidence of the importance of addressing these key vulnerabilities, the centrality of which cannot be overstated.

Lastly, though self‑reported stalking victimization has declined over the previous decade, ongoing changes provide an interesting opportunity for further study. Changes in technology and how Canadians use it appear to be manifesting in the kinds of stalking people experience. Changes in the sex profile of stalkers see the proportion of female stalkers increasing. Finally, an important lack of change—that is, the lack of decline in intimate partner stalking at a time when stalking overall is decreasing—confirms the observations of many, that intimate partner violence continues to be a serious issue faced by Canadian women, men and justice system professionals.

Methodology for logistic regression

Only significant characteristics were retained in the final models. The following variables were tested for each model:

Sex, age group, marital status, main activity, household income, Aboriginal identity, immigrant status, visible minority status, sexual orientation, childhood victimization, self‑rated mental health, living in a Census Metropolitan Area or Census Agglomeration, emotional, psychological or mental disability, learning disability, physical disability, presence of social disorder in neighbourhood, drug use, binge drinking, number of evening activities, living alone, history of homelessness, perception that neighbours would call the police if they witnessed a crime, sense of belonging to local community, presence of children in the home, and level of education.

Detailed data tables

Table 1 Self‑reported stalking victimization, by sex, provinces and territories, 2014

Table 2 Self‑reported stalking victimization, by sex, provinces, 2004 and 2014

Table 3 Types of self‑reported stalking experienced by victims, by sex, Canada, 2014

Table 4 Severity and duration of self‑reported stalking victimization, by sex, Canada, 2014

Table 5 Emotional impact of self‑reported stalking victimization, by sex, Canada, 2014

Table 6 Relationship of stalker to victim in most recent incidents of self‑reported stalking, by sex, Canada, 2014

Table 7 Prevalence of self‑reported stalking victimization among people with select sociodemographic and lifestyle characteristics, by sex, Canada, 2014

Table 8 Self‑reported stalking incidents, by whether reported to police, reasons for not doing so and sex, Canada, 2014

Table 9 Charges and restraining/protective orders laid in self‑reported stalking incidents reported to police, by sex, Canada, 2014

Table 10 Self‑reported stalking victimization, by stalker to victim relationship and by sex of victim, Canada, 2004 and 2014

Table 11 Types of self‑reported stalking experienced by victims, by relationship of stalker to victim, Canada, 2014

Table 12 Severity and duration of self‑reported stalking victimization, by relationship of stalker to victim and by sex of victim, Canada, 2014

Table 13 Reporting to police, charges and restraining/protective orders laid in self‑reported stalking incidents, by relationship of stalker to victim, Canada, 2014

Table 14 Prevalence and characteristics of self‑reported stalking, by type of intimate partner relationship and by sex, Canada, 2014

Model 1 Logistic regression: Odds ratios for stalking victimization, by characteristics, Canada, 2014

Model 2 Logistic regression: Odds ratios for non‑intimate partner stalking victimization, by characteristics, Canada, 2014

Model 3 Logistic regression: Odds ratios for intimate partner stalking victimization, by characteristics, Canada, 2014

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