The late Dr Tim Field taught us to predict, resist, challenge and combat bullying.
Several years of ill treatment by a neighbour which; included five cases of assault, resulted in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – and also contributed to the loss of his job, prompted one victim to take action against a tyrannical stalker who had latched onto, and was victimising him. The victim gives us insight into his struggle to get the police and local community safety unit to recognise the crimes of Stalking and Harassment and to do something useful and positive to assist.
Despite Stalking being a crime and the presence of several other criminal acts, the police approach is summarised as “pass the buck”. They continuously claimed the crimes were civil matters despite the contrary being posted on the CPS website. This left the victim to deal with what was in effect a multitude of criminal acts, in the civil courts.
Various factors led the victim to review the costs of their recommendations and he realised that they were being passed on to him – he thinks as a cost cutting measure. Meanwhile in other areas, the police do recognise and deal with stalking as a crime.
In hindsight he sees this as a postcode lottery. He also thinks that the police were diverted from realising the seriousness of the affair by the perpetrator who employed various bullying tactics to control his neighbours.
This article examines the common strategic tactic used by stalkers and bullies called DARVO. Standing for Denial, Attack, Reverse Roles of Victim and Offender, this behaviour has been used by generations of stalkers and bullies, to avoid detection and evade confrontation. Properly executed DARVO isolates the victim of stalking, harassment or bullying from effective support.
In abusive toxic organisations such as the mental health services, anti-bullying policies that fail the victim and allow bullying managers to target workers in the same way, have also been experienced. Appointing an internal, salaried investigator to deal with bullying or stalking can turn into yet another form of attack.
This article therefore calls for the police and the unions to rethink their strategy when victims complain of a pattern of unwanted, fixated and obsessive behaviour which is intrusive and causes fear of violence, serious alarm or distress. The definition of stalking, according to Paladin who run the national stalking helpline.
DARVO strategically delays or defeats justice and prolongs the stress of the victim, giving the perpetrator maximum opportunity to destroy him or her. By exposing the tactic it is hoped that victims, supporters and police officers can learn how to break the cycle of stalking attacks, and shorten or curtail the victims exposure. No victim should be left to tackle a stalker alone.
How Stalking Works
Stalkers are sneak attackers, expert in causing mental pain in ways that only the victim, or someone with rare empathy can detect. They often exploit some unique personal characteristic(s) or “failure” on the part of the victim in the attack. Fictional, half true or otherwise, nonetheless attacks hurt the victim where others would not be hurt. This makes it difficult for others to understand.
Perpetrators engineer and enjoy unwanted contact with victims. It suits their purpose, which is to control and if not, sadistically destroy their victim or target. Often this is achieved by using the victims emotions as a weapon to de-stabilise them, eventually invoking mental illness. As a last resort the perpetrator may employ violence if they cannot achieve what they want emotionally.
Unwanted Contact and Intrusions
In stalking or bullying, contact incidents are extremely unpleasant for the victim, being designed to engage him or her and the stalker, (and\or a third party) in a conflict situation. Normally how the victim handles conflict will decide the outcome for them.
Normally when conflict occurs, depending on the severity, it results in an outcome which can easily be forgotten for example, both parties move on etc. Equality is achieved between the parties or they adopt superior or inferior roles which they both respect. Under abnormal circumstances the conflicting parties can also divide into the roles of stalker and victim.
The victim who does not handle conflict well, (or has further attractive characteristics (beyond the scope of this article)), and exposes this to a psychopath, is drawn into a destructive relationship.
As the perpetrators intention is to destroy or eliminate the target, and overt violence is risky and illegal, the conflict is carried out by attacking emotional weaknesses in the target that cause stress.
Having witnesses present during the attack serves a number of purposes for example to highlight the victims weakness, especially if in response the victim acts offensively (or defensively) or “out of character”.
The accumulative effect of many incidents over time damage the victims self confidence, can erode the targets reputation when delivered in public or behind the targets back and are aimed at asserting control and dominance.
Often hidden, or disguised as normal behaviour, when delivered in public, this type of attack gives the perpetrator power over others by showing them how they could also be treated or abused by the perpetrator, if they don’t conform. (or “toe the line”). The perpetrator that inspired this article has mistreated members of the victims family in order to get at the victim, and then further attempted to exploit the victims responses to his tirades. Many unwanted intrusions and contacts have been arranged that bring the victim into contact with the authorities to draw them into assisting him in his aims. A loyal citizen, the victim only wants to go about his business and maintain his reputation as law abiding member of the community. This is so far disrupted. The resulting fear has created further incidents where the family see how the victim is treated and are immediately alerted to the presence of the perpetrator and respond adversely to it.
Consequently people around a stalker or bully tend to live in fear, and when they see what is happening they tend to gratify the perpetrators behaviour or turn their back on the victim, both acts that feed and encourage the perpetrator. Selected victims will find it difficult to provide an appropriate response and through stress and anxiety, a physical illness, called hyper-vigilance, victims will wish to avoid further abusive contacts when the stalker is around. Just seeing or hearing signs the stalker is around will trigger a response.
Mediation and face to face meetings between victim and offender are feared by the victim because of this ability to trigger such a response and exploit it; degrade, demean or invalidate the victim. Perpetrators aim to keep their own name clear by avoiding being caught, and demonise or label the victim. To the victim the stalker is a bully, and to anybody else he would like them to think of him as a truly great neighbour.
How DARVO works
When a victim begins to relate the impact of the perpetrators behaviour, during any resulting confrontation between the victim or a third party supporter, the stalker denies any offence or meaning, caused by his or her actions. Feigning apology may lull the situation. A tissue of lies and half-truths will be used to support this. Due to the credibility of the stalker and his or her excuses, denial serves the purpose of asserting their preferred version of events.
To embed this view, a diversionary or counter attack can also be mounted. This has the aim of discrediting the victim, commonly shifting the focus onto some offensive action purported to have been committed by them. A fictitious event or some minor misdemeanour or performance issue blown out of proportion will suffice. This gives false reason and motive to the real offenders action and diverts the spotlight away from the original (victims) complaint. Such attacks often involve a “characteristic” of the victim, for example one very effective tool is to claim the victim is ill or unfit, (even though this is due to the stalkers action). Labels are used to stigmatise the victim with mental health or performance problems, incompetence or a criminal record.
Reverse Role Victim\Offender.
The perpetrators aim is to portray the victim as being responsible for the offence. “Because you did this, I did that”. A fantasy version of “events” puts the victim in the position of wronging the perpetrator or other parties involved.
The aim is for the perpetrator to get the support of the local community surrounding the victim as well as that of the investigator and eventually the victims friends.
- The victim is further isolated, while the stalkers behaviour remains unchallenged or they gain status.
- Investigators will shift their judgement to the victim and lose the will to act against the perpetrator.
(Another version of this occurs in workplaces when HR investigators on the organisations payroll begin to act for the perpetrator.)
Gaining Advantage – The Perpetrator
Stalkers are obsessive and therefore convinced in their right to pursue a course of action in what is often a fantasy or delusional situation involving a victim. In one mode, he or she has well developed powers of persuasion and charm. Also they may have, or think they have rank, status and power in the community, (or organisation) above the victim. If not they may attempt to cultivate a relationship and get support from somebody who has the muscle, rank and status, which can then be used to carry out attacks by proxy. This may be a higher value boss, a council official or a police officer etc. The more senior the better.
He or she may vent – victimising others when they don’t conform to expectations, or escalate until he finds people who he can suck into the situation, to pull rank, causing a break in the process or a diversion.
Perverting the Course of Justice
By gaining the support of the investigator(s), further advantages are given to the perpetrator, enabled by the action or failure to act of investigators and the victim. These actions or in-actions make it much less likely the victim will obtain justice. A short list of actions and outcomes from the victims experiences follows:
- Victim. Avoidance of the perpetrator. Due to the obsessive nature of the offence, the perpetrator would re-engineer contact, even when asked many times to stay away.
- Victim. Denial – shutting off from what just happened at the end of an incident under the assumption it is over and the perpetrator won’t return. In reality this left the victim exposed to further attacks.
- Victim. Misunderstanding the role of the perpetrator, blaming themselves (what did I do to deserve that?) or being blamed by others.
- Victim. Following bad advice to do any of the above.
- Victim\Police. Taking no action to prevent further attacks – police (or investigators) fail to use powers or invoke laws or policy. Victim fails to learn lessons or take preventative measures to stop repeat incidents. Perpetrator thinks he can get away with it. Attacks intensify.
- Police. Multiple uncoordinated incidents, with more than one investigator, no single controlling mind. The victim thinks the current policing model makes continuity impossible and a new policing model that provides continuity is needed – see below.
- Police. Applying dispute management or conflict resolution processes which give equal weight to the perpetrator and victim, inadvertently giving the perpetrator the advantage over the victim due to their different human characteristics.
- Police. Fear of the stalker. Allowing them to control the situation, and to escalate through the ranks to find and target decision makers.
- Organisations. Who use employees to investigate allegations. This escalates the stalking behaviour and is a tool which can be easily manipulated to bring overwhelming defeat to the victim instead of offering protection. Organisations that do this almost certainly have a toxic culture.
The victim discovered DARVO through Wikipedia and when he realised what it was, he reviewed his incident log. It was highly probable that DARVO was responsible for the never ending situation he found himself in.
The police just closed most of the incidents without following up and “hard luck” “we wouldn’t want a neighbour like that”.
The victim had located a fault in the process being used by the police. His local force has consistently demonstrated no skills in dealing with the issues caused by the stalking mindset or serial harassers. Nationally and statistically this was true. (BBC News\National Police Surveys\Paladin).
The police never reviewed what the perpetrator had said to them, with the victim.
On many occasions the perpetrator had bragged about the police coming to interview the victim after an incident – “because it was your fault”.
The flawed process also includes:
- Dropping and closing incidents without reviewing with the victim
- Never referring back to the victim over the outcome – whether it was satisfactory or not.
- Attempting face to face mediation when it was not appropriate
- Blocking the victim from seeing information about him in police logs
New Process Needed
The flaws in the process give rise to the idea that a new policing process is required to deal with stalking. Briefly a single timeline, under regular review by a single trained mind with an aim to end the belligerence and resulting stress is required. DARVO is so basic a concept it is hard to believe the police don’t train for it already.
Once the victim had become DARVO aware, he developed a counter strategy, first documenting it and then making it plain that he thought the perpetrator was lying to them.
Rationale and Personal Risk in the Approach
The victims rationale was (within limits) to do some of the work the police should have done. To expose DARVO he would leave the perpetrator in no doubt that he was acting within his rights. Avoiding the perpetrator or avoiding upsetting him would be counter-productive to evidence gathering. His mere presence seemed to trigger an attack. Information about the level and continuity of activity against him was essential and he and his family had to be seen to be above the law. Anything that confirmed the actions as those of a stalker was not to be encouraged nor discouraged. He decided gathering evidence was worth some risk while protecting his family. Importantly one benefit of his approach was that the effectiveness of the abuse was reduced – his own actions gave him back some control.
When he cut off the abusers access to him in a specific location, he found the abuser increased his range of trivial actions which confirmed his attention had not diminished. The number of these signalled that the next attack was due and confirmed the perpetrators modus opperandii.
Eventually the perpetrator was caught out.
The law allows for a proportional response. After identifying unwanted behaviour you are highly likely to want to stop it and you may wish to consult with police and housing services about curtailing the behaviour. An effective counter strategy is required. Follow Police advice. This will mean religiously logging and reporting incidents to them. They are likely to tell you no crime has been committed when events are trivial and no damage has been done – labelling it as a neighbour dispute seems to absolve them of any any responsibility despite what it says on their website. Keeping a log is essential. Stalking behaviour is likely to comprise a number of events over a period of time. Not logging any encounter is likely to prolong the realisation that a crime is in progress. The victim is often seen as a perpetrator and any aggression will be reflected back to him or her which exacerbates the difficulty of dealing with it effectively. You will need to:
- Know your Enemy – research behaviour and establish motivation.
- Recognise your own relevant weaknesses and build capability.
In case 2, the victim realised that he was under the abusive thumb of a tyrant who had the objective of ruining his families life, and would not let go i.e was fixated on him. He found out mainly through research and acquired knowledge about the typical behaviour and compared examples with experience. After recognising the crime of stalking, he realised his stalker was somehow preventing direct intervention by the police and took steps to find out how. He kept an open channel with the police, while taking care not to mimic the offender by keeping a matter of fact and short approach, while documenting his version of events – which were being somehow overridden.
This included losing his job which kept him busy and diverted time from dealing with the offender. Instead he made it his part time day job to; work with the police, seek legal advice and study and develop countermeasures.
He made it plain that he would be continuing his life within his rights, despite the controlling and aggressive behaviour which he would challenge, not ignore.
Identify Attack Zones
He identified the zones more or less likely to be used in an attack and confirmed the likelihood of an attack on his property and placed legal deterrents such as anti climbing paint and bird spikes. On more than one occasion these were challenged by the perpetrator and inspected by the police.
Limiting Exposure to Attack
While going about his business he developed safe ways of doing things such as using the car, carrying or having personal safety cameras around and developing limited and legal defences when trespassing or surveillance was involved. Where walls were built within legal limits and this was being used to trespass the height was raised. (As he developed these defences, his abuser was cheeky enough to attempt to get the council to order their removal, so he could carry on his attacks unimpeded). The victim was prepared to go to court to justify the action and that was sufficient to deter any action.
Logging and Recording Everything
Go-Pro is your friend. The Victim made use of several types of personal safety cameras such as the Go-Pro. Contrary to popular belief, fixed home security cameras are not the best method of recording crime on your property. This is because you must avoid pointing into areas where you are recording neighbours and passers by which is a severe limitation when trying to catch intruders. Due to a legal ruling fixed home security cameras were used only for gathering evidence of the offence and once it had been gathered were dispensed with. Otherwise you must obey the guidelines published by the information commissioner. Mobile phones are also less useful. In the heat of the moment menu systems and camera settings cause difficulty. On the other hand a Go Pro can easily be positioned on a flat surface and the only control required is to switch it on.
The police understand video evidence and spreadsheets. Keeping police updated by sharing video evidence and updating a database of each incident and including any crime reference numbers helped the victim to group the incidents and save wasting police time, (two logs were being kept, one by the police.)
Looking after Himself
He went to his GP. GP’s are aware of the symptoms of reactive depression and PTSD which result from this behaviour. This helped limit the toxic effect of the perpetrator and allowed him to concentrate.
Establish Intent\Taking Control
Do nothing that would deter the offender from initiating incidents but at the same time do nothing to trigger them. Limit own actions to things that are within your rights. Control access to property using alarms or “tell tales”. The victim in case 2 used grease at strategic points, as a tell tale which was invisible from the direction of attack. The perpetrator was foolish enough to complain about this and claim it to be criminal damage, and also attempt to force the victim to clean it off. Alarms will alert you to intruders.
Reduce the number of available Attack Zones
Position obstacles or cover from view screens. This gained him the choice of where the attacks took place and enabled him to decide whether to use, avoid or eliminate these locations.
The victim in case 2 documented the assailants methods, particularly his use of cameras for surveillance. This was how he picked his time and place to attack. As the cameras went up he had sufficient evidence to note a rise in the number of incidents. He challenged this surveillance as two criminal offences were being committed. (the offender ignored his challenges). The police refuse to deal with the issue.
The victim documented the lies the stalker used to justify his actions and the style of the attacks. He found a “stalking horse” in the form of a trumped up “neighbour dispute” was being used to justify the attacks, and throw the police off track. He set about neutralising that excuse by not disputing it, but studying the law and asserting his rights. It helped him to note the burden of proof was on the stalker and there was never any forthcoming evidence to back up his false accusations or complaints.
Know the direction of travel and Develop Appropriate Responses
By using lessons learnt from conflict management he knew if he was being assaulted he would be able to use minimum force in response. The stalker had already physically assaulted him and his wife and due to inaction by the police the attacks had gradually got worse.
When the assailant waved a sharp object in front of the victim during the first of two assaults, the victim retaliated by pushing him away. This deliberately restrained incident was reported by both the victim and the assailant as an assault. The assailant naturally blamed the victim, however the victim had video. Not content with his effectiveness on that occasion, the assailant repeatedly harassed the police with a set of lies to amplify his case against the real victim and urged them to take action. (Source: the police).
When the police didn’t respond in the way he wanted, there was a second assault within a month. This time the assailant made out the victim had damaged his property, used in the attack, when he disarmed the perpetrator. He denied that what he did was assault when he found out his story was contradicted by the victims video of the event. When compared to the perpetrators version of events it clearly showed who the aggressor was. Under interview, the perpetrator had exposed himself as a liar – even denying it was him in the video. His DARVO strategy was now neutralised. In court he pleaded not guilty but was forced to change his plea. He pleaded guilty to assault and was given a conditional discharge and 2 years on the promise that if he harassed the victim in those two years he would find himself back in court for sentencing. The victim opened a complaint to the police one month after the courts decision due to ongoing harassment. The victims property and access points are still under surveillance from four cameras.
Stalking is an extreme behaviour resulting from a disorder. To limit the damage and break the cycle of abuse, requires appropriate countermeasures. The resolution of stalking behaviour is a police responsibility, and the victim in this case has spent years under the thumb of a Tyrant, a serial harasser or stalker with designs on ruining his whole family’s life. Despite eventual injury, the police had sent more than thirty different people to investigate more than sixty incidents treating each one as a standalone event, or part of a “legitimate” dispute between two similar personalities. As such they thought mediation would resolve it – which the victim rightly refused. Realising this being the limit of their experience and knowledge it caused more damage to the victim and his family. The continuity required to detect and expose DARVO was absent, as was the knowledge and willpower to deal with it on the police’s part. The victim, not being a police officer was excluded from contributing to the resolution.
At the time of writing, there is a national wave of success against stalkers being broadcast by police communications in hand with the media. It could be signalling the end for some victims although we have our doubts due to the dwindling numbers of police and the rise in violent crime absorbing police time. As at 11/18 political gain is being made of the end of austerity but no visible sign of improvement to policing is seen. (See also here). This comes after Paladin highlighted the failure of police to bring stalkers to justice after five years with the new laws in place. For others the behaviour continues with victims unsupported. It is hoped this article has exposed this and given rise to the need for change. The idea that all police and genuine workplace investigators can develop the methods they need to identify and directly support the victims of stalking and harassment is a change which is taking its time to come about.
Forgive the anonymity. Your website is awesome. I happened upon this website just now after a demoralising (and frankly offensive) “initial” meeting yesterday with local agencies regarding toxic neighbours. It seems I have a lot to learn about how to work the system . . . I agree with Patricia’s comments on another post, about experience and range of support services: I would add scope and agenda to that too.
I understand that this is a closed group: please will you contact me privately using my email address? I would very much like to talk as I think there may still be an opportunity for justice.
My family is being stalked by another family who are using this tactic against us. Thank you for explaining this so clearly, I have never been able to put into words what is happening to us, and because of this our distress is often dismissed. I’m truly appreciative.
Hi Megan, Sorry for the delay in responding. I hope you can break the cycle of aggression toward your family. I am aware Dismissal of distress is a feature of the response to ASB. You might find more information and how to manage that at http://www.asbhelp.co.uk.