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                                 STALKING AT THE WORKPLACE

 

He was tall, handsome, well-built, nicely dressed, highly educated, well-spoken, intuitive, socially skilled. He was Director of Education for my department, he had good hair, he was sexy, he was wise and and he was kind. He was so very, very……..married.

At 57 years of age, I was a divorced single-parent. I had been fighting the snake pit in corporate America before throwing in the towel. I gave up the good, high paying job for half the salary teaching foreign students overseas. I had traded my hating-to-go-to-work for loving teaching 5th graders. There were times I told myself “I could do this forever.”

However; prior to this, ever mindful and watchful for their employees; the corporate job had sent around a medical team to check our vitals. (Probably worried about heart attacks from stress.) My weight had ballooned up to 174 pounds, my triglycerides were floating off the chart, my cholesterol levels were approaching the ‘danger’ zone and my sugar was too high. I hadn’t had a date in ten years and I could hardly find clothes that fit anymore. I was a mess.

When I was transferred to Southeast Asia; I immediately started to loose weight due to more walking and being on my feet to teach. Also, I didn’t care much for the food and almost stopped eating. Thirty pounds dropped off in six months. The school had a gym on site and I started to get on the treadmill everyday to try and regain some of the old me. I had been slim and athletic most of my life until menopause and divorce hit and bamo!

Anyway; I had to buy new clothes for the slimmer physique and started growing out my hair. There was a noticeable difference and the Director noticed. He was native born and had moved to Canada several years earlier with his wife and family. Apparently; the recession hit there too and he was back in country for this job. He began paying me attention and who wouldn’t be flattered? Friends and family members had reminded me over and over again about my age and how ‘over the hill’ I was. Attention from a handsome, younger man was like a drink of water in a long, hot desert.

Since he wore no wedding ring and never discussed his wife, it took me some time to get that he was, currently, married. I had assumed he was divorced. Wrong. I kept hoping for that and it never happened.

What I got was a constant stream of subtle messages that kept telling me that the door was open. We would be in a group of people and he would say things like “I am going to go see X movie this weekend; sure would like some company,” (said to the air.) “I am so lonely, I just go home and watch TV every weekend or I just go see my mother.” (Poor thing.) Or, the staring and staring at me; to my face, behind my back. Also, questions like “Do you know who I am?” said in an angry tone when I was being uncooperative. Or, how about the sad sighing that would take place whenever I walked by.

The guy was good, I have to give him that. Also, although he had my phone number, there were never any text messages. This guy knew only too well how to not leave any paper trail that could lead back to him. It was this very thing that started me thinking he had done this before.

Also, the ever smiling, never angry face that always welcomed me back with endless unspoken reassurances; that told me too. After lunches, dinners and cocktails over and over and no delivery; the good Director got himself transferred down to the main campus. It was not too long after that I saw a picture of him on Face Book with a new twenty-five year old female ‘friend’. Additionally; any morals, ethics or religious values I hold put to the side, adultery in my host country is a crime punishable by jail time and for me, a foreigner, deportation at my expense. None of these nitsy little issues ever seemed to bother my director friend. He was unconcerned. As well he could be, he was a male national, what did he have to worry about?

Since then, I have been the subject of other stalking episodes, none of course as tempting as this man; however, my awareness of the issue is much more acute. I feel glad that I was able to keep my head even under pressure and did not get involved with this guy. That move would have probably cost me my job eventually, or worse, had his wife found out.

Stalking, harassment and bullying on the workplace share a lot of the same attributes and are what I would call kissing-cousin behaviors. Stalking can take the form of really aggressive stalking that involves following the target, repeated phone calls, texts, emails and the like. It can take the form of what I call ‘soft stalking’ and can be much less aggressive and can involve just texts, emails, conversations and the like. The ways they are alike is that they are persistent and repeated attempts to engage the target individual in some kind of relationship. The advances are not returned or encouraged and are often discouraged by the target. These efforts to discourage the stalker are usually ignored completely just like they never happened and the offensive behavior simply persists.

What do the people who engage in this behavior have in common? Why do they do what they do?

We are all familiar with numerous stories about bullying in the classroom and on the school campus. Schools across the nation have undergone entire anti-bullying campaigns with their students, faculty and teachers. They are emphasizing and restating the same words over and over again; bully hurts and often leaves scars and recreates social fall-out.

We seem to have identified the bully at school; what about the bully at the office? Is stalking a form of bullying?

Workplace bullying refers to repeated, unreasonable actions of individuals (or a group) directed towards an employee (or a group of employees), which are intended to intimidate, degrade, humiliate, or undermine; or which create a risk to the health or safety of the employee(s).

     Workplace bullying often involves an abuse or misuse of power. Bullying behavior creates feelings

of defenselessness and injustice in the target and undermines an individual’s right to dignity at work.

Workplace Bullying and Disruptive Behavior – What everyone Needs to know’. Washington State Depart of Labor and Industries.

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, bully. “Bullying is a compulsive need to displace aggression and is achieved by the expression of inadequacy (social, personal, interpersonal, behavioural, professional) by projection of that inadequacy onto others through control and subjugation (criticism, exclusion, isolation etc). Bullying is sustained by abdication of responsibility (denial, counter-accusation, pretence of victimhood) and perpetuated by a climate of fear, ignorance, indifference, silence, denial, disbelief, deception, evasion of accountability, tolerance and reward (eg promotion) for the bully.”(Tim Field, 1999.)

What is harassment?

Harassment is any form of unwanted and unwelcome behaviour which may range from mildly unpleasant remarks to physical violence.

Harassment is termed sexual harassment if the unwanted behaviours are linked to your gender or sexual orientation. The EU definition of sexual harassment is “unwanted conduct of a sexual nature or other conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of men and women at work”.

According to new Home Office(UK) research, there are more than a million violent incidents at work each year in England and Wales. About a quarter of these involved physical assault resulting in injury. High risk professions are the police, social workers, probation officers, security guards and bar staff. Nurses also face increasing violence, as do teachers. Violence in the workplace costs about £0.25 billion each year when compensation is included.

On average there are seven incidents of violence per month in each NHS Trust in England, adding up to around 65,000 incidents each year. Around two thirds of attacks are on nurses.

School violence has also had a higher profile, especially after recent incidents including the fatal stabbing of headmaster Philip Lawrence and the shootings at Columbine High School in America. Domestic violence also continues unabated, although incidents rarely make the headlines unless they involve murder, usually of the female partner.

Background to stalking and cyberstalking

A study of 50 stalkers by the Royal Free Hospital and University College Medical School, London, found that women are much more likely to be stalked and attacked by a former sexual partner than by a stranger. Stalking has become Britain’s fastest growing crime with over 4000 prosecutions under the Protection From Harassment Act each year. The UK’s first national anti-stalking police unit was authorised by Home Secretary Jack Straw in January 2000 to tackle the growing behaviour of stalking.

US crime statistics show that 1 in 12 women will be stalked in their lifetime, as will 1 in 45 men. At any one time, approximately 1 million women and around 375,000 men are the target of stalking in America. Los Angeles, home of Hollywood, is the stalking capital of the world. But it’s not just famous people who get stalked. The majority of stalking cases involve ordinary people.

The stalker exhibits a familiar pattern of behaviour. Stalking often starts as a result of rejection; rejection rage and abandonment rage motivate the stalker to seek revenge through a predictable pattern of stalking behavior. The stalker, usually a loner and socially inept, becomes obsessed with their target and bombards them with messages, emails, gifts, or abuse. The stalking behaviour can last for years and the intensity of abuse increases over time. The abuse, initially consisting of psychological violence, often escalates and culminates in physical violence. It’s a chilling statistic which reveals that 90% of women who are murdered were stalked by their ex-partner at the workplace. (Field, 1999.)

Jackie Gilbert – ‘Organize for Efficiency’; stalking can be also a “more insidious, pervasive, and psychologically damaging form of harassment. Stalking is considered “ …a crime of obsession, and is often associated with different types …..of personality disorders. Depending on the stalker, behavior may range from overtly aggressive threats and actions to repeated phone calls, letters, or approaches. Stalking harassment may go on for years, causing the victim to exist in a constant state of stress and fear.”

Stalking at work may be an outgrowth of benevolent sexism, in which paternalism is shown by extending protection to lower ranking individual in the patronizing guise of over-support for which is required deference, unquestioned acceptance of the dominant partner’s stance, etc. Red flags again are persistent and unwanted attention from another person. The persistence flies in the face of your actions and words (repeated and implied) that you are not interested. The stalker chooses to ignore your words, actions and body language and persists in their pursuit of you regardless of any feelings you might have.

“Women’s past or current relationship to their stalker can obstruct their realization that their partner’s behavior is problematic. This often meant that women initially mistook intrusive and controlling aspects of their partner’s behavior for attentiveness, protectiveness, and within the realm of normal relationship behavior.” The basis of stalking is obsession, power, and control, a quest that is more easily accomplished when the stalker is at work is senior in rank to his/her pursuit. Because stalkers may misconstrue workplace functions and meetings as a substitute for dates, the ‘love obsessional’ stalker may become more aggressive in the pursuit. They may telephone, fax, text and email. (Saunders and Michaud, 2008).

Personality traits of the stalker:

  • Obsessive personality
  • Above average intelligence
  • Mean streak
  • No or few personal relationships
  • Lack of embarrassment of discomfort at actions
  • Low self esteem
  • Sociopathic thinking
  • Recent death of a parent or partner

Behaviors

Won’t take no for an answer; doesn’t care if the victim is uncomfortable with his actions.

Constantly talks about the victim; e.g. to peers, co-workers and friends.

Makes unwarranted assumptions (e.g., assumes the victim wants to be with him/her.)

Attempts to make the victim feel like he/she is a possession, an entitlement of rank and privilege.

Become jealous when the victim speaks to someone he/she considers a potential rival; accused him/her of having a sexual relationship.

Asks intrusive, inappropriate questions (e.g. about the victim’s personal finances, love life, home ownership, physical condition.)

Directs the victim to not ‘tell’ the boss.

Makes implicit threats.

Tells the victim that he/she looks at his/her picture on the Internet.

Makes inappropriate remarks regarding the target’s appearance; may make sexual innuendos and propositions.

Learns the target’s schedule so that he/she can linger at break/lunch/quitting time.

Finds out where the target lives. May follow the target and visit the neighborhood.

Uses the telephone to make remarks he/she wouldn’t say in front of others. (Saunders & Michaud, 2008.)

What, then is the appropriate response to the stalker at work? In the case of my director, I had to hold my ground without over-reacting to what was going on. I couldn’t make a ‘scene’. Because I was in a foreign country, there was almost no one I could complain to who would be willing to listen. He did eventually moved on to find someone else. While I didn’t get the boot from the job; he also denied me access to teaching higher level classes as punishment. I had to choose which road I wanted to take. I eventually moved on also and got the experience I needed at another school where the boss (thankfully) was happily married.

It is important to network on the job and develop relationships with people you know you can trust. On one job, my supervisor persisted in verbally harassing me, not for sexual reason, but because she had been forced to hire me. After six months of this; I called her boss at home one Saturday morning and told him what was going on. I told him, calmly, that I ‘couldn’t continue on like this.’ Because this guy liked me and wanted to keep me on the payroll; he had a very private, off the books conversation with my supervisor and things began to change. Within another six months; she had put in for retirement. So, it goes. We cannot always predict the outcome of our efforts to combat bullying, but we have to make them and hope for the best.

In my last job overseas, I was confronted with another supervisor and another ‘soft stalking’ situation. He was in my affairs daily, making comments about me, to me and to others constantly. He went so far as to carry elaborated tales up to my boss to dish the dirt on me. I found this out later when the boss told me “I have been hearing things about you.” Since this boss did not have my back and did not support me; there was essentially nothing to be done in that situation and I ended up leaving.

This gets us to a whole new area of the business arena which is the utter importance of picking your job and your workplace carefully. You need to work for an organization that values you as much as you value them. So that, when situations like these arise, you don’t have some supervisor throwing you under the bus at the first hint of a problem.

Lastly; stop letting your friends, relatives, significant others try to tell you that you are ‘too old’ for stalking behavior and sexual harassment. Like they say, you are never too old!

Elizabeth Courtney

References

Fields, Tim. Bullying, harassment and Discrimination. Retrieved Internet. 6/2015. http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/harass.htm .

Gilbert, Jackie. (2015) Organize for Efficiency. Retrieved from Internet June 2015.

Hornstein, H. (1996). Brutal bosses and their prey: How to identify and overcome abuse in the workplace. New York, NY: Riverbend Books.

Saunders, R.B., & Michaud, S.G. (2008). Whisper of fear; the true story of the prosecutor who stalks the stalkers. New York; Penguin Group.

Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (Author Unknown). Retrieved Internet 6/2015. www.lni.wa.gov/safety/research/files/bullying.pdf

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