The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stalkers' new weapon: SMS
- A serious saga of stealth

Stalking today has changed form and style. And it has found a dangerous new medium. The mobile phone.

While the comparatively new incidents of disturbing SMS or MMS circulating around are being referred to as the ill fall-outs of new technology, psychiatrists differ in opinion.

In reality, the SMS and MMS are a variation and part of the 'prank call' and 'stalking' phenomenon prevalent over years.

Whatever may be the form, or the language, the emotion behind the messages and the act of intruding into someone's privacy remains the constant factor.

Though circumstances change, motive remains the same ' disturbing a person concerned or in other words 'victimising'.

The Telegraph approached a few psychiatrists to get a clear picture on how grave the problem is.

Often one sees that an average guy-next-door can be a stalker. Surprisingly, most of the stalkers come from average middle class back-grounds.

Sample the case of Anjum (name changed) who battled numerous vulgar images for close to six months in her second year of undergraduate course at an engineering college.

The first time she walked into the class she found all her classmates giggling at her.

The reason being the blackboard on which a vulgar message was written. Her name dangled besides it in bold. Along side, an obscene picture was also drawn.

A furious Anjum complained to the college principal who asked every teacher in the college to look into the case. But it led to nothing.

Life literally became hell for Anjum a few days later. Somebody would send letters written in blood to her. She received a courier of a 100 greeting cards and on Valentines day. She always thought that somebody was following her.

One day her class teacher found a student inserting something into a girl's bag in the class.

The class was empty, the bag, the teacher recognised was Anjum's and the boy concerned was Sameer Mehta a brilliant post graduate student of computer science three years senior to Anjum.

Sameer was a good looking lad of 22 and had a good image. No one ever associated him with any misdeed. Two days later Sameer's dismissal and the reason behind it was a shock to the entire college.

Debrath Kumar, a clinical psychologist with the Central Institute of Psychiatry (CIP) associates stalking with a requirement for 'compensation'.

Compensation for not receiving enough love during childhood or a debarment from pleasures that a child deserves.

A number of stalkers, says Kumar, have experienced single parenthood. And stalkers stalk in a number of forms hardly knowing what they are up to.

'In simple terms stalking means pursuing someone under cover. Reason may be anything'a psychological trauma, days of so-called intrusive thoughts or an unexplained utopian notion about love. You begin to follow someone and tend to send messages to him or her in any way.

'Even though the person knows that the one on the other end will simply not read that,' says Debrath.

The problem is not limited to males alone.

In a number of cases, says Debrath, the stalker is female.

'It is a very prevalent phenomenon. In so many cases the stalkers are women. Many may be married. And when I have actually examined such cases I have found that the stalker was in need of psychiatric attention for long,' says Debrath.

'Filmstars, sports stars and prominent achievers basically comprise the list of complainants. Though any one can come under its gambit. Stalking is a result of some one harbouring obsessive thoughts about someone.

'The problem takes a serious turn when the stalker loses control over herself or himself,' says Anupam Thakur a psychiatrist at CIP.

Almost all the psychiatrists The Telegraph approached maintain that the victim has to be assertive.

'Once you understand that the friendship is taking an obsessive turn, you have to nip it in the bud or there will be no end to it. The victim must speak out without any hesitation,' says Debrath.

As for the stalker, a psychotherapy treatment might be the only way out.

'The first problem is to make a stalker understand that there is a psychological problem with him or her. The situation is like'you fix your entire life around one particular person and cannot think anything besides it.'

'Then there is a class of stalkers who feel that their problems in life may be addressed only by the one who they are stalking,' says Debrath. Medicines are not required most of the times.

'It is not that we administer in such cases. But then we try and get to the base of the problsem by holding a number of sessions.

'The person's attention needs to be diverted to the other better aspects of life,' Debrath adds.

S. Shekhar

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