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Monday, February 1, 1999 Published at 20:49 GMT


Health

False claims of stalking on the rise

Most false victims of stalking have mental health problems

Media reports about stalking are leading to a growing number of people falsely claiming to be victims, according to a new report.

Australian psychiatrists say society's increasing awareness of stalkers is leading to more false reports of harassment by people with mental health problems.

The psychiatrists say 12 of the 150 stalking victims they have counselled have been "pseudovictims".

Their claims were judged to be false on the basis that they were at odds with objectively available information.

In some cases the accounts were "impossible", said the psychiatrists.

They compared the 12 - five of whom were men - with 100 true stalking victims.

Six had been victims of violence in the past, including domestic violence and child abuse.

None was in a stable relationship.

Tell-tale signs

The psychiatrists, who report their findings in the British Journal of Psychiatry, say the pseudovictims were more likely to go to GPs and psychiatrists than true victims.

They were also more likely to be involved in legal action related to the stalking and four had been convicted of stalking themselves.

A higher percentage had attempted suicide in the past. They were also less likely to report receiving letters from their "stalkers" than true victims.

The psychiatrists say some false stalking victims may have been stalked in the past.

"The resultant distrust, hypervigilance and lack of companions with whome to discuss one's fears can result in innocent situations being misperceived as a return of the stalking," they say.

Although they say that false victims can undermine the credibility of true victims of stalking, they believe few are motivated by financial gain.

They say signs of false victims include convoluted accounts which cannot be verified, lack of consistency in stories, the fact that false victims are more likely to report concerns at an early stage than true ones and the possession of dossiers of 'evidence'.

The psychiatrists say early diagnosis of false victimhood is necessary so treatment of the underlying cause of the problem can begin.

"False victims in most cases are distressed and disturbed individuals in need of care and treatment, not mere charlatans and liars," they say.



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