Celebrities — in particular, females — have long had to battle the unwanted attention of obtrusive, threatening stalkers. For actress Sandra Bullock, however, that battle has ended.
Her long-standing stalker, Joshua Corbett, killed himself with a self-inflicted injury on Wednesday, ending a five-hour standoff with police outside his Los Angeles home. TMZ, which broke the news, said that police had shown up at Corbett’s house with a warrant after he violated his mandatory probation, which included receiving regular mental health treatment.
His probation was the result of a 2014 case in which Corbett was caught breaking into Bullock’s home carrying a magazine with her picture on the cover and a two-page “love letter” in which he called himself her “husband” and referenced loving her and her son. Police were alerted to come to the scene by Bullock who, upon hearing someone break in, locked herself in a closet and called 911.
Bullock has yet to release a statement on Corbett’s death.
Although her story is particularly harrowing, Bullock is not the only celebrity recently battling a stalker. One month ago, a man was arrested outside a Beverly Hills home owned by Taylor Swift, apparently wielding a knife and wearing a mask. This week, a man arrested for stalking Bella Hadid in February appeared in court, where his lawyer said he plans to fight the stalking claim.
So what causes individuals to stalk complete strangers — and in this case, celebrities?
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines stalking as “a pattern of following or observing a person in an obsessional, intrusive, or harassing manner.” Stalking is illegal in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, but that hasn’t stopped individuals from committing the crime.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18.3 million women have experienced stalking during their lifetimes (compared to 6.5 million men), 61 percent of whom were approached at work or at home. Most women stalked, or 88 percent, report a male perpetrator.
Although most cases involve a person the victim knows, there is still a significant number of women (16 percent, according to the CDC) who report being stalked by strangers. Considering that Bullock’s stalker is now deceased, it’s impossible to know what was wrong. But the APA does offer clues.
One option is what’s called erotic delusion, or erotomania, which is defined by the APA as “the false perception or belief that one is loved by or has had a sexual affair with a public figure or other individual.” The disorder is of a psychotic nature, meaning that the individual is detached from reality. The condition most commonly occurs in middle-age females, but it can be present in men. In those cases, erotomania is usually secondary to another mental illness, such as schizophrenia.
According to a 2012 study on the condition, published in the journal Core Psychiatry, people with erotomania tend to “bombard” the object of their delusion with “letters and telephone calls” as well as “follow them without respite.” This aligns with Bullock’s stalker, who sent her letters, entered her home, referred to the two of them as married, and mentioned her adoptive son.
But just because Bullock’s stalker shares characteristics with those described by that diagnosis doesn’t mean he had the disease. The seminal text on this issue is a 1998 book The Psychology of Stalking. In it, 23 leading experts present many perspectives and studies that show stalking as a very complicated and varied disorder. ”There is no single profile of a stalker,” Dr. Kristine K. Kienlen, a Minnesota psychologist, told New York Times at the book’s release. ”Stalkers exhibit a broad range of behaviors, motivations, and psychological traits.”
Dr. J. Reid Meloy, the book’s editor and clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, took it one step further, telling the New York Times that most individuals who end up stalking are likely driven by multiple issues. ”Stalkers tend to have both a mental illness and a personality disorder,” Meloy told the New York Times . ”And those who stalk strangers are more likely to be psychotic than those who stalk prior sexual intimates. The latter are more likely to be drug or alcohol abusers with a dependency personality disorder.”
Although it’s difficult to pin down what motivates a stalker, it is possible to put together a safety plan should you become a victim. The Stalking Resource Center offers tips, which include keeping evidence, taking threats seriously, and calling 911 when you feel physically in danger — which, in Bullock’s case, may have saved her life.
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