Welcome to our newest PEA Soup Blog Ethics discussion!

This discussion focuses on Elizabeth Brake‘s recent paper “How Does Stalking Wrong the Victim”. To begin, we will pass things over to Monika Betzler for a critical précis.

Elizabeth Brake’s paper “How Does Stalking Wrong the Victim?” is an exemplar of lucidity and analytic rigor. She provides the first account of stalking as a distinct kind of relational wrong. Apart from remedying a hermeneutical injustice by pinpointing what stalking is and what is wrong about it, Brake’s analysis also serves a wider interest in illuminating one of the dark sides of relationships that, so far at least, have been undertheorized.

According to Brake, the “essential” wrong of stalking is that it forces a personal relationship onto another. Our interest in being able to refuse such a relationship is strong enough to ground a right.

But any account of stalking must solve a puzzle: it must explain what is “essentially” wrong about a behavior that is actually permissible in a singular instance. Stalking qualifies as a distinct kind of wrong, Brake argues so as to solve the puzzle, when there is a systematic pattern of persistent unwanted contact directed at a non-fungible target that would be distressing or intimidating to any reasonable person.

Brake goes on to show that several plausible accounts of the wrong of stalking fail to identify that wrong. According to a first account, stalking is a practice of male domination where women are coerced into supposedly protective relationships with men. But the focus on gender, Brake argues, can obscure different patterns of victimization among racial and ethnic groups. Also, women can stalk more powerful men, and in a society free of gender oppression, stalking would still be wrong. According to the second account, stalking induces a kind of terror that is itself a significant harm. While stalking does indeed create psychological harm, permissible behavior can do so as well (e.g. if someone turns down a date). So, the psychological harm induced by stalking cannot by itself explain what is wrong about stalking. A third account has it that stalking is wrong because it involves a threat or coercion. But on closer inspection, it is unclear that the stalker attempts to coerce the victim. And more often than not, stalking involves neither implicit nor explicit threats. Moreover, not all behavior that is perceived as threatening is wrongful. One further suggestion would be that the stalker coerces by unacceptably narrowing the target’s options, but that, again, cannot show why stalking is wrong. After all, an annoying co-worker similarly narrows down one’s options, but that seems morally acceptable. What needs to be answered is why it is morally unacceptable that the target does not have the option of avoiding the stalker in public. According to a fifth account, stalking is wrong because it disrespects the target’s autonomy (such as her decision-making power over a range of options). But this just reawakens the problem that the coercion account faces: why should the entrance into a public space which the target does not control be seen as disrespecting the target’s autonomy? According to another account of autonomy, stalking could be considered wrong because it debilitates the target, but the problem, again, is that other sources do that as well (e.g. social media). The harms of intrusion and debilitating effects are thus not specific to stalking. A sixth account focuses on the right to privacy. Yet, stalking in public spaces and through publicly available information does not violate that right.

The problems of these six accounts in attempting to identify the essential wrong of stalking help Brake pave the way for her own relationship account. It is the repetition of intrusions that points to that wrong, i.e. forcing a relationship onto the target, as it is the relationship that extends over time and consists in contact and contact-seeking to a non-fungible other party. Attention to the bads of relationships is needed, Brake argues, as the claim against the stalker does not merely depend on protecting valuable relationships; it protects the interest in avoiding unwanted relationships: “The claim to control whether one is in a particular relationship at all deserves attention in its own right.”

What is wrong is that stalkers behave as if they were already in a personal relationship with the target regardless of whether the target consents. The stalker is thereby insensitive to the target’s unwillingness to reciprocate. This relationship account of stalking is supposed to capture its essential elements: its patterned aspect and the non-fungibility of the target. And the concept of forcing a relationship is needed to distinguish the essential wrong of stalking from other wrongs or permissible forms of singular approach. The relationship account is able to track the distinct phenomenology that accompanies stalking and that makes it feel distressing and intimidating in contrast to, say, a random prank call.

Since we have a strong interest in controlling whether we are in a personal relationship or not, we have a right to refuse such relationships. As far as I can see, Brake raises four points to ground that right:

First, since relationships in general can be bad, Brake argues, we have a right to control our entry into relationships and whether to remain in them.

Second, since relationships shape our identity, redefining oneself after a relationship has ended is significantly impeded if the other party will not desist from contact.

Third, because relationships entail the acknowledgment of special obligations, it is in our interest to control entry into relationships.

Fourth, personal relationships are typically important goods. Since we cannot lead too many relationships, having them forced upon us reduces our capacity to realize these goods. Hence, the right to control our access to relationships allows us not only to avoid bad relationships, but also to have good relationships.

What is important, however, is that we set a high bar for what qualifies as forcing a relationship onto someone in order to rule out the possibility of other cases, such as morally benign overtures, being classed as stalking. But another advantage of the relationship account, Brake argues, is that it can make us realize that some kinds of intimacy-seeking behavior that so far have seemed permissible in fact are not. As a result, we should implement an active consent standard to contact. Women’s care work is an important case in point. Sometimes there are repeated attempts at personal contact and requests for care that risk a rights violation.

Brake substantiates her account by considering various objections. I will leave her responses aside here and focus on some further implications of her view. I should note that each of Brake’s arguments are highly plausible and are very much in line with my own thinking about ending personal relationships grounded in the right to control what relationships we enter into and leave.

What I would like to examine further is Brake’s understanding of “forcing a relationship onto another”.

First, there are two characteristics that account for what Brake takes “forcing” to consist in: the target does not consent to contact-seeking and the stalker persistently tries to make contact with the target as a non-fungible other.

But there can be friendships to which we never consented; rather, we found ourselves as friends. So, it is not so much that there is a lack of consent per se, but rather the persistence of making contact and not acknowledging and respecting that the target does not want that contact (no matter whether there is an actual consent of lack thereof) that can account for what is “forcing” about the relationship the stalker seeks. But if this is right, it points us to a duty that the target has too: the duty to explicitly refuse that persistent behavior. To be sure, many victims of stalking may do that. All I mean to point out here is that only those cases can account for the forcing and thus wronging aspect of stalking if we clarify that the target clearly neither invites nor accepts that persistence of reaching out for contact. This is less a matter of ex ante consent or lack of consent, and more a matter of active refusal. Without incorporating such a condition into what forcing amounts to, we risk counting as stalking cases that are either invited or reasonably misunderstood by the stalker as being invited or, at least, not refused.

Second, I am interested in what exactly it is about a relationship that can wrong others and that we therefore have a right to refuse. Recall that Brake takes the right to refuse relationships to be grounded in four features: (i) in the freedom of avoiding bad relationships; (ii) in the freedom to redefine one’s identity after a relationship has ended; (iii) in the freedom to resist special obligations; and (iv) in the freedom to realize relationship goods (and to realize these goods, only a limited number of relationships are possible).

I am not sure whether these four features that Brake takes as grounding the right to refuse relationships can also account for what is wrong about the persistence of someone trying to have a relationship with us, at least not in a straightforward sense. The relationship the stalker wants to have need not be bad (not even by the lights of the target). It need not be so demanding that it either implicates one’s identity or imposes special obligations on us (even though this may often be the case). After all, some friendships at least can be undemanding relationships. And it might not be the case that it would limit our possibility to realize relationship goods at all. It might just so happen that we have very few relationships. So, why would the persistence of trying to make contact with the target continue to amount to a wrong?

It wrongs the target’s right to relational freedom which involves choosing what relationships (if any) the target wants to be in. This freedom is broader than just avoiding or refusing bad relationships. It is a freedom to avoid any kind of relationship if we so choose. What is more, I want to suggest, it is this kind of relational freedom that is necessary to be able to realize the value of close relationships at all. But this leaves me wondering whether the right to relational freedom is compatible with an autonomy account that Brake rejects (even if such an autonomy might have to rely on a different conception of autonomy than the two conceptions Brake considers).

Third, it is important for Brake’s relationship account that the target is considered to be non-fungible. Persistent contact-seeking to a non-fungible other amounts to a relational wrong if it is unwanted. But consider my neighbor, Frau Brückner. She brings me cake every other week, brings up my newspaper and puts it in front of my door. She also collects parcels for me if I am not at home. She likes to chat with me whenever she sees me in the staircase. Let’s suppose I do not want any of that. I do not explicitly reject her behavior out of politeness, but my somewhat unfriendly looks and my demonstrated unwillingness to talk should make it clear to her that I do not want this kind of neighborly interaction. I find it distressing when I see her. She does not get it. And she does all of that because she likes “me”, not me as a replaceable neighbor. I don’t quite see that this qualifies as stalking even though Frau Brückner might be thought to force a neighborly relationship onto me. Brake might respond that the bar is not high enough in this instance, but does that mean that the persistence has not (yet) gone far enough? Or is the kind of relationship that is being forced onto me by definition not close enough? It remains unclear to me how Brake’s account can be distinguished from the Frau Brückner case.

33 Replies to “Elizabeth Brake: “How Does Stalking Wrong the Victim?”. Précis by Monika Betzler

  1. Thanks, Elizabeth, for a terrific, thought-provoking paper, and to Monika for kicking off the discussion with such probing questions.

    I have a few questions about the paper that I don’t think are raised above. The paper is structured around a search for the fundamental wrong of stalking. What property do ALL instances of stalking have that explains why stalking is wrong? Several candidate answers are explored and rejected, before the paper argues for the positive answer (stalking forces a relationship).

    My first question concerns what I think is an unarticulated assumption that underpins the whole project: that there is a single property that all instances of stalking share, and all instances of stalking are wrong for the same reason(s). Why assume this? Why can’t it be that stalking is often wrong because of the fear it causes, and often wrong because it violates privacy, and often wrong because it threatens and so on…?

    My second question concerns the rejection of fear as explaining what is wrong with stalking. Elizabeth rejects this because not all conduct that causes reasonable fear is impermissible (setting a test), so we need a way to distinguish permissible reason fear-making from impermissible. (Reasonable here means evidentially well-grounded). At the end of section 4.2, Elizabeth proposes a way of distinguishing these cases: if the conduct if independently permissible (not taking fear-causing into account), the fear it causes is permissible/the agent is not responsible/accountable for the fear — ‘an agent is not responsible for certain bad consequences of her actions so long as she is acting permissibly. If my behaviour causes reasonable fear in bystanders, but is *otherwise permissible*, I am not morally responsible for their fear.’ Therefore, we can only require the stalker to take the fear he causes into account if there is something else wrong with stalking.

    But this view of when fear-making behaviour is impermissible suggests that conduct can never be wrongful simply because of the fear it causes. This seems implausible. If I fancy waiving a replica gun around and shouting along the corridors of my department that would be impermissible. And it would be impermissible (a) because of the fear it causes, and (b) because the reasons I have for doing so (if any) are not weighty enough to justify causing this fear. Conduct can be wrong simply because of the fear it creates. And many instances of stalking, I submit, are wrong for this reason. Maybe not all. But then this returns us to the first question….does all stalking have to wrong for the same reason?

  2. Thank you so much Elizabeth for this fantastic paper, and Monika for your great précis. This has given me so much to think about! I had a couple of questions:

    1. The paper addresses a possible objection; that if it is wrong to force a relationship with someone, it might be wrong to procreate or adopt. Your response points out that children cannot exercise autonomy and that they require relationships with carers to develop, and so being brought into relationships with adult caregivers does not violate their rights. This seems right to me. However, this discussion did make me think of Maggie Little’s paper on abortion and intimacy. Perhaps your argument could help us identify one reason why forcing someone to continue with a pregnancy is wrong; because it forces the pregnant person into a relationship with a future child?

    2. I find Monika’s discussion of the possible role of refusal very interesting. As I understand her, she is wondering whether a victim must explicitly reject contact in order for the stalker’s behaviour to then qualify as forcing a relationship. I suspect that in many cases, a victim’s rejection of the stalker’s advances will not get uptake, even when it would be reasonable for the stalker to recognise her as rejecting him. Instead, delusion on the part of the stalker will cause him to read refusals as encouragements to continue. This made me wonder whether one of the wrongs of stalking is that victims are often led to feel powerless, or more specifically, silenced – they repeatedly run up against a person who ignores or does not even understand their refusal or lack of interest. This seems to nicely explain why stalking can feel threatening; if you know that the stalker will not heed your request that they stop following you around or sending you flowers, it seems likely that they will also ignore rejections and refusals in higher stakes contexts, which may lead to violence. You stress that stalking is always directed at a nonfungible target, which seems right, but I think the victim can often feel like the stalker *doesn’t* really see or acknowledge them.

    Thanks again!

  3. This is an excellent paper on a topic that has not yet been sufficiently discussed in philosophy. Stalking is a practice that has a lasting negative impact on many people and that also reinforces patriarchal structures – so it is extremely helpful that Elizabeth Brake has provided us with a tool to fundamentally critique this moral problem! Brake’s article provides a convincing characterization of contact-stalking and a great overview of the various ways philosophers have so far tried to spell out what’s morally problematic about it. Brake’s own suggestion – that contact-stalking is morally wrong because it violates the victim’s right to refuse (to enter into) a relationship with their stalker – is surprising and, in my view, gets many important aspects right.

    While I am overall very sympathetic to the proposal, I want to go in the same direction as Monika Betzler does in her précis and look a bit more closely into our right to refuse relationships. Specifically, I have a question about this right as well as a possible challenge to it.

    Let’s start with the question:

    According to Brake, we have a right to refuse personal relationships, where personal relationships are understood as “temporally extended patterns of … contact and contact-seeking” in which the people involved „are nonfungible to one another“. Brake argues that we should posit this right because relationships are not only the source of many important goods for those who enter into them (such as love or care), but also dangerous: Hardly anyone can hurt us as deeply as the people we are close to; moreover, relationships influence our self-image and mental health and can impose special obligations on us. Brake concludes that the „significant constitutive harms and side effects of bad relationships provide strong reasons for thinking we have a right to control our entry into relationships and whether or not to remain in them.“

    I wholeheartedly agree with Brake’s assessment that personal relationships can be dangerous, but I want to stress that professional ones (i.e. temporally extended patterns of contact and contact-seeking in which the people involved are fungible to one another) can be, too. After all, horrible bosses are ideally positioned to damage our self-image and mental health and colleagues can easily impose special obligations on us (for instance, when there is a task to be done which they cannot do by themselves and for which they need our help). If the dangers that can come with personal relationships warrant positing a right to refuse such relationships, and if professional relationships can result in the same dangers as personal ones, should our right to refuse relationships not extend to professional ones as well?

    Or, put more generally, what is the reason why we should restrict our right to refuse relationships to personal ones in which the participants are nonfungible to each other?

    On to the challenge:

    But if we widen the scope of our right to refuse relationships to include professional relationships as well, we face the following challenge: Many of our professional relationships are not (strictly speaking) chosen, rather they are part and parcel of the jobs we agreed to do. But even though many jobs simply require that employees have frequent contact with each other and with their bosses (via email, text message etc., but also in person, e.g. in meetings), at least prima facie this does not seem to be a violation of their rights.

    This challenge is analogous to an objection Brake discusses in her article, i.e. that at least prima facie it does not seem to be a violation of their rights that young children do not choose to be in relationship with their primary caregivers. Unfortunately, the reply Blakes gives to this objection cannot be applied to the case of professional relationships: Blakes stresses that, in the case of young children, the right to refuse relationships cannot be violated since young children do not yet have the capabilities necessary to enter into or refuse relationships and therefore cannot exercise the right in question to begin with. But nothing of the sort holds true for employees and work relationships. So the challenge stands.

    As I see it, there are three ways to respond to it:
    – Blake could either refuse to widen the scope of the right to refuse relationships and insist that it only pertains to personal ones. As of now, I cannot think of a reason for this strategy that is not (sort of) ad hoc.
    – Or Blake could agree that a right to refuse relationships covers professional relationships as well, but claim that many of the temporally extended patterns of contact and contact-seeking our jobs place us in lack the intensity necessary to constitute a proper relationship (Blake says something similar regarding unchosen contact with family members). Given the mountain of messages and meetings many of us find ourselves buried under, this response would leave me a bit unsatisfied.
    – A different strategy could be to sustain that, by signing their work contracts, empoyees implicitly consent to all the relationships their jobs result in, thus rendering the issue of a rights’ violation mute. But this response would run afoul of an important insight from the feminist debate about consent: Just as consenting to the general idea of having sex does not imply that one has consented to every possible sexual act one’s partner can think of, signing a work contract does not imply consenting to all possible relationships one’s job might require.

    All in all, I am wondering what Blake would make of the challenge of professional relationships?

    Thanks for this wonderful paper and all this great food for thought!

  4. Thanks Elizabeth for a wonderful paper, which I enjoyed and learned a lot from. I found it mostly persuasive. And thanks Monika for an excellent precis covering the argument so thoroughly and concisely.
    1) I wanted to address the role of fungibility. It is an essential part of Brake’s account that the stalked is non-fungible to the stalker. On p.8, Brake states that “This rules out cases in which the target is fungible, meaning that the identity of the target does not matter – such as assassins or detectives who would track down anyone and have selected the target merely as “the person they were contracted to hunt” or “the guilty party”. This condition distinguishes stalking from such other cases involving similar behaviour.”
    It seems that there are, or may be, instances of stalking where the stalked is fungible. We could imagine a case of stalker for hire, who acts very much like a stalker except, like the assassin, it doesn’t matter to them who it is. But there are other cases that we might think of where a stalker gets an infatuation with someone for a period of time, perhaps because of their resemblance to someone else. In these cases it is “who I am infatuated with” or “who looks like Marilyn Munroe” that is the fixed category, where individuals are not non-fungible, at least if I understand it correctly. Perhaps it can be replied that “who I am infatuated with” or “who looks like Marilyn Munroe” are not really fungible, or not fungible enough. But they seem as fungible as “the guilty party” or “the person they were contracted to hunt”. It raises a question about whether fungibility is the right concept to use here and whether it has any role at all. It might be that the best option is to adopt something like fungibility or modal robustness here. It would make the account vaguer. How modally robust is modally robust enough? But it would avoid the problematic cases like those mentioned. There might be enough cases of stalking that involve some kind of delusion or are pathological that lend themselves to placeholder descriptions of the stalked, e.g. stalked reminds me of my friend or parent or childhood sweetheart. Non-fungible cases may even be the majority. I don’t know enough about the psychology of stalkers to say.
    So, what happens if you drop non-fungibility? Does it improve the account or weaken it? What we are left with is that the wrong of stalking is the wrong of forcing a relationship on someone that could reasonably cause distress or intimidation. This is still enough to distinguish stalking from other cases because an assassin and detective are not concerned to establish a personal relationship, though it is notable that Brake defines personal relationship as necessarily non-fungible p.21. So perhaps this is a bigger problem. But merely forcing a relationship that is fungible appears to me to capture the wrong, if we can find a suitable definition of personal relationship that doesn’t require non-fungibility.
    2) I do agree with Monika that the need for some active refusal to be communicated is necessary to avoid including instances of people who really struggle to pick up on social cues to be guilty on stalking, when we wouldn’t think that they are wronging. I take the point about this being difficult for those on the wrong side of a power imbalance to do, but failure to include it makes the view vulnerable to the idea of an unwitting stalker, who persists and persists in making unwanted (though unbeknownst to him) advances, and these might reasonably be experienced as intimidating or distressing, particularly if there are social norms and expectations that suggest a history of these advancing being linked to violence etc, such as in the case of gendered violence.
    3) Because a necessary condition of the wrong of stalking is the reasonable expectation that the persistent behaviour would be distressing or intimidating, it looks like we could make stalking permissible by simply having much more effective laws and social norms and expectations. For example, it might not be reasonable to fear someone you see when you go for a walk at night in a very safe neighbourhood, or to fear loud bangs if you live near a fireworks testing facility. What it is reasonable to fear is contingent in these ways. If that is that is the case, and if I have understood the role of distress and intimidation in the account, then does Brake’s account really identify the essential wrong of stalking, which has an entirely social solution, or does it fail to identify the wrong because the unwanted patterns of interaction, attempts to force a relationship, in such circumstances, is no longer stalking? Did we eradicate stalking or did we simply eradicate the consequences of stalking? I think this possibility suggests that it is the effects of stalking that really drive the wrong, rather than the kind of activity that it is.

  5. This is a terrific essay, Elizabeth. You target a puzzling feature of stalking—that it involves types of behaviors that are normally permissible. You intervene, by analyzing stalking, in the tendency to romanticize relationships. You illuminate in a crystal-clear way why other accounts of the wrong of stalking are deficient—namely, that they presuppose, rather than provide, an account of why causing psychological harm, being threatening, and intruding on someone’s deliberative space are wrongful in the case of stalking when they aren’t intrinsically wrongful. And I think your account of the essential wrong of contact-seeking stalking is spot-on. As the comments and questions so far indicate, there’s a lot in this essay that invites interesting reflection.

    I want to ask you about something that one would think isn’t controversial–your definition of stalking. This is going to be a methodological question. You define stalking as “a pattern of persistent unwanted contact (consisting in such behaviors) which would be distressing, disturbing, or intimidating to a reasonable person and is directed at a particular individual as nonfungible” (7). There are two possible ways this definition might function in your overall view. On the one hand, it might clarify the concept of stalking–this is just what stalking IS. With a settled definition in hand, you can then raise the question of what makes stalking wrong. On the other hand, it might be offered provisionally: here’s a shared understanding of the purely descriptive features of stalking that the various accounts of what makes stalking wrong can agree on. With this provisional definition in hand, you can then work out, over the course of the essay, a more accurate conception of the essential nature of stalking: stalking is a persistent pattern of contact-seeking behavior directed at a particular individual as nonfungible that tries to force a relationship.

    I interpreted you as preferring the first option: It is an essential part of the very nature of stalking that the persistent pattern of contact-seeking is both unwanted and disturbing, distressing, or intimidating to the reasonable person. As you say, the inclusion of a reasonable person standard in the definition of stalking explains “why the stalker’s infliction of fear or distress is morally different from that of someone who turns down a date or fails to invite her sensitive friend to a party, triggering anxiety, or the member of a minority whose presence on a plane makes a biased fellow passenger fearful” (14).

    I think the second option–on which the definition is provisional–better fits your overall view. What makes stalking morally different from other interpersonal interactions (including turning someone down for a date or not inviting a sensitive friend to a party) is that in involves a persistent pattern of contact-seeking that tries to force a relationship. It may certainly be true that a reasonable person would find such behavior distressing, disturbing, or intimidating, but this is not essential to stalking and not essential to the moral difference between stalking and other forms of interpersonal behavior. You argue that causing psychological harm cannot be what makes stalking wrong, because morally permissible behavior can cause psychological harm. By the same token, it would seem, the distress of a reasonable person doesn’t by itself signal any moral difference between stalking and, say, turning someone down for a date. So inclusion of the reasonable person standard in the definition of stalking isn’t ultimately useful for picking out instances of stalking. It might be useful provisionally for getting us into the ballpark of stalking. But once we’ve gotten through your essay, we can see that there’s a better definition of stalking: stalking is a persistent pattern of contact-seeking behavior directed at a particular individual as nonfungible that tries to force a relationship. That definition invites us to address the central moral question: What makes forcing a relationship wrong?

    There’s a second reason for construing the proffered definition of stalking as provisional. Toward the end of the essay (29), you make this very interesting observation: “in cultures with different norms of approach, stalking behavior might not be experienced as threatening (see, e.g., the 1985 film St. Elmo’s Fire, one character’s behavior is clearly stalking and would be unacceptable today, but the victim is unfazed and declares herself ‘flattered’). In the absence of violence, whether the stalker’s behavior is experienced as threatening depends on background social norms, but the wrong of forcing a relationship does not depend on whether social norms permit stalking behavior. Stalking wrongs the victim even if it is viewed as normal, harmless courtship behavior and so is not perceived as threatening.” Just as experiencing stalking as threatening is neither here nor there to the essential wrongness of stalking, so experiencing stalking behavior as unwanted or as reasonably distressing is neither here nor there. I take it that your aim in this essay is to provide an account of what makes stalking *objectively* wrong regardless of socio-historical context. Your account thus provides a basis for critiquing prevailing social norms (for example, we may mistakenly regard some stalking behavior as not morally objectionable) and for critiquing what the social norms in our own cultural past and in other cultures permit. Building being unwanted and causing distress to a reasonable person into the (nonprovisional) definition of stalking would frustrate the aim of providing us with tools to engage in social critique. Of course, you could build in something like ‘would be unwanted by and cause distress to the *ideally* reasonable person. But this proviso wouldn’t really do any work. What makes it reasonable not to want and to be distressed by behavior that forces a relationship is precisely that we have a right not to have relationships forced upon us.

  6. Thank you, Elizabeth Brake, for the paper and Monika Betzler for the very helpful and insightful précis! I have found the paper very compelling, especially insofar as it did go against many intuitions I had about stalking. I share some of the worries Patrick raised about the unity of stalking: I remain unsure that the idea that all forms of staling should be included in an account of the wrongs of stalking does enough work to refute the gender explanation of the wrongs of stalking.
    Indeed, I do agree that understanding stalking as a form of domestic violence is not sufficient to account for stalking as cases of women stalking men seem to be paradigmatic enough to require including them. But I do think that in explaining this wrong as forcing a relationship, the role played by love specifically in stalking, and therefore as gender as a driving force of various conceptions and social scripts of love gets overlooked. I absolutely agree with the claim that stalking is a form of forcing a relationship and that the wrongs of stalking come from there. However, I do believe that it is a form of forcing a relationship of love and that this last aspect matters, partly because it allows to pinpoint the ways in which gender injustice is at the origin of the wrongs of stalking.
    As is mentioned in the paper, there is stalking between men and women but also among women, among men, and among non-binary people. But it seems to me that the forms taken by the stalking very often replicate the forms that the demand of love takes in the relationship that the stalker wants to force on the victim. The idea that love has a different meaning and a different script in men’s and women’s lives has been widely discussed since Beauvoir’s Second Sex and I think these different meanings and scripts are often reflected in the stalking. I mean that when a man stalks a woman, the form of stalking that is his is often reflecting an imposition of love conceived as possession and control in a heavily masculine way. Women stalkers very often reproduce very gendered ways of showing love (e.g. doing various forms of care work for the person they stalk). And from the cases I’ve read about online, the stalking of stars is also heavily gendered in its forms, no matter if it’s heterosexual or not.
    The demand of love that is displayed in stalking doesn’t make stalking acceptable in any way but I think that it may be a way to think about the structural character of the harms of stalking: I worry that the will to impose a relationship is not the result of a certain individual’s weirdness or bad intentions but rather the result of a view of what love is and, consequently, what consent to relationship is that is sexist and harmful. I think stalking is produced by the view of love as conquest, as a game of hunting of a prey (who may be doing everything in her power to be hunted) that stalking occurs. And therefore, the wrongs of stalking are also partly that they take part in and reproduce a sexist view that people saying “no” to relationships should be convinced, that someone who doesn’t love you can always change their minds if you work hard enough at showing yourself under your best light. Viewed like this, stalking looks like a form of extreme seduction and I wonder to what extent the wrongs of stalking identified here could also be conceived of as the wrongs of seduction.

  7. I enjoyed Elizabeth’s paper and found it helpful and illuminating. Thanks to Monika for a nice summary.

    Here is one of my questions, which is connected to one Monika raised, about Elizabeth’s argument that we have the right to control whether we are in relationships? The paper gives this argument, on p. 25: “The significant constitutive harms and side effects of bad relationships provide strong reason for thinking we have a right to control our entry into relationships and whether or not to remain in them. The right to refuse a relationship entails that forcing a relationship is wrongful.”

    But I wondered whether this was the right thing to say about wrongfulness and bad relationships (or indeed, relationships in general). Let me grant, at least for the purpose of argument, that the kinds of harms associated with bad relationships ground my right to decide whether to undergo them. This is consistent with those rights being located not in my moral control over the relationship status itself, but rather in my control over the specific things that would have happened in that relationship that would have made it harmful. Consider, for example, a harmful relationship that involves abuse. Elizabeth’s picture says that I have a right against being in that relationship. But an alternative story that seems just as plausible, but that won’t ground Elizabeth’s story about stalking, is that I have a right against abuse. If this relationship isn’t essentially abusive, that right might be respected in a possible world in which I still have the relationship.

    I find the idea that we have moral rights against being in relationships interesting and I’d like to hear more about it, but I didn’t find this argument conclusive in establishing that this must be so.

  8. Many thanks, Monika, for these generous and insightful comments. You’ve captured the main arguments so incisively!

    I’ll reply briefly to the two questions with which you close.

    On the first, it’s true that we do not explicitly consent to some relationships (such as friendships that develop organically). You suggest that this shows that the target has a duty to explicitly refuse the behavior. In an early draft of the paper, I did have such an explicit refusal requirement: for a case to count as stalking, the victim would have to explicitly refuse contact or make clear that it was unwanted. However, I changed this for a couple of reasons. Victims might not know of the stalker, in which case they couldn’t explicitly refuse; and victims who do know of the stalker might not feel safe refusing explicitly (they might worry about violence or other retaliations) or they might not see themselves as having a right to do so. This is especially concerning (to me) in cases where gender norms encourage women to be yielding to overtures out of ‘politeness’, and where background threats of gender violence back up such norms. This is why I suggest the need for shifting social norms around contact towards active consent: greater awareness that we are risking wronging someone by imposing contact (and thereby a relationship) can diminish the cases of confusion you raise (in which the stalker might reasonably feel that his contact is accepted).

    More generally, on the consenting to relationships point: while it’s true that we don’t typically explicitly consent to becoming someone’s friend, we do consent to the kinds of activities which build friendships, such as engaging in one-on-one activities with each other for the sake of spending time together. And the stalker is engaging in such activities in a one-sided way without the victim’s consenting or (often) having a chance to give or withhold consent. (MORE …)

  9. I have a question about the definition of stalking, and also about the definition of a relationship.

    Stalking, Elisabeth says (7), is “a pattern of persistent unwanted contact (consisting in such behaviors) which would be distressing, disturbing, or intimidating to a reasonable person and is directed at a particular individual as nonfungible.”

    And the wrong of stalking is located in its forcing, or attempting to force, someone into a personal relationship. Elizabeth says that such relationships “consist in temporally extended patterns of certain behavior and attitudes. Behaviorally, they consist in contact and contact-seeking between particular persons, repeated and evolving over time,” (22) and parties to relationships treat one another as “non-fungible”.

    The paradigms of personal relationships are intimate friendships and romantic relationships, including abusive ones. The “non-fungibility” criterion is meant to rule out e.g. customer-client relationships.

    I wonder whether there might need to be further constraints put on some of these notions. Here are a few cases that seemed to me like possible counterexamples to some of Elizabeth’s ideas, but which have features importantly different from the paradigms. For each, I’d be interested to know whether Elisabeth thinks they’re already excluded by her account, whether her account should be modified to exclude them, or whether she thinks her account should include them.

    (A) One of my former students becomes a bit obsessed with me and wants to be my rival. He sends me a series of emails, inviting me to compete with him in various domains: to come on his YouTube channel to have a debate, to meet in the courtyard to have a pie-eating contest, to meet at his gym to have a boxing match, etc. I have no interest in these emails and I wish he would stop sending them. I ignore them all. I think the case illustrates a discomforting obsession, but it sounds a bit odd to describe it as stalking. (In this example, he never takes further steps beyond sending these email invitations to compete.) A reasonable person might well find this distressing, especially since there are invitations to physical violence among them. And I think that a rivalry of the kind he’s aiming for counts as a “relationship” by Elizabeth’s definition, so this also looks like she might count it as forcing me or attempting to force me into a relationship. But I’m not sure I think it carries the characteristic harm of stalking.

    (B) I work in a specialized field that requires high degrees of training. A new colleague is hired, on the basis of their special skills. My job requirements include training and mentoring my new colleague. I think that by Brake’s definition, this counts as a personal relationship. (It involves seeking out contact over time, and we do not see one another as fungible: we’re here because of our special skills — not just anyone would do for this job.) Am I being forced into a personal relationship by my employer? (If it’s helpful to the case, suppose that like many people, I have a very strong financial dependance on keeping my job.) Is a serious wrong being committed against me for this reason?

    (C) Same employer and set-up as (B). In this version, I’m a shitty colleague, and I bully my new colleague. I intimidate her and insult her work. My goal is to make her miserable and get her to quit her job, because I think I’ll get a bigger bonus this year if there are fewer employees to spread the bonus money around on. I confine my campaign of abuse to the workplace, never having anything to do with her private life. She wishes I’d just leave her alone to do her job. I think my behaviour satisfies Elizabeth’s definition of stalking. But, although I am clearly doing wrongful things in this case, stalking is intuitively not among them. It does seem morally important to this case that I am subjecting my colleague to a relationship against her will — the “abusive co-worker” relationship. So this case might generate reason to separate stalking from the characteristic harm Elizabeth suggests it has.

  10. This is quite a small categorization point, but:

    One of the competing ideas Elizabeth argues against, before setting out her own view, is that the wrong of stalking derives from disrespect for autonomy. But because her ultimate view is that the wrong of stalking derives from violating one’s right to decide whether to participate in a personal relationship, I think her view does actually fall into this category. So I’d suggest thinking of her view as a development of the autonomy approaches, rather than a competitor to them.

  11. I really enjoyed reading Elizabeth’s paper and Monika’s précis. Thank you both for giving us so much to think about.

    Elizabeth’s piece is important not merely because it focuses on the case of “stalking”, but also because (as many of the posts before mine show) of how it positions us to think about relationship wrongs more broadly and rights/entitlements to public space.

    Here is perhaps a throw away thought: In this particular case, Brake locates the wrong of stalking in forcing a *personal* relationship on the target. I emphasize “personal” as a qualifier here in case it helps to meet challenges that emerge in professional contexts. For example, Brake offers “discussions of privacy” as a condition for intimate relationships that can explain the normative significance of forcing a personal relationship under the rubric of privacy. But Christine is right to prod an expansion of scope—and I wonder if there might be an unarticulated critique of capitalism there, namely that one harm of capitalism can be found in the fact that it forces relationships (i.e., to labor, to one co-workers, etc.) along the lines that Brake outlines. This way of thinking might fit alongside accounts that try to articulate how institutions and systems harm individuals (i.e. how state surveillance enacts harm on individual members of society). Why not say that part of the reason that capitalism is a harmful system is precisely because it forces relationships in this way? Just a thought.

    The questions that I have are related to power and control over the relationships we have. It seems that the failed uptake of the target’s rejection makes stalking wrong because of its one-sided ness. Brake writes that “while the stalker engages in the behavior and attitudes which constitute a personal relationship, he does so unilaterally; the contact-seeking behavior and attitudes are one-sided.”

    1.) One question is, what explains the asymmetry of unilaterality between the conditions needed to start (and sustain?) a relationship and the conditions needed to end them? Said, differently, we generally that it is morally permissible to end relationships unilaterally (i.e., in the case of divorce). However, it seems that the wrong of stalking implies that we cannot enter into or continue them unilaterally.

    Brake mentions that “personal relationships contribute to and shape our identity” and that “to the extent that the self is social or relational” we have interests in controlling what relationships we have. One might think that this applies not merely to the relationships that we start, but also to the ones we keep (or continue to participate in). Yet, insofar as it is wrong to force a relationship, we do not have control of what relationships we enter or relationships we keep—at best we can propose or articulate our desires for relationships and hope that these are reciprocated. This is to say that relationships must be reciprocally accepted (a condition that Kolodny calls the attitude-dependency of relationships) if they are going to be ethically appropriate.

    When it comes to ending our relationships, though, we think it ethically appropriate for relationships to end unilaterally. For example, unilateral divorces are thought to be okay if the spouse seeking the divorce, let’s call them Mal, is unhappy and the spouse having divorce presented to them, let’s call them Evan, is perfectly happy, content, and satisfied with the relationship. Does Mal’s unilateral divorce force a relationship on to Evan if Evan refuses Mal’s proposed relationshift—namely, that of being Mal’s divorcee? Does Mal’s unilateral divorce strip Evan of their right or interests “in controlling what relationships [they] have?”

    What we know from Brakes account is that if Evan were to engage in consistent contact-seeking behavior with Mal as a nonfungible object, Evan could be said to be stalking and thereby would be wronging Mal. Yet, insofar as forcing a relationship is wrong, has Mal also wronged Evan? Where might the locus of this wrong be found? Does it matter that the conditions of ending a relationship can be satisfied unilaterally, but the conditions of starting or keeping a relationship cannot?

    2.) To the degree that personal relationships contribute to and shape our identity and we have interests in controlling what relationships we have, polyamorous relationships also present an interesting case as it pertains to the relationship(s) one does or does not have with one’s metamour—that is, the term non-monogamists use to describe their partner’s partner.

    Generally speaking, from the perspective of what many take to be the best practices of non-monogamous relationships, one ought not to exert control over what relationships their partner(s) have. Suppose that Evan and Mal are in a relationship and Mal desires a relationship with Cooper and Evan has a strong desire not to relate to Cooper whatsoever. On some views of non-monogamous best practices, Evan ought not intervene (whether tampering by sabotage or unsolicited assistance) in Mal’s (fostering of a) relationship with Cooper. Evan ought to acknowledge and respect Mal’s relational autonomy and not mettle or tamper.

    Yet to the extent that Evan is successful in establishing a relationship with Cooper, one might think that Evan has forced a (proxy?) metamour relationship between Mal and Cooper that might include a range of activities including sharing time and space together (i.e. at Mal’s birthday party) or, at the very least, hearing about the joys and pains of Mal’s relationship with Cooper. Should we think of this as Mal forcing a personal relationship onto both Evan and Cooper? In what ways might Mal’s exercising relational autonomy come in to conflict with Evan’s right to control which relationships they have?

    In any case, thanks for a wonderful paper and précis!


  12. Many thanks, Elizabeth, for clarifying your thoughts on active refusal versus active consent. Your concerns about refusal make sense to me. I am not so sure whether the criterion of consent is helpful to distinguish un-forced relationships from forced relationships. As you point out in your comment, we consent to the kinds of activities that build a friendship. This is surely right, but it also goes to show that it is not so much ex ante consent that does the work, but rather the fact that a relationship qualifies as consensual. It would be interesting to hear more about what a consensual relationship amounts to.

    I find Manon Garcia’s comment really interesting. She shows that there might be stalking norms built into some traditional (and sexist) understanding of love-seeking as seduction. This nicely illustrates Elizabeth’s point that her account of stalking actually helps to show which social norms are wrong.

    I agree with Jonathan that it would be illuminating to hear more about what exactly grounds the moral right to refuse relationships.

  13. Continuing the reply to Monika …

    By the way, I should add that all of your questions probe areas which I agree need further examination! So I especially appreciate your articulation of these concerns – these questions are tremendously helpful.

    On the second point, you ask how it is that forcing a relationship can wrong others. Specifically, you point out that in certain cases the stalker’s behavior might not affect our interests in having good relationships and avoiding bad relationships, and it might be so undemanding that it doesn’t affect our interests in identity determination and controlling our special obligations. One minor point: I do take it that unwanted relationships are bad, just by virtue of being unwanted, and so the relationship forced by the stalker is bad as such. But, more generally: not all of these interests are affected in every case of stalking (nor need they be to ground a right); some are more salient in certain cases of stalking, others in other cases. For example, the interests affected will be different in a case where someone is trying to leave a long-term intimate relationship and being stalked by an ex-partner as opposed to a case in which the stalker is a stranger. At the extreme, the victim’s interests might not be affected at all, if she never learns of the stalking – and yet, she is still wronged. I want to say that such interests ground the right, yet the right can be violated even if the interests are unaffected in a particular case.

    I would like to discuss the ‘right to relational freedom’ further – but my first thought is that the right to refuse relationships is one aspect of relational freedom. And it seems to me that relational freedom (depending on the details) could be compatible with – and incorporated into – an account of autonomy. It sounds as if you have such an account in mind, and I’d be interested to hear details.

    Perhaps the fullest reply I can make to your fundamental question – how does persistently pursuing a relationship wrong the victim and how does this fit with accounts of autonomy – is to return to my motivations for writing the paper. Intimate partner violence (including stalking) has been almost completely neglected in philosophy (although there is excellent new work on this by Macy Salzberger and Areti Theofilopoulou, as well as the work by Claudia Card on which I draw in the paper). One of my motivations for the paper is the thought that we need fine-grained, detailed accounts of these moral phenomena which foreground their specific features. So I don’t think there’s anything to preclude an account of autonomy (for instance) from incorporating relational freedom or a right to refuse a relationship – but these aren’t typically foregrounded. But when we look at the extent and the consequences of intimate partner violence, including stalking (the US CDC data, for example), it should be clear that these are widespread and morally salient phenomena which deserve attention. Examining these neglected areas might lead us to enrich our standing theories (such as theories of autonomy) – or revise them more deeply. I know your work, too, Monika, has been attentive to these neglected bads of interpersonal relationships (such as the ethics of divorce), as well as neglected relationships in general, and making a valuable contribution to this enterprise!

    Finally and very quickly, on Frau Brückner: you are correct that I would initially reply that this case might not meet the bar for counting as ‘forcing a relationship’. This would depend on the details. I do think there’s a certain delicate social balance to neighborliness (a bit of “good fences make good neighbors”) which Frau Brückner risks upsetting. Depending on the details of the case, I would bite the bullet and say that Frau Brückner’s behavior, if it meets the bar of forcing a relationship, does indeed count as stalking – although as described it’s a mild case in terms of moral severity.

    Thank you again, Monika, for these wonderful comments and questions!

  14. Thank you, Elizabeth, for your wonderfully thought-provoking and nuanced discussion of contact-stalking. I’m posting here some of the comments that I offered to you at the Western Canadian Philosophical Association Conference, which was held at the University of British Columbia in November 2023. I have recast them in the third-person. I hope to read all of the comments above mine over the next few days, and I apologize if I repeat anything that has already been discussed:

    Elizabeth Brake observes that there is puzzle about stalking because the paradigm case involves acts which are normally morally permissible. I wonder about this, as it seems not to be true of spying. Indeed, it’s arguably not true of most of the acts on the list of stalking behaviors if the act-descriptions in question are something like ‘unwanted X’, as in an unwanted email, an unwanted phone call, or an uninvited visit, etc. The distinctive feature of stalking seems to be the pattern of unwanted behaviour, and not the types of acts as such.

    On the same point, Brake says that ‘In fact, some of these acts (walking down the street) are protected liberties’. It’s unclear, however, how many of the paradigmatic stalking behaviours are morally permissible (i.e. Hohfeldian liberties / permissions) as such. Some of these acts – such as walking down the street or being in a public place – are legally protected freedoms in the sense of being claims-against-interference. But, having a claim-right-against-interference does not mean the person has no (moral) duty not to act as he does. Consider freedom of expression. The claim-right-against-interference with our expression protects us in saying things that are morally problematic: we don’t need such protection to say things that are innocuous, as Joseph Raz has observed, but we do need free speech to protect us when we say things that are offensive, i.e. things we have duties not to say.

    The central argument of Brake’s paper is that persistent unwanted contact-seeking behaviour which forces a relationship upon someone wrongs that person, in ways that are analogous to unwanted attempts at touch or trespass. The harms and wrongs involved provide strong reason, she says, to think that we have interests in relationship-control which are strong enough to ground a right to control our entry into and exit from relationships. This right allows us to avoid bad relationships, and in consequence to enjoy more good relationships.

    Brake’s analysis focuses on two parties – the victim and the person stalking her. But, in some cases at least, the parties involved include not only these two, who are at the centre of Brake’s analysis, but also others at the periphery, whose presence is bracketed in her analysis. Brake’s emphasis on the importance of rights of control over entry and exit raises important questions about familial relationships in general because often persons’ relationships are intertwined with other people and their relationships. When we look at the people at the periphery, the analysis becomes more complicated. Let me make the point concrete: What should we say about the relationship quality and the entry / exit control of a person like Saskia who is stalking her ex-boyfriend Patrick, in a case drawn from the page-turner of a novel, The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty. When the story starts, Saskia is Patrick’s girlfriend, and she is raising his toddler, Jack, with him. Saskia toilet-trains Jack and remembers his food preferences, and she’s the one he calls for at night when he has a nightmare. Patrick then decides, out of the blue, to end his relationship with Saskia, and she cannot let go. She texts and calls Patrick repeatedly reminding him about Jack’s doctor appointments and school events. She follows them, goes to their house, watches them, and continues to love the little boy she had been raising, and who loved her as his mother. Since Patrick and Saskia were not married and since Saskia had not adopted Jack, she has no legal right to continue either to be Jack’s mother or to be in his life at all. Saskia is at the periphery of Patrick and Jack’s relationship. But, Jack is at the periphery of Brake’s analysis of the wrongs of stalking and the importance of rights of control over exit and entry. Patrick’s right of exit is what makes Saskia’s stalking wrong, in Brake’s view. But, what should we say about Saskia’s own rights of control over her relationship with Jack or about the ultimate defensibility (or not) of her stalking behaviour?

  15. Thanks for all of these wonderful comments! I am working through in batches and trying to read ahead to make sure I don’t repeat points that have already been made! (As in my reply to Monika on autonomy and Jonathan’s last comment above. I would add that my account could also be a way to develop the privacy view – I think it provides a way to fill in what is incomplete in those accounts.)

    Lucy, I love the point about procreation and Little’s work on intimacy and gestation. I’ve been thinking lately about a related passage in her paper on abortion. She says (as I recall) that biological ties can ground a claim to ‘openness’ to a relationship. A claim to a relationship would clearly be in tension with a right to refuse relationships (and I think this touches on Justin’s comments about unilaterally ending relationships). But would a claim to openness to a relationship be in tension with a right to refuse relationships? It’s not clear to me exactly what a claim to openness to a relationship amounts to – meeting for a coffee once? Or something more? Little’s comments there have tremendous implications for people who are donor conceived, as well as anyone finding lost-lost or unknown relatives on ancestry.com! But back to your point, Lucy: especially if we think a relationship can begin during gestation (though this is controversial!), then forcing someone to go through pregnancy seems to violate their right to refuse a relationship, and this is another way in which forced pregnancy wrongs. (But I’d want to be careful here: I don’t want to say that someone choosing to have a child against the wishes of the impregnator thereby violates the impregnator’s right to refuse a relationship. That person might be forced into a relation as father, or as parent – but can avoid an ongoing relationship. But, obviously, this raises some other problems!)

    And Lucy, thanks for your second point: I think silencing is a helpful concept here. The stalker is proceeding in behavior which would normally require mutuality (the kind of behavior which constitutes relationships), without caring about whether it is in fact mutual (unless, of course, he is delusional and believes that it is), and this lack of care suggests that refusals will not get uptake. And this contributes to the phenomenology of being stalked, as you point out. There are some psychological tensions which your comments suggest which would be interesting to explore further – in a sense, the stalker treats the victim as a non-fungible object (like a cherished possession), disregarding what she actually wants (unless he is delusional); but in some ways his plans must recognize and take into account her subjectivity (e.g. anticipating her movements). In the paper, I don’t examine these, because I avoid specifying the stalker’s intentions (beyond the non-fungibility condition) in order to cover a wide range of cases and because many cases involve delusion, as you point out.

  16. Patrick, thanks for your comments. Your first comment (which Manon elaborates) is: why assume there must be an essential wrong of stalking?

    One concern is that the alternative account you suggest – that some cases are wrong because they cause fear, some because they violate privacy, etc. – is going to leave out paradigm cases of stalking. Some cases will not involve any of the plausible wrong-making features which you propose (fear, threat, privacy violation). And yet, they still wrong the victim.

    Proposing an account of the wrong independent of the other wrong-making features has benefits. It allows us to grade cases morally: in Monika’s example, Frau Brückner’s behavior could rise to the level of stalking (depending on how the case is specified). In that case, she has violated the right to refuse a relationship – but we can say this is less morally bad than a case which also involves frightening behavior, threats, etc. These are additional wrong-making features. As well, the fact that a wrong has occurred allows us to impute the bad consequences (e.g., fear) to the wrongdoer, as I argue we couldn’t do if he has not committed a wrong (perhaps this needs some qualifications; I will reply to your second point later!).

    But there’s a bigger methodological reason for my approach (this *might* relate to Cheshire’s comments, but in the interests of finishing this reply before an upcoming meeting, I won’t address those yet!). As I wrote above, some topics in relational ethics have been relatively neglected, in my view for demographic reasons related to the discipline of philosophy. As I say in a forthcoming piece in the series of essays edited by George Yancy currently appearing in the L.A. Review of Books, “No doubt, the canon of Great Philosophers has included more stalkers than stalking victims.” Part of what I want to do is to think about how we would conceptualize moral space – our rights and our claims – if we start from the perspective of victims of intimate partner violence. In that respect, it’s a project in constructive moral conceptual engineering: if we examine the essential features of stalking, what right would we need to posit to account for the claim that victims of stalking are wronged? That’s why I begin with the assumptions you note – that we can give a unified account of the wrong of contact-stalking. I think the account of the wrong I give vindicates that starting-point! It meets the desiderata I set out for an account of the wrong of stalking, it has independent theoretical support – and it has interesting implications elsewhere, including family and workplace ethics!

    This reply is already getting long, so I’ll add the reply to Manon’s elaboration of your point in a new comment. Thanks so much for your questions, Patrick!

  17. Sorry to be late to the party — I have been at the dentist this morning. 🙁

    Thank you Elizabeth for this wonderful and very enlightening paper! I was also fortunate to be a participant at the WCPA session where the work was recently presented with comments by Kim Brownlee, which also really helped me think more deeply about this topic.

    I share several of the concerns raised by other commentators, but I’ll try to avoid being repetitive by bringing in a couple of new ones (or new hot takes on the old ones)!

    First, on the assumption that we should be seeking a singular account of stalking, it might be helpful to distinguish between two claims:
    (a) Stalking has a set of characteristic/essential features.
    (b) A singular characteristic wrong is amongst these.
    Even those willing to go as far as (a) may feel hestitant about (b), in the absence of some particular considerations weighing in its favour.

    Second, on the morality of forcing a personal relationship, I think a more pressing case for Elizabeth might be the choice to have a second (or later) child, forcing a sibling relationship on an existing child. The older sibling might be significantly harmed by such a relationship (in e.g. cases of sibling abuse). Moreover, many older siblings are able to understand, and to give/withhold consent, by the time a younger sibling is being considered. Consider, for example, cases where the older sibling is older by ten or more years. In such a case, one might think the older sibling less likely to be a victim of physical abuse from the younger, but emotional abuse is not prevented by age differences, and any kind of abuse may persist throughout the lives of the siblings into life stages where the age difference is no longer relevant to their power dynamics.

    Thanks again to Elizabeth and Kim, and to all the commentators for their great contributions so far!

  18. Sorry for the delay! Continuing with my reply to Manon, thank you for these comments!

    From my reply to Patrick, you can see that my foundational methodological commitments and motivations are feminist. But it may seem, as you argue, that an account of stalking in terms of the construction of gender roles and of romantic love is a richer feminist account. Particularly, understandings of romantic love as involving possession and control, or overcoming resistance, help explain stalking behavior as well as other aspects of women’s oppression or violence against women. Absolutely! I think that accounts like the one you suggest, and Claudia Card’s account of domestic violence as gender terrorism, are crucially important to analyzing the phenomenon. I see what I’m doing as an earlier step in the analysis. If (as I think) there are certain features which characterize all cases of stalking, *and* we can identify a wrong which arises from those features, we can give an account of the wrong of stalking in all cases. This account can then undergird feminist accounts of how patriarchal practices employ this wrong in harming or oppressing women.

    One point I take from your remarks (connected to Patrick’s question, I think) is that we might think that we can identify different kinds of stalking, and that they can be richly differentiated as different moral phenomena. But nothing I say conflicts with that, as long as the two different kinds share the same essential set of features, and generate the same wrong. As I said in the reply to Patrick, they can have additional wrongs.

    Another really insightful point I take from your comments is that we can’t analyze stalking independently of gender norms and a patriarchal (mononormative, capitalist, amatonormative …) conception of romantic love; stalking behavior arises and has a certain meaning (and certain effects) in such a social context, and analyzing it in the abstract loses those contextual features. The wrong of refusing to take no for an answer is so inextricably bound up with sexist practices that we lose what is most important about it when we analyze it independently of those practices, as I do in the paper. This, I think, is a good argument for why we need the richer feminist account, like yours or Card’s; as I said in my last comment, about methodology, my project is one of moral conceptual engineering, to supply the concepts we need to make sense of the wrong of stalking within existing moral theories. I don’t think these two projects are incompatible, though!

  19. Thanks so much, Elizabeth, for this thought-provoking paper, and thank you Monika for your questions, and further food for thought.

    Stalking can’t be fully detached from the politics of gender: ‘discussion of the moral wrong involved in stalking must acknowledge that it is widespread, is gendered, is correlated with violence, and has devastating effects’, as Elizabeth says. So when she argues that stalking ‘essentially involves the forcing of a personal relationship’, she is showing us that with stalking, yet again, the personal is political.

    Yet I wonder whether the focus on relationship leaves something out, when it comes to the wider social meaning. I wonder too about the ‘freedom’ which is violated when we are made to have a relationship we did not choose. In Monika’s sympathetic interpretation, this freedom is supposed to be quite general: stalking ‘wrongs the target’s right to relational freedom which involves choosing what relationships (if any) the target wants to be in’. All well and good, yet Monika’s observations on friendship, and Elizabeth’s on children, remind us that personal relationships can be radically contingent and unchosen—whether in families (for the child, the sibling, the parent, the grandparent), in work-places (the mentor, as commented above), in various marriage systems (recalling Elizabeth’s other work), and for comrades-at-arms. Whatever their moral pros and cons, these don’t look much like stalking.

    There can, surely, be stalking without attempt at personal relationship. Elizabeth gets closest to it when she mentions ‘surveillance stalking’, and then sets aside. I think she dismisses it too swiftly. I have in mind a ghastly, invasive ‘thirst for a life’, which aims to go entirely undetected by its. My phrase ‘thirst for a life’ comes from Proust, whose character Marcel wants to ‘possess’ Albertine by knowing everything about her:

    ‘It is she, with her desires, her sympathies, her revulsions, her obscure and incessant will. I knew that I should never possess [her] if I did not possess also what was in her eyes. And it was consequently her whole life that filled me with desire; a painful desire because I felt it was impossible to fulfil, but exhilarating, like the burning thirst of a parched land—a thirst for a life which my soul, because it had never until now received one drop of it, would absorb all the more greedily, in long draughts.’ (Remembrance of Things Past, I 851–2/793–5)

    Surely this is what some stalkers have. And this is not an aim for a personal relationship. The ‘surveillance’, the tracking, the going through the trash, the finding out who and where and what, every detail of the intimate life of the target: this epistemic ambition is not about ‘information’. It is about invasion and possession.

  20. Patrick, a quick response to your second question!

    I do think intending to cause fear (with no justifying purpose) can wrong. But this points to how the gun case is disanalogous to stalking. Unless one is in a shooting competition or gun show, in which the context defuses the situation, it’s foreseeable that waving around a deadly weapon whose primary function is to kill will cause fear, and it’s hard to think of a case in which the person waving it around so wouldn’t be intending to instil fear. (Especially in the context you describe.) But the point about stalking is that someone simply being in public or walking down the street isn’t threatening in the same way. (And of course stalkers need not intend to instill fear or realize that they are doing so, even if they are not delusional. Frasier’s antics in the eponymous sitcom are a good example.) I do think that you raise a good point – my view here may need some additional qualification (e.g., one can be culpably ignorant about what will cause fear), but I don’t think those qualifications will undermine the case against fear as explaining the wrong of stalking.

    The Frasier example raises another point. Frasier’s victims don’t seem fazed by his behavior (at least, not in the episodes I’ve seen!). In the 90s in the US this kind of behavior was much more acceptable than today. But my intuition still pulls me towards thinking that his showing up at his ex’s workplace and lingering around or following a woman he’s just met to her vacation destination do wrong the women in question – even if he doesn’t intend to cause fear and in fact doesn’t cause fear. It’s undesirable for the wrong of stalking to depend on our social norms around the behavior – so that in a context in which “stalking is just normal courtship” (as one student put the point), so that women are inured to it, it’s not wrongful. On my account, it would still be wrongful in contexts in which it is normalized.

    Ah, I meant that reply to be brief! Thanks for the question.

  21. Apologies for being so late to the party!

    Many thanks to Elizabeth for sharing this engaging and insightful work with us and to Monika, as well, for her excellent summary and commentary! I found Elizabeth’s paper creative, intriguing, and persuasively argued – a great contribution to a philosophically neglected, but very important topic.

    I’ll quickly register that I share Liam’s worries about the particular claim that in order to count as stalking, the stalker must view the target as non-fungible. Elizabeth addresses this concern on p. 22, in note 55, acknowledging that her view would exclude the misogynist who randomly picks out a woman to stalk. Her replies there are helpful, but I suspect it might be too costly to exclude this kind of case, even if it easily allows Elizabeth to avoid counting assassins and detectives as stalkers. I wonder if, in line with Liam’s point, detectives and assassins might be excluded on Elizabeth’s view because the specific behaviors they engage in (mostly surveillance-related) aren’t suggestive of a personal relationship in a way that Elizabeth’s paradigm cases are. I do appreciate that the non-fungibility condition does other work, and I don’t want to belabor points already raised, so I’ll leave it at that.

    One thing I love about this paper is that Elizabeth’s rich and instructive insights make the work ripe for fruitful engagement with other literature. I love Lucy’s suggestion about how Elizabeth’s view might have something interesting to say about the wrong of forcing a person to continue with a pregnancy!

    I wonder if there might also be some illuminating connections between Elizabeth’s work and the view that trust, in some cases, might be burdensome or unwelcome for the trusted person in virtue of seeking a kind of care or concern that presupposes, seeks to initiate, or is otherwise suggestive of a personal relationship that the trusted party finds unwanted. Emma Duncan considers this idea in her “The Normative Burdens of Trust” drawing on work from Stephen Darwall and Carolyn McLeod among others.

    Again, terrific paper – I learned a lot and it was a pleasure to read!

  22. Apologies to Frasier fans for the last comment!

    I’ll group together replies to Christine’s, Jonathan’s, and Justin’s comments on the theme of workplace relationships. These are great – part of what I want to develop in future work is an account of why it matters that stalking forces a *personal* relationship and how it should be distinguished from bad behavior in the workplace (or other contexts where people typically form relationships which are not personal). Two big issues these questions bring to the fore are how to understand fungibility and how we should relate the specific acts which constitute a relationship to a relationship (this relates to Monika’s comments too and a lot of other questions).

    As Christine and Jonathan point out, professional relationships can be harmful, and if we must work for a living, we have less choice about whether to avoid these people than we do in most cases. (Obviously many victims of intimate partner violence are financially dependent on their abusers and so this point won’t apply.) As Justin says, this could ground a critique of capitalism – or at least suggest the need for labor law reform.

    In some jobs, emotional labor or intimate work is part of the job and so it essentially involves personal relationships (or they are very likely to develop). Paid caregivers are a prime example. I think this can give paid caregivers (or others who perform emotional or intimate work) a right to refuse certain assignments – because the assignments would force them into personal relationships with clients. (I also think they have claims to continue certain assignments to protect relationships formed within them – this view is developed in a previous paper on paid caregivers.) So to Christine’s list of options, I would add a fourth: some work relationships are by their nature personal (or very likely to become personal), and respecting our right to refuse them may require new labor law protections! (Of course in cases in which work relationships don’t essentially require emotional labor or intimacy as part of the job, personal relationships can form and overlap with work relationships.)

    But what should I say about the cases Christine is concerned with? Two colleagues have nothing resembling a personal relationship but have sustained patterns of interaction constituting a professional relationship, and their interaction is abusive and harmful. I think these are cases of bullying or harassment (this is what I want to say about Jonathan’s case C – this is harassment or bullying, not stalking). Bullying or abuse in a professional relationship shares a feature with other ‘relationship wrongs’ (my term for subtle and cumulative wrongs which arise in relationships, exploiting characteristic vulnerabilities of relationships) like stalking or emotional abuse: they are made possible by the sustained interaction which constitutes the relationship. Being forced to interact with with workplace bullies violates a right against bullying or harassment. If terminating a professional relationship is my only way to exercise my right against bullying and harassment, then I have a right to do so (and to do so without losing my livelihood). (The reason for terminating the relationship here is different than in the case of stalking, so I think this is a version of Christine’s first option which I hope is not ad hoc.)

    Fungibility is at issue in Jonathan’s example (B). Here I want to say that the colleague being mentored *is* fungible – they are fungible qua the best specialist in this area. They could be replaced by another skilled specialist, for the purposes of the job – it’s just that there are very few (or if the job is unusual enough, no) other people who could be substituted. (I’ll need to say more about fungibility in reply to Liam and Monique – but that will take another post!)

    Finally, Jonathan’s example (A) does meet my criteria for stalking; perhaps the reason it doesn’t intuitively seem (to Jonathan) like stalking is that it is entirely conducted by email, which Jonathan can ignore. This makes it a mild case of stalking, which doesn’t seem (to me) like too big a bullet to bite.

  23. Thanks for the reply, Elizabeth!

    I agree with you that workplace bullying is different from stalking, and that it seems like a better description for the negative interactions I described in my case (C) above. But one of the points of that example was to put some possible pressure on the definition of stalking you provided: “a pattern of persistent unwanted contact (consisting in such behaviors) which would be distressing, disturbing, or intimidating to a reasonable person and is directed at a particular individual as nonfungible.” Why isn’t lots of bullying stalking, on your account?

    I see your point about many workplace environments involving fungible treatments of individuals — fair enough. But what if the bullying is more personal? What if the reason I am bullying someone in the workplace is a personal one? That doesn’t make it seem any more like stalking to me.

  24. Thanks, Jonathan! This line of questioning is great!

    As you describe the case, “My goal is to make her miserable and get her to quit her job, because I think I’ll get a bigger bonus this year if there are fewer employees to spread the bonus money around on.” On my interpretation, this does not meet the conditions I set out for behavior to count as stalking: this is directed at her in the role of an employee who might diminish your bonus, so she is fungible in this respect (presumably you would do the same to anyone in the role). Attitudinally, you aren’t directing your behavior at her as a non-fungible individual – as the particular person she is – but at her in the role of someone whose continued employment might eat into your bonus. If your behavior were directed at her as non-fungible (and not merely as an impediment to your bonus) it would be closer to stalking. But stalking (on my account) consists in contact-seeking behavior, so the details matter. It sounds like what you’re doing (in the imaginary example!) is not seeking contact so much as using the opportunities for contact afforded by the workplace to harass and abuse her. It would be stalking if you were using your job to seek contact with her (e.g. assigning her work shifts when you will be there too, making up projects so you can contact her). (And, by the way, something can be stalking and also abuse or bullying, just to be clear.)

    This brings me to a point I wanted to make in reply to Liam, and related to Cheshire’s question (yes, Cheshire, I prefer option 2 – the definition at the outset is a provisional definition drawn from legislation around stalking; as the account of the wrong develops we begin to see why the features in the definition matter morally – thank you for articulating this process and drawing my attention to the distinction!). By the end of the paper, the feature that the behavior would be ‘distressing to a reasonable person’ has dropped out of the analysis of the wrong – as Cheshire notes, the central definitional features which ground the wrong, are that it “involves a persistent pattern of contact-seeking that tries to force a relationship.” (And being the target of this would be distressing to a reasonable person, so this feature does not disappear altogether – but this is a typical side effect of the wrong as opposed to constitutive of the wrong). This relates back to my reply to you, Jonathan, in that I’m putting more weight on contact-seeking behavior in the final definition and account of the wrong than on behavior which would be distressing, etc., as in abuse.

  25. Thanks so much for the fascinating paper Elizabeth. I had a question that is somewhat related to Patrick’s.

    There’s a methodological assumption in the paper that I have doubts about. It’s this. Suppose that X wrongs V by performing some conduct C. If there are tokens of Cing that wrong victims without some feature, f, then f cannot explain why X wrongs V by Cing.

    To apply this principle to your case, if X wrongs V by stalking them, and there are tokens of stalking that wrong victims without causing them fear, then fear cannot explain why X wrongs V by stalking them.

    One immediate reason to doubt this form of argument is that it has implausible implications for some other wrongs. Consider murder. Suppose that X kills V, depriving V of years of valuable life. There are tokens of wrongful murder where the murdered person is not deprived of years of valuable life – involuntary euthanasia is wrong where a person has no more good life to live. But surely this doesn’t imply the falsity of the idea that one of the things that makes it wrong for X to murder V in this case is that they deprive V of years of valuable life.

    And I think that the case of stalking is similar. Suppose that X stalks V and makes them constantly terrified of being harmed, and this is seriously debilitating. I find it clear that X stalking V wrongs them by making them constantly terrified of being harmed, debilitating V. If a victim of stalking explained in a victim impact statement that they were completely terrified by the stalking, and this was debilitating, wouldn’t it be hard to explain to this person that they weren’t wronged in virtue of this fact because not everyone wronged by stalking is terrified of it? The fact that there are instances of wrongful stalking where the victims are not constantly terrified of being harmed doesn’t, I think, imply that this instances of stalking is not wrong because it makes the victim terrified.

    A response in your essay is that making people afraid need not be wrong. But, similarly, the fact that it is sometimes permissible to make people afraid doesn’t imply that making people afraid cannot ever make conduct wrong as Patrick suggests. Doing this might sometimes be wrong, and in the case of stalking it is isn’t it?

    One possibility that results from this analysis is that the wrong of stalking need not have any essential features – perhaps there are many different instances of stalking each of which is wrong due to some feature that is not shared by all other instances. That is the possibility Patrick alluded to. But even if there is some feature, such as the one you point to, that makes all instances of stalking wrong, I don’t think that this feature could provide a complete answer to the question posed by the title of the essay. Token stalking can wrong the victim because of the wrong-making properties of that token even if not all tokens of stalking share all those wrong-making properties. And, as the case of murder suggests, features of a wrong that are present in all instances of that wrong need not be the features that are most important in explaining what is wrong with many tokens of that wrong.

    Your essay, then, might still provide an answer to a good question – is there something that makes all instances of stalking wrong? But the answer to that question is not the same as the answer to the question your essay asks: what makes stalking wrong. Lots of things make stalking wrong that don’t make all instances of stalking wrong.

  26. Thank you, Elizabeth, for this engaging and powerful work! Your paper not only helps us to better understand the moral profile of stalking, but also helps us to better understand the moral profile of related phenomena (as Lucy and Justin suggest) in which we are compelled to engage in relationships to which we did not, and would not, consent.

    I want to join some others in challenging the methodological practice of identifying one essential wrong of stalking which can be compounded by other wrong-making features of particular instances of stalking. There are, as you note, upshots to identifying an essential wrong. Identification of an essential wrong can help us to distinguish stalking from other interpersonal interactions, identification of an essential wrong can help us to identify the wrong-making features of all cases of stalking, and insofar as the essential wrong is one for which we lack conceptual resources, discussion of the essential wrong is a project of constructive moral conceptual engineering. However, there are some potential drawbacks to this methodological approach, particularly when we communicate that a non-essential wrong-making feature may not even be a wrong-making feature (as discussed by Victor). Instead of expanding the conceptual resources with which a victim might draw from to name and make sense of their experiences, victims for whom the essential feature was not the most phenomenologically salient in their own experience might not see themselves represented.

    We might consider, for example, a victim whose experience was characterized by profound fear because the perpetrator’s presence in public spaces issued a standing threat to harm (like the standing threat of harm you discuss in cases of emotional abuse). They might be exceptionally extroverted and welcome any and all personal relationships but are terrified of the particular relationship presented by the stalker. We can suppose that the stalker has an erratic and violent disposition, and so a relationship with the stalker makes them especially vulnerable to harm by the stalker. It might be that what makes this a case of stalking is that it imposes a personal relationship on the victim, but the wrong that distinguishes the case from other interpersonal interactions is not the most salient wrong for the victim. Identifying an essential wrong does not necessarily discount the victim’s personal experience of the wrong-making features of their experience with stalking, but it might run the risk of discounting differences of experience.

    On another note, I wanted to invite you to say more about the nature of the relationship imposed by stalking. In your paper and in some of your responses, you stress the importance of the imposition of a personal relationship. One question I have is how you understand patterns of unwanted contact-seeking in established personal relationships. What I have in mind is a case where a friend is interested in a kind of personal relationship beyond friendship and pursues such a relationship with unwanted contact-seeking (showing up to their friend’s house, work, or favorite coffeeshop uninvited, offering gifts, etc.). I see good reason for including cases of this kind as cases of stalking— a kind of personal relationship is imposed on the victim. However, I can also imagine resistance to inclusion for reasons similar to possibly excluding Monika’s overly friendly neighbor; there’s a delicate social balance in identifying when one’s pursuit or expectation of a relationship is overbearing. I would love to hear more about how your account would make sense of such a case!

  27. This is an extremely inspiring discussion. I wanted to take up Rae’s thoughts about surveillance stalking. I think she is right that it is somehow odd (if not ad hoc) to dismiss it and focus merely on contact-seeking stalking. After all, what Rae refers to – the Proust quote is great – are cases that seem paradigmatic examples of stalking. But the wrong of surveillance stalking is not about forcing a relationship onto anybody. But why keep these two types of stalking apart?
    One option is to say that it is the wrong of forcing a relationship onto someone that identifies contact-seeking stalking in virtue of that wrong. But isn’t that circular? But if we start with a more general account of stalking that includes both contact-seeking stalking and surveillance stalking we are back to the problem that Patrick and Victor raise that the wrong of stalking is quite diverse. I wonder what Elizabeth’s thoughts are on this.

    On a different note, I think the discussion nicely brings out that it is a very delicate social balance indeed – as Marc, for example, highlights – in identifying when the pursuig or expectation of a relationship is overbearing and therefore coercive in some sense. Even though Elizabeth wants to keep the bar high, there are people who find a lot of such overtures already very overbearing. Are they not reasonable? Does it vary with what people find overbearing what ultimately counts as stalking?

  28. This is a very interesting paper, and a very interesting discussion that it’s generating. I’m sorry to be late to the party, having been tied up with end-of-semester stuff all day yesterday.

    Some of my questions about the paper are related to some of the comments that have been made already, in better form than I could have. I shared some of Patrick’s reaction about harm, and I found Victor’s comment help sharpen that a little. And I had inchoate worries about surveillance, but Rae has raised that much better than I could have. I’ll try to raise something a little different, but it will end up connecting back to the harm issues a bit.

    I want to ask about the role of consent in the account. I find the idea that imposing a relationship on someone intriguing. But I’m not sure that the lack of consent is doing as much work as the paper suggests. Two points: First, it’s not clear to me that there couldn’t be wrongful stalking where there is consent. And second—or perhaps in the alternative—it’s not clear to me that one could consent in the relevant way.

    On the first point: Does consent obviate the wrong? Suppose that Veronica teaches two open-enrollment courses during a semester. Suppose that there is someone (Andy) who comes to both classes, sits in the front row, pays vigorous attention, approaches after class to make small talk, and sometimes drops in on office hours. In general, I think that Veronica has consented to having that kind of relationship by virtue of her job. But suppose that Andy is not enrolled in the course. They could enroll—Veronica has opened herself to that relationship—but the person hasn’t enrolled. Now, one might think that this is just what we call “auditing.” And one might observe that we generally expect someone to ask permission to audit, which fits with the idea that there must be consent. But suppose that Veronica has a general policy, stated on her syllabus, “auditors welcome.” So, again, it seems like Veronica has consented to this relationship in at least some sense. But suppose that Andy does not express any particular interest in the material. When asked about why he is attending class, he says that it has nothing to do with the material and is only because he is “a fan” of Veronica. I think that there’s something seriously problematic here (though not at the level of Elizabeth’s paradigmatic case). But Andy’s external conduct towards Veronica is all of a form that Veronica seems to have affirmatively opened herself to. It’s just Andy’s reasons for the conduct that seem to transform it.

    This leads to the second point: Can one consent? When I think about the paradigmatic case with Archie, I wonder about whether Veronica could consent to the conduct (i.e. could render it non-wrongful). Of course, it’s true that Veronica could consent to have a personal relationship with Archie of a reciprocal form. But could Veronica consent to *this* relationship? Imagine that Veronica says: “Archie, it’s okay with me if you “drive by and walk past my house, come to the public area of my workplace, and linger outside it, over and over again. It’s okay if you follow me on the street and on transportation. It’s okay if you call, text, and send letter, gift, and flower, at home and at my workplace. It’s okay if you contact my friends and family and discusses me on social media. It’s okay if you leave notes on my car. It’s okay if you go through my garbage. But I do expect you to respect my consent and not do anything that I have not consented to.” Now, of course, we would have very good reasons to question whether Veronica’s consent is genuine here. But my intuition is that that is mostly besides the point. Even if everything she says is genuinely meant and not the result of some consent-undermining condition, I still think that Archie would wrong Veronica by engaging in the conduct described.

    And this all leads me to think that the problem in the paradigmatic case isn’t that Veronica hasn’t consented to the relationship, it’s that the relationship is wrongful in itself. It’s the nonreciprocal, false, using quality of it. And I’m not sure that can be captured by describing a right to refuse the relationship. (True to form, I’m inclined to see these cases as a wrong that isn’t explicable in terms of a rights violation—though obviously much stalking does involve rights violations.)

    I think it might be interesting to compare the stalking cases with what sometimes get described as abuse of rights cases. So, e.g. in Keeble v. Hickeringill, the defendant shot a gun on his own land (something he had the right to do) but for the sole purpose of scaring the ducks away from the plaintiff’s land; or in spite fence cases, someone builds a fence for the sole purpose of harming their neighbor. In a stalking case in which the stalker is merely following the victim in public space (or in my Andy example), it seems like the problem is that the stalker is exercising rights that he has for perverse ends and that transforms the conduct into a wrong. It’s an abuse of the right to freely move through the public space (or to audit classes).

    One could still tie abuse of rights back to consent in some way. Arthur Ripstein offers an account of the abuse of rights cases that attempts to do this in Private Wrongs. (Incidentally, one of his central examples involves blocking someone on the sidewalk, which interestingly has a connection to stalking in being about altering one’s movement based on another’s public movements.) I’m not sure if that works. But, on this account, it’s not so much that there was a right to refuse the relationship. It’s that the relationship is of a kind that, by its nature, cannot be consented to. And I wonder if (at least some) stalking isn’t more like that.

  29. Good morning and thanks, everyone, for these incredible, insightful, challenging comments. They keep rolling in as I try to reply to the last ones! Sorry if I can’t reply to your comment fully, or individually – I’m going to try to approach them more briefly, and in batches, today!

    On surveillance
    Rae, thanks so much for this. A first thing is to say that I don’t mean to dismiss surveillance-stalking – in fact, I plan another paper on it. As I was writing the paper, it increasingly seemed to me that there were distinct wrongs involved in contact- and in surveillance-stalking. As I say in the paper, they involve different characteristic behaviors, which is how I justify treating them separately. But your comment, and the wondeful quotation from Proust, make me think they also involve different psychological drives – the contact-stalker wants to make himself known, the surveillance-stalker wants to know the other while not being known himself. As I suggest in the paper, there are interesting questions about the overlap of these types, or how one can turn into the other; again, I hope to address both types of stalking as I continue with the project.

    I like your closing point that the stalker aims at ‘invasion and possession’: I would add that this needn’t be distinct from forcing a relationship if there is a background (patriarchal, mononormative …) conception of personal relationships as involving property or possession. (Taking us back to Manon’s point, and your ‘personal is political’ point.) Perhaps we could see forcing a relationship and surveillance as two different routes (in the stalkers’ psychology) to achieving ‘invasion and possession’.

  30. On Non-Fungibility

    The discussion with Jonathan yesterday turned on how I’m understanding non-fungibility. I wanted to reply to Liam’s and Monique’s comments on this too. First, for the cases which Liam gives, my view is that the law should treat these the same even if the victim is fungible to the stalker. I think it is an advantage of my account that it focuses on behavior, and not the stalker’s psychology, except for the non-fungibility condition, and this is because the stalker may be deluded. The law, I think, has no role even in determining whether the non-fungibility condition is met, again for reasons of opacity. I just want to make that clear.

    As Liam notes, I define a “personal relationship” as involving the attitude of viewing the other as non-fungible; I’ve given this definition in previous work (the paper on paid caregivers has a longer discussion) and Kolodny makes a similar point. From a friend’s perspective, their friend couldn’t be replaced with some other similar-in-relevant-respects person; it matters that it is this particular person, who is irreplaceable in this relationship. There might be better ways to express this – “non-fungibility” doesn’t suggest as readily as I would like the thought that it matters that it is this particular person, with all their characteristics, and not simply their occupying a certain role, or having a narrow set of abilities, or serving a certain purpose. In terms of the paper, it’s crucial that I *define* a personal relationship (in part) as one in which parties view each other as non-fungible; I think this fits with the psychology of many stalkers (but this is an empirical question). But your comments and Monique’s and Jonathan’s will spur me to keep thinking about whether ‘non-fungibility’ is the best way to define this condition. The cases Liam gives, of stalking someone who reminds you of someone else, are challenging and suggestive; the movie Vertigo comes to mind. I want to say that in such cases, the fixation likely transfers to the new target (so that they become non-fungible to the stalker). Monique, thanks also for your comments on trust! What you say about trust reminds me of Simon Keller’s work on moral blackmail and the family – another kind of imposition!

  31. Forcing relationships – families and people at the ‘periphery’

    Justin, Kim, and Carrie give different, challenging cases for the view that we have rights to refuse relationships. When people are brought into intimate contact with each other, in ways over which they have little control, are they then forced into a relationship?

    Before replying to their cases, let me restate what I say in the paper: when people are brought into physical intimacy (e.g., soldiers living together in barracks), this does not in itself violate their right to refuse a relationship – they can share space without having a personal relationship. When children are born or adopted, this does not violate their right to refuse relationships – not only do they need caring relationships to survive and thrive, they do not yet have autonomy, and hence do not yet have the right to refuse relationships. I suggest that as children grow, they gradually come into possession of this right – and should have an opportunity to exercise it by exiting relationships with their families of origin once they are mature and able to do so (I also point out that the ethics of exit are complicated by special obligations, a point raised by Justin’s comments on the ethics of divorce and unilaterally ending a relationship).

    Let’s turn to the new, challenging cases. In Justin’s case, one member of a poly couple starts seeing a new metamour. Is the other member of the original couple forced into a relationship? If the relationship with the metamour is kept entirely separate, no. The concerns start to arise when the metamour encoraches on the home or even on the conversation of the original couple. I want to say that this is first and foremost a matter of the original couple’s negotiating the terms of their relationship, including the use of space, time, and conversation topics, with equal decision-making power. The metamour’s entry into the home, under these conditions, is more like the soldiers sharing barracks – but the case is suggestive and challenging insofar as identity is relational, and the new relationship changes who the shared partner is. But this would also be the case if the partner were to start a consuming new hobby which changed them.

    Carrie’s example changes an important variable: unlike the partner in the original couple, siblings don’t have option of leaving or negotiating the use of shared space, etc.; a teenager can be mature enough to possess the right to refuse a relationship, but not old enough to have exit options allowing them to exercise that right. I would want to thread the needle here by suggesting that this creates a moral demand for the teenager to have personal space (to exercise the right to refuse a relationship so far as is possible given their age and capabilities). But, like the soldiers in a barrack, the parents forcing them into proximity doesn’t in itself violate the right to refuse a relationship. I can see that some might see this as unsatisfying: surely the parents can encourage the teen to have a (loving) personal relationship with his new sibling – and the baby sibling might be thought to have a claim to this as well. If, as Matthew Liao argues (and I have argued against elsewhere!), parents have a duty to love, could the teen also have a duty to love his sibling? Again, this is a challenging case; I would point to the fact that the teen is still developing to explain why the parents’ encouraging a loving relationship doesn’t violate his right to refuse a relationship – he doesn’t yet fully possess the right, but the parents should help him exercise it, relative to his capacities, by giving him space (and continuing to help him develop in other ways).

    Kim’s case raises different issues. Even though Saskia doesn’t have legal rights, it seems harmful – and wrong! – for both her and the child for their relationship to be severed. I like Melissa Murray’s work on the need for a category of quasi-parental rights, something between legal parent and total legal stranger; this case shows why there’s a need for such a status. From that perspective, the wrong here is that Patrick is able to sever Saskia and Jack’s relationship. Imagine that Saskia is Jack’s gestational and genetic mother: in this case it would be obvious that her behavior is not stalking, but her attempt to gain access to the child that she is being wrongly denied (unless she were abusive or neglectful, which would change things). Whether Saskia’s behavior is stalking (and wrong) depends on whether she is trying to access Jack, her child (with whom her relationship has wrongly been severed) or whether she is trying to access Patrick, her ex-partner (in this case, the behavior would be stalking). The problem, of course, is that her behavior would be the same in either case, and even she might not know which motive is driving her. Like Justin’s case, this speaks to the difficulties raised for my view by the way that families and social networks bring us into what may be unwelcome, sustained proximity with particular others (in this case, co-parents).

    Thanks for these challenging and thought-provoking cases!

  32. I’ll make one last post before I have to leave for an afternoon appointment. I’ll check back in this evening for any further replies.

    On the methodology/search for an essential wrong

    A repeated line of questioning (from Patrick, Victor, Macy, Carrie, Manon, and others) has been the methodology of searching for an essential wrong of stalking. I replied to Patrick and Manon on this above (see https://peasoupblog.com/2023/12/elizabeth-brake-how-does-stalking-wrong-the-victim-precis-by-monika-betzler/#comment-28384 and https://peasoupblog.com/2023/12/elizabeth-brake-how-does-stalking-wrong-the-victim-precis-by-monika-betzler/#comment-28386, and also see Cheshire’s sympathetic reconstruction of my methodology – I take Cheshire’s option two! [https://peasoupblog.com/2023/12/elizabeth-brake-how-does-stalking-wrong-the-victim-precis-by-monika-betzler/#comment-28373]). Please read those replies before the rest of this post, if you haven’t already, as they spell out important parts of my reply.

    Macy’s comment really helped me to understand the concern. I certainly do not wish to discount the experiences of stalking victims – part of my motivation is to validate certain of those experiences. So just to clarify (not that anyone in this chat has been confused, but in case any readers of the chat have not read the paper): I *never* claim that forcing a relationship is the *only* wrong of stalking. I claim that in many cases stalking has additional wrong-making features – that is, it has additional or multiple wrongs, or wrongs the victim in multiple ways. Causing fear, invading privacy, perpetuating gender oppression are some of those additional wrongs that I discuss in the paper – and it should be clear from the paper that these wrong-making features may be more severe than the essential wrong. I don’t claim that the essential wrong is the most severe wrong arising from stalking – only that it arises from the essential features of stalking. I also point out that stalking can co-occur with other wrongs such as trespassing and assault.

    To return to Victor’s comments, my title question – “How does stalking wrong the victim?” – in fact has a very long answer given in the paper: stalking has an essential wrong, which arises in all cases of stalking from the essential features of stalking, but in many or most cases, there are other wrong-making features (which may be more severe than the essential wrong) as well as other co-occurring wrongs (which – I explicitly say – may be “more prominent”). From Victor’s comment, I realize that perhaps my language needs to be more qualified in places in the paper. The phrase “the wrong of stalking” should be taken to mean “the essential wrong of stalking, which might be joined by other wrong-making features, as well as co-occurring wrongs.” I realize now that “the wrong of stalking” might be taken to mean “the only wrong,” and so in future work I will work harder to clarify that.

    Returning to Macy’s comment, the motivation of validating the experience of stalking victims may be one of those things (like the connection to gender) which I did not spell out clearly or explicitly enough because it was so central to my motivation that I assumed – wrongly – that it would be apparent. Why is this topic so important? Because of the connection to gender oppression and the many profound ways in which stalking victims suffer. While I do (as Rae helpfully reminded us) state this at the outset, it might not be clear how deeply these motivate the view throughout.

    Why do I think it is so important to identify the essential wrong? Let me contrast two cases. Imagine that I have an acquaintance who makes rude comments to me; these comments trigger deep emotional vulnerabilities in me; we also have strong political disagreements; I disapprove of how she treats her lovers and pets; I find her manner abrasive and rough; and as things develop over time and many repeated encounters, my antipathy develops into a deep aversion and dread (will she comment critically, again, on some deep source of shame? Or start a passionate defense of the political candidate I hate?)? I think we can imagine a version of this case in which my negative reactions are reasonable, but my frenemy – “Polly” – is acting permissibly. Yet I am flooded with dread at the thought of encountering her socially. (I’m not asserting that this would be a model of emotional health on my part or of perfect virtue on Polly’s! I am just saying that such a case seems plausible, without Polly being abusive or otherwise wronging me.) Now consider the stalking victim who is flooded with fear at the thought of encountering her stalker. My account allows us to say that he is responsible for the harm caused the victim which consists in her experience of debilitating fear, and everything that flows from that – but that Polly is not. (Polly may be accountable for something, but not, as I’ve described the case, for the fullness of my reaction.)

    Two further points in reply to the specific posts by Macy and Victor.

    In Macy’s case of “a victim whose experience was characterized by profound fear because the perpetrator’s presence in public spaces issued a standing threat to harm,” my paper has the conceptual resources to explain that his behavior is wronging her by threatening her. (Indeed, I write: “And, in the context of intimate partner violence, a history of threats, controlling behavior, and abuse may render a seemingly non-threatening act threatening… Explicit threats, like behavior which foreseeably is reasonably perceived as threatening, are additional wrongs to the essential wrong of stalking.”) If he has a known violent disposition, she may reasonably infer a threat. If he is issuing a threat, he is thereby wronging her. (I’m not sure whether threatening requires intending to threaten – but my paper allows for an account in which his issuing a standing threat is an additional wrong, and a more severe wrong than the essential wrong. *But it also allows us to hold him responsible for the harm caused to the victim, including her fear, if it turns out he is not issuing a standing threat – simply as a stalker, he can be held responsible for the fear he causes, even if he did not issue a threat.*)

    So I would reject Victor’s characterization of my methodology – that “if X wrongs V by stalking them, and there are tokens of stalking that wrong victims without causing them fear, then fear cannot explain why X wrongs V by stalking them.” I didn’t mean to deny that the stalker can wrong his victim by causing fear; issuing a threat or causing fear intentionally or even foreseeably can be an additional wrong-making feature. The point I am making is that in cases of stalking without fear (or privacy invasions, etc.), there is still a wrong – and once we understand the nature of that wrong, we can see it exists in all the cases.

  33. Thanks so much, everyone, for your insightful, helpful, probing comments! And thanks again to Monika for writing the wonderful precis, and to Patrick and the other organizers of this forum. It’s been a great experience. I’m sorry I couldn’t reply to all the points – Nico, you raised great issues but I couldn’t reply today – I’ll follow up by email!

    Thanks again for the terrific discussion, which will contribute immensely to my ongoing project on relationship wrongs!

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