Fixated Persons and Threats

Philip Grindell
Written by Philip Grindell
fixated personas and threats

A worrying theme of recent media news has been the number of stalking cases where a high-profile person or their partner has been the victim of a targeted campaign. Those responsible for these campaigns are termed, fixated persons. Another trend of fixated persons has been the attacks on the US Governor, the Parisian teacher and the British lawyer, all of whom have been the subject of a targeted fixated attack, with the Parisian teacher being fatal. Defuse specialise in identifying and tackling threats from fixated persons. This paper details some of the most significant research on fixated persons.

Fixated persons are those who hold pathologically intense fixations on individuals or causes, and these are often pursued to an abnormally intense degree (see Mullen et al., 2009). In this sense, the term ‘fixation’ refers to an obsessive preoccupation with a person or some idiosyncratic cause (Fixated Research Group, 2006). Public figures are at higher risk of intrusive and aggressive activity than are members of the general public (James, Farnham, & Wilson, 2013; Mullen et al., 2009). Among public figures, politicians may be at greater risk of attack. Meloy and Amman’s (2016) archival descriptive study of 56 attacks on public figures in the USA over a 21-year period identified politicians, judges and athletes as the most likely targets.

A series of studies that employed a research instrument with the same core items revealed that a majority of Members of Parliament (MPs) surveyed in four countries had been subjected to at least one intrusive or aggressive behaviour. The figures were 81% in the UK, 84% in Norway, 87% in New Zealand, and 93% in Queensland, Australia. Other consistent findings included mental illness being present in 30-50% of cases (and in many more cases respondents felt unable to make a judgement concerning mental illness), 80-90% of parliamentarians being targeted by persons of interest who were fixated on a cause, a majority of parliamentarians reporting negative impact on themselves and third parties, and a majority of politicians reporting harassment via multiple modalities (letters, faxes, emails, social media contact, alarming behaviour at electoral offices and other locations, interference with private property, verbal abuse, physical attacks). Durations ranged from one hour to many years (Every-Palmer, Barry-Walsh & Pathé, 2015; (Bjelland & Bjørgo, 2014; James et al., 2016a,b; Pathé, Phillips, Perdacher & Heffernan, 2014).

The role of mental illness in the activities of fixated persons is well known. Meloy and Amman’s (2016) study showed that 44.8% of offenders were known to have a mental health problem (36% unknown). A majority (86%) of those assessed by London’s Fixated Threat Assessment Centre were diagnosed with a psychotic disorder (James et al., 2010a). Indeed, mental illness has been identified among those who inappropriately target different types of public figures and those associated with them (politicians, constituency office staff, royalty, celebrities) in a number of countries (Australia, Canada, several European countries, New Zealand, the USA), both historically and currently (see Adams et al., 2009; Dietz & Martell, 1989; Dietz et al., 1991a,b; Eke et al., 2014; Every-Palmer et al., 2015; Hoffmann, Meloy, Guldimann & Ermer, 2011; Hoffmann, Meloy & Sheridan, 2014;  James et al., 2007, James et al., 2008; James et al., 2009, James et al., 2016a,b; Lowry et al., 2015; Meloy et al., 2004; Meloy, Sheridan & Hoffmann, 2008; Meloy et al., 2010; Meloy, Hoffmann, Guldimann & James, 2012; Pathé, et al., 2014; Pathé et al., 2015; Régis, 1890; Scalora, Zimmerman, & Wells, 2008; van der Meer et al., 2012). Given that many studies ask the targets themselves to make a judgement as to whether the person who inappropriately communicated with, pursued or attacked them was likely mentally disordered, rates are likely to be underestimated because lay persons are not trained to recognise specific mental disorders or even the presence of a mental illness (see e.g. Jorm, 2000). It has further been noted that fixated persons can often, outside of the topic of their fixation, present as rational and reasonable (Fixated Research Group, 2006).

Motives for harassing dignitaries have been examined in several recent studies. James et al.’s (2016b) work obtained qualitative responses to a question asking UK MPs about the motivations of POIs and identified the following themes: Persecution by MP (conspiracy, MP perceived as harming the POI), anger at a perceived failure of the MP to help, insistent and unrealistic requests for help, amorous motivation, venting of anger, political quests, help-seeking, mental illness, and a chaotic unclear motivation. Meloy and Amman (2016) identified the most popular motivation to attack public figures as dissatisfaction with judicial or other governmental processes. A typology of the fixated was proposed by Mullen et al. (2009). Some subtypes were exclusive to POIs fixated on Royals, with those most relevant to the current context concerning the persecuted (who believe they are being persecuted by a prominent person or who plead for protection from those they believe to be harming them) and petitioners (unusually persistent individuals who seek support for a cause or assistance with a personal problem). Pathé et al. (2015) noted that 91% of cases referred to QFTAC were fixated on a cause or grievance, while 6% were fixated on a person (in 3% the focus of fixation could not be determined).

If you have any concerns about how to manage a fixated person, Defuse has a number of solutions.

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