Tuesday 16 May, 2017
‘’Culture of blame’’ prompts action to combat stalking and harassment of public figures
Harassment and stalking of politicians, legal figures and public health officials has prompted a leading forensic
psychiatrist to call for greater international awareness of the issue.
Dr Michele Pathe, who played a key role in setting up the Queensland Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (QFTAC) in 2013 --
Australia’s first intelligence service that integrates mental health experts and police – said individuals with a
fixation on high profile figures were a serious concern.
These individuals as opposed to criminals and terrorist groups, posed ‘’the main risk of serious injury or death to
public officer holders in Western nations,’’ said Dr Pathe, who is speaking at the Australian and New Zealand College of
Anaesthetists (ANZCA) annual scientific meeting in Brisbane on Tuesday 16 May.
Dr Pathe is an adjunct professor at the Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance at Queensland’s Griffith
University. For the past two decades she has had a clinical and research interest in stalking, threats, lone-actor
grievance-fuelled behaviours and public figure threats.
Dr Pathe, who will be presenting a paper Intractable grievances: practising in a burgeoning culture of blame, said the
experience of the Queensland centre in handling stalking or harassment cases of public office holders highlighted the
importance of mental health treatment.
‘’There is a high prevalence of untreated, or inadequately treated, mental health disorders in this group with up to a
third having no prior contact with mental health services,’’ she explained.
Dr Pathe revealed that several State police and health departments had expressed interest in establishing their own
centres based on the Queensland approach.
The unit was set up in 2013 as a joint initiative between the Queensland police security operations unit and the State’s
forensic mental health unit.
Dr Pathe said while the centre was established to identify and help treat individuals who targeted public office holders
such as politicians, judicial officers and other public office holders by making threats or harassing them, the success
of the centre proved that the model could be extended to the broader community to potential lone actor terror threats.
The aim of the centre is to identify and intervene before a serious incident occurs and facilitate care for those with a
mental illness to protect themselves, their families and the wider community. Such intervention often results in
targeted mental health treatment.
Dr Pathe said since 2013 the centre had handled over 600 cases involving people who had posed a threat to
Queensland-based public office holders or politicians. The threat is often in the form of inappropriate letters, emails
or telephone calls or personal office visits.
The centre receives referrals from staff in Ministerial and electoral offices, the Australian Federal Police, law
enforcement agencies, the judiciary, and embassies and mental health services.
’’While we are picking up many of these fixated threats to public office holders and MPs the reality is they can pose a
broader community risk. While the threats they make to public figures are usually not followed through this can still
cause considerable damage in the community,’’ Dr Pathe said.
Dr Pathe said the incidence of harassment and stalking cases was a reminder for medical practitioners from all
disciplines to be on the alert for patients who are ‘’unreasonably persistent complainants” and how they can best
‘’Aggrieved individuals who are in pursuit of revenge and retribution are also encountered by medical practitioners,
often in the wake of some perceived adverse medical or surgical outcome.’’
‘’While physical violence is rare, they can damage reputations and careers,’’ Dr Pathe said.
The Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) is the professional organisation for about 6400
specialist anaesthetists (Fellows) and 1500 anaesthetists in training (trainees).
One of Australasia's largest specialist medical colleges, ANZCA is responsible for the training, examination and
specialist accreditation of anaesthetists and pain medicine specialists and for the standards of clinical practice in
Australia and New Zealand.