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Understanding perceptions of stalking: the impact of additional contextual information regarding the breakdown of relationships

Simon C. Duff (Director of top‐up D. Forens is based at Centre for Forensic and Family Psychology, IWHO, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)
Adrian J. Scott (Lecturer based at Sellenger Centre, School of Law and Justice, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Australia)

Journal of Criminal Psychology

ISSN: 2009-3829

Article publication date: 20 September 2013

395

Abstract

Purpose

Perception research has demonstrated that people view stranger stalkers to be more persistent and dangerous than ex‐partner stalkers. Although these findings are consistent with the outcome of legal processes where stranger stalkers are more likely to be convicted, they contrast with the findings of national surveys and applied research where ex‐partner stalkers represent the most persistent and dangerous relational subtype. The aim of the current study is to further examine the influence of prior relationship on perceptions of stalking by considering the impact of additional contextual information regarding the breakdown of ex‐partners’ relationships for the first time.

Design/methodology/approach

In this vignette study 180 women were randomly assigned to one of seven conditions and asked to complete five 11‐point Likert scale items relating to another person's behaviour. The relationship between that person and themselves was manipulated across the seven conditions so that the person was described as either a stranger, an acquaintance, an ex‐partner or an ex‐partner with additional contextual information regarding the breakdown of the relationship.

Findings

Participants were less likely to perceive behaviour as stalking or as requiring police intervention, and were more likely to perceive themselves as responsible, when the other person was portrayed as an ex‐partner rather than a stranger. However, perceptions of ex‐partners differed considerably when contextual information regarding the breakdown of the relationship was provided.

Practical implications

The findings have important implications for victims of stalking and the legal system. Examining the influence of prior relationship on perceptions of stalking when additional contextual information is provided can be used to better inform potential victims so as to reduce the risk of serious harm. Additionally, the influence this information has on perceptions of ex‐partner stalkers may have implications for how the legal system understands and deals with ex‐partner stalking cases.

Social implications

The findings have important implications for victims of stalking and the legal system. Examining the influence of prior relationship on perceptions of stalking when additional contextual information is provided can be used to better inform potential victims so as to reduce the risk of serious harm. Additionally, the influence this information has on perceptions of ex‐partner stalkers may have implications for how the legal system understands and deals with ex‐partner stalking cases.

Originality/value

Previous research has demonstrated that perceptions of stalking are influenced by the prior relationship between the stalker and the victim. This has implications for the conviction of stalkers and intervention for stalkers and victims. This research demonstrates that with limited contextual information outlining the reason for relationship breakdown the perceptions of stalking change. This finding may be of value to individuals who do not recognise they are at risk and to the legal system.

Keywords

Citation

Duff, S.C. and Scott, A.J. (2013), "Understanding perceptions of stalking: the impact of additional contextual information regarding the breakdown of relationships", Journal of Criminal Psychology, Vol. 3 No. 2, pp. 136-144. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCP-09-2012-0005

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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