Stalking has been the subject of empirical examination for a little over 20 years. Interest in stalking – both empirical and public – has increased substantially within the last decade (see Figure 1).Â A PsycINFO search of the first decade of stalking research yields only 74 hits. In contrast, the year 2000 marked an upswing of serious investigation with the publication of the first special issue on stalking (Frieze & Davis, 2000). There were 56 publications on stalking in 2000 alone and over 600 publications on the topic published between 2000 and 2010.Â
The Rresearch on stalking has examined predictors of perpetration, consequences of victimization, and public perceptions of stalking. Within each of these domains, one of the lingering questions has been: what role does gender play in stalking? Accordingly, this special issue is intended to contribute to the literature by using gender as a focus point in 1) applying new theoretical perspectives to the study of stalking perpetration (Davis, Swan, & Gambone, this issue; Duntley & Buss, this issue), 2) extending our knowledge of women and men’s (Sheridan & Lyndon, this issue; Thompson, Dennison, & Stewart, this issue) stalking experiences, and 3) furthering the study of perceptions of stalking (Cass & Rosay, this issue; Dunlap, Hodell, Golding, & Wasarhaley, this issue; Sinclair, this issue; Yanowitz & Yanowitz, this issue).
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To place this special issue in context of the current state of knowledge on gender and stalking, we will review the state of the current research on examining the role of gender with regard to stalking victimization, perpetration, and the lay and legal perceptions of stalking. We will conclude with a summary of how each of the articles included herein contribute to our knowledge about the role of gender in stalking research. However, it is important to start with clarifying what is meant by the term “stalking.”
The model federal anti-stalking law in the US legally defines stalking as “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear” (National Criminal Justice Association Project, 1993, p. 43-44).Â Legal definitions differ across US states, but they tend to have three characteristics: 1) a pattern or “course of conduct” 2) of unwanted or intrusive harassing behaviors that 3) induces fear of bodily harm or substantial emotional distress in the target (Spitzberg, Cupach, & Ciceraro, 2010). Additional terminology has been used in stalking research to discuss unwanted attention, particularly from a romantic pursuer, that does not meet the fear or “substantial” distress criteria of anti-stalking laws. Alternative labels for these unwanted behaviors engaged in during pursuit of a romantic relationship include “unwanted pursuit” (Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Palarea, Cohen, & Rohling, 2000), “pre-stalking” (Emerson, Ferris, & Gardner, 1998), “obsessive relational intrusion” (ORI: Cupach & Spitzberg, 1998, 2004), harassment, or unwanted “courtship persistence” (Sinclair & Frieze, 2000).
Whether gender differences may emerge, particularly in perpetration and victimization statistics, may depend on whether the researcher is examining “stalking” or “unwanted pursuit.”Â In fact, as will be discussed throughout this paper, much of the debate about gender differences is largely due to two variables: 1) how stalking is operationalized and 2) what sample is examined. We turn to these issues, and others, first starting with our review of the stalking victimization literature.Â Note, our focus for the duration of this paper is on the dominant form of stalking; stalking that occurs within a relational context.
One of the questions surrounding gender differences in stalking research is whether women are more likely to be victims of stalking than men. Statistics clearly indicate that the majority of stalking cases often follows the rejection of an intimate relationship (Baum et al., 2009; Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). Historically, intimate aggression (e.g., domestic violence, acquaintance rape) has been perceived as synonymous with violence against women because it was believed that the majority of intimate aggression targeted women.Â However, this belief that victims of intimate aggression are disproportionately female has been controversial (see Archer, 2000). Likewise, we find that the assertion that stalking victims are predominantly women is not without its controversy.Â
In the first US national study of stalking victimization, Tjaden and Thoennes (1998) reported that 8% of women and 1.1% of men qualify qualified as stalking victims when the definition was limited to those who are were "extremely afraid." The victimization rate climbs climbed to 13% of women and 2.2% of men when "somewhat afraid" is was used. Thus, a gender difference was still quite apparent when fear was a criterion. In contrast, the British Crime Survey (Budd & Mattinson, 2000), which did not require any experiences of fear, reported that 4% of women and 1.7% of men were victims of persistent and unwanted attention. In a more recent US national survey, Baum et al. (2009) found that more stalking victims were women than men when using the legal definition that includes victim fear. In contrast, no gender difference emerged in harassment victimization, which does not include the fear requirement. Further, all of these studies show that women are more likely to be stalked by a prior intimate than men, who are equally likely to be stalked by acquaintances or intimates.Â
When focusing on unwanted pursuits, which can include stalking, in the relational contextS studies examining unwanted pursuit have to grapple with definitional issues as well as issues of sample. Studies of unwanted pursuit and ORI are primarily conducted among American college students and have often found few or small gender differences in rates of unwanted pursuit victimization. Among US college students, women and men who rejected a romantic relationship did not differ in their reports of experiencing unwanted pursuit behaviors, such as following and threats of physical assault (e.g., Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2000; Phillips et al., 2004; Sinclair & Frieze, 2000; Spitzberg, Nicastro, & Cousins, 1998). When differences are found, they may be minimal.Overall, Spitzberg et al.’s (2010) latest meta-analysis of US college students who experienced "persistent pursuit" found that women were 55% more likely to have been pursued than men. Comparing these statistics with national statistics which find women 3-7 times more likely to be stalked, a difference of .55 seems minimal.Â Clearly how one concludes whether someone is a victim of stalking depends not only on how one asks the question (requiring fear or not) but who one is asking (college sample vs. national sample). Yet, it seems safe to conclude that women do outnumber men when it comes to victimization rates.
Where consistent gender differences have been found is that women are more likely to view unwanted pursuit as threatening (Cupach & Spitzberg, 2000; Spitzberg et al., 2010). The inclusion of fear appears to decrease prevalence rates for men, as men are less likely to report fear than are women (Bjerregaard, 2000; Cupach & Spitzberg, 2000; Davis, Ace, & Andra, 2000; Emerson et al., 1998; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a).Â This difference in reports of fear could be due to men actually not feeling afraid, only reporting they are not afraid, or experiencing less severe stalking behavior. It is difficult to parse the true reason. In general, men appear less willing to report fear due to socially desirable responding (Sutton & Farrall, 2005) and men discount their risk of victimization (Stanko & Hobdell, 1993).Â Also, Mmany male victims of stalking do not perceive any threat from their pursuers and therefore do not identify their experience as stalking (Tjaden, Thoennes, & Allison, 2000; Sheridan, et al., 2002). Male victims of interpersonal violence report they are more likely to react with laughter than are women (Romito & Grassi, 2007) and men discount their risk of victimization (Stanko & Hobdell, 1993). Likewise, Emerson, Ferris, and Gardner’s (1998) US community sample of victims revealed that men felt less vulnerable and threatened than did women. Men who do seek protection from their ex-girlfriends may experience informal social sanctions (Hall, 1998) and be treated with contempt or laughter by legal professionals (Purcell, PathÃ©, & Mullen, 2001). Accordingly, some have argued that the law’s emphasis on fear reduces male prevalence rates (Tjaden et al., 2000) and may lead people to discount male victims who may actually need assistance from law enforcement (Baum et. al, 2009; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998).
Emphasizing fear in stalking definitions may also affect women’s reporting of intimate partner stalking. Stalking targeting women is primarily perpetrated by intimates (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a), but women are paradoxically more afraid of strangers (Pain, 1996). For example, Dietz and Martin (2007) found that women were more afraid of strangers than of boyfriends. Also, Dunn (1999) demonstrated how a group of sorority women reported that they would feel anxious if a man suddenly showed up at their doorstep, but found it romantic and flattering if he showed up with flowers especially when he was . The women also felt more flattered byan ex-partner, s than byrather than a casual dates engaging in the same behaviors. Women may thus be more likely than men to minimize unwanted pursuit when it can be interpreted as romantic (Dunn, 1999; Emerson et al., 1998; Lee, 1998), while men may be more dismissive in general. Frequency counts of stalking thus may not tell the whole story of stalking victimization. For example, general population samples in the UK and the US (Budd & Mattinson, 2000; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a) find that women are victims of intimate partner stalking, while men are equally likely to be stalked by partners and acquaintances (exception: Purcell et al.’s, 2001 Australian clinical sample); so while it is true that intimate partner stalking is the most prevalent type, there are somewhat differential experiences for women and men.
Even if it is the case that men and women may be targeted in equal numbers by unwanted pursuit behaviors (Bjerregaard, 2000; Haugaard & Seri, 2004; Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2000; Spitzberg et al., 1998), there are differences in the impact of that unwanted attention. Stalking victims report a wide range of negative consequences, including psychological health problems (e.g., depression, anxiety, PTSD symptomotology), physical health problems (e.g., disturbances in appetite and sleep, headaches, nausea, and damage from the perpetrator), economic losses (e.g., spending money on protective efforts, lost wages, and expenses), and social losses (e.g., losing touch with friends, getting unlisted phone numbers, reducing social activities) (see Bjerregaard, 2000; Centers for Disease Control, 2003; Davis et al., 2002; Dressing, Kuehner, & Gass, 2005; Kamphuis & Emmelkamp, 2001; PathÃ© & Mullen, 1997; Sheridan, Davies, & Boon, 2001). Even if it is the case that men and women may be targeted in equal numbers by unwanted pursuit behaviors (Bjerregaard, 2000; Haugaard & Seri, 2004; Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2000; Spitzberg et al., 1998), there are differences in the impact of that unwanted attention. Of these consequences, Davis et al. (2000) found that In addition to finding that female stalking victims had a higher risk of physical and mental health problems than male victims.Â Further,, once again highlighting the importance of fear, Davis et al. (2000) found that greater fear was associated with greater health problems for women, but not for men. Also, Bjerregaard (2000) found that female victims of stalking were more likely to have been physically harmed by their stalker than were male victims, and reported greater impact on their emotional health.Â It may seem as if one could draw the conclusion that women suffer greater health consequences (Jordan, 2009), but this conclusion is not without its exceptions (Pimlott-Kubiak & Cortina, 2003; Wigman, 2009) Stalking is also comorbid with physical, sexual, and psychological abuse female stalking victims experience (Brewster, 2003; Coleman, 1997; Jordan, Wilcox, & Pritchard, 2007; Logan, Leukefeld, & Walker, 2000; Mechanic, Uhlmansick, Weaver, & Resick, 2000; Spitzberg & Rhea, 1999; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). Among battered women, Mechanic and colleagues (Mechanic et al., 2000; Mechanic et al., 2002) have found that experiencing stalking contributes to higher levels of depression, fear, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than physical abuse alone.
TRANSITION NEEDED.Â Stalking victims take a variety of steps to protect themselves, including confronting the stalker (or having a third party do so), changing their home, school, or workplace, or seeking a protection order (PathÃ© & Mullen, 1997; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a). Some of the most common coping tactics for stalking victims involve a passive strategy, with tactics like ignoring or otherwise minimizing the problem (college students, Amar & Alexy, 2010, Cupach & Spitzberg, 2000; Fremouw et al., 1997; Jason, Reichler, Easton, Neal, & Wilson, 1984, self-identified victims in a Dutch community Kamphpuis, Emmelkamp, & Bartak, 2003). Women are more likely than men to seek help in general. In particular, women are more likely than men to seek counseling and to file a protection order (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a), and to take more security precautions, including avoiding people or places (Budd & Mattinson, 2000), and to confide in a close friend or family member for help (Spitzberg et al., 1998). In their study on unwanted pursuit in US college students, Cupach and Spitzberg (2000) found that women reported more interaction (e.g., yelled at the person), and protection (e.g., called the police), and less retaliation (e.g., threatened physical harm) than men. Both genders coped using evasion (e.g., ignored them). However, while men and women had different help-seeking patterns, the differences themselves were very small (Cupach & Spitzberg, 2000; Spitzberg, 2002).
In sum, gender differences emerge in more severe experiences, which usually involve a legally-defined fearful victim found in general population samples and those drawn from clinical or forensic populations (Baum, Catalano, Rand, & Rose, 2009; Bjerregaard, 2000; Sheridan, Gillett, & Davies, 2002 vs. Sheridan, Davies, & Boon, 2001; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). In contrast, studies employing college student samples that use a non-fear based definition often do not find such gender differences (Cupach & Spitzberg, 1998, 2000; Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2000; Phillips et al., 2004; Purcell, PathÃ©, & Mullen, 2002). Meta-analyses have shown that clinical and forensic samples do have higher prevalence rates than student or community samples; clinical and forensic samples also reveal a stronger pattern of male perpetrators and female victims (Spitzberg, 2002; Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007; Spitzberg, Cupach, & Ciceraro, 2010).Â We may conclude that there are meaningful gender differences in the experience of stalking, but some of these differences may be minimal (Spitzberg et al., 2010).
When it comes to examining gender differences in stalking perpetration, we are confronted with some of the same issues.Â It makes a difference whether we are examining stalking or, more broadly, unwanted pursuit behaviors.Â It also matters which sample is being examined.Â However, gender differences in rates of perpetration seem easier to come by.Â The issue of whether men stalk more than women is subject to one of the problems that drive questions of victimization: which samples we study. The issue of whether stalking is operationalized using the requirement that victims feel fear is trickier. We can’t use the same standard with perpetrators, who may not be able or willing to convey whether their victim was fearful. While we may assume that aggressive stalking behaviors like vandalism, threats, and physical harm are more severe than showing up unexpectedly or repeated phone calls, the meaning and impact of these behaviors may be similar. Depending upon the context of the behavior, even excessive declarations of love may lead to probable cause for fear (Emerson et al. 1998). However, as with victimization studies, males and females in some college student samples report no gender differences in engaging in unwanted pursuit behaviors toward an intimate partner (Cupach & Spitzberg, 2000; Dutton & Winstead, 2006; Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2000; Sinclair & Frieze, 2000). For example, Baum et al.’s (2009) found in the data from a US national US survey revealed that approximately 60% of stalkers were male, 28% were female, and the rest were unable to be identified by their victim. Overall, Spitzberg and Cupach’s (2003) meta-analysis found that males make up 82% of stalkers, while females represent 18% of stalkers. HoweverIn sum, the most recent meta-analysis of stalking and unwanted pursuit found that 23.90% of men have perpetrated stalking behavior, while compared to 11.92% of women did so (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2010).
However, as with victimization studies, some college student surveys reveal no gender differences in engaging in unwanted pursuit behaviors toward an intimate partner (Cupach & Spitzberg, 2000; Dutton & Winstead, 2006; Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2000; Sinclair & Frieze, 2000). College students frequently report engaging in unwanted pursuit behaviors, with up to 99% doing at least one (Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2000; Sinclair & Frieze, 2000). Between 30 and 36% of Davis et al.’s (2000) US college student sample reported engaging in one to five acts, and 7 to 10% reported six or more. The most frequent behaviors are various forms of unwanted communication and showing up at work/home/school. Aggressive pursuit behaviors are more infrequent (Davis et al., 2000; Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2000). In general, unwanted pursuit perpetration in college students involves similar numbers of male and female perpetrators, while stalking among general or clinical populations is predominantly perpetrated by men (Allen, Swan, & Raghavan, 2009; Baum et al., 2009; Budd & Mattinson, 2000; Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2000; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a).
This pattern parallels the findings regarding dating and domestic violence perpetration. Like the pattern between unwanted pursuit and stalking, dating violence and domestic violence involve similar behaviors with differing prevalence rates, predictors of perpetration, and consequences for women and men (Archer, 2000; Bookwala, Frieze, Smith, & Ryan, 1992). In this sense, less severe levels of unwanted pursuit or harassment may mirror Johnson’s (1995) category of common couple violence, while more severe levels of stalking equal intimate terrorism (Johnson & Ferraro, 2000). The debate of whether gender shapes the experience of IPV leads to research comparing the quantity of male and female victims and perpetrators, but also whether experiences are qualitatively different. In other words, are there gender differences in who perpetrators stalk; their choice of stalking behaviors, and their motivations?
There is some evidence that women and men engage in slightly different individual stalking behaviors. In both forensic and college student samples in the US and Australia, men are more likely to make in-person contact (e.g., “approach” behavior; Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2000; Sinclair & Frieze, 2000), to follow their victims or loiter (Purcell et al., 2001; Purcell et al., 2010), and to inflict property damage (Purcell et al., 2010). Women, on the other hand, are more likely to engage in behaviors that do not confront the target face-to-face, such as making unwanted calls or leaving unwanted phone messages (Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2000; Purcell et al., 2001; Purcell et al., 2010), spreading rumors, or employing others in harassing the victim (Purcell et al., 2010). These patterns are not universal, however, as Dutton and Winstead (2006)’s US college student sample found that women reported more monitoring and physically hurting their targets than men.
In terms of cyberstalking behaviors,. Burke, Wallen, Vail-Smith, and Knox (2011) found that US college student men were more likely than women to report experiencing and engaging in the use of spyware, photos, and cameras to monitor and pursue their partner (e.g., using GPS devices, web cams, and spyware to monitor their partner). In contrast, college student women were more likely to report excessive communication and checking behaviors (e.g., checking cell phone and e-mail histories, making excessive phone calls and e-mails, checking social networking sites, and using their partner’s passwords).. However, in a study on pursuit behaviors perpetrated on Facebook, Lyndon, Bonds-Raacke, and Cratty (in press) found no gender differences in US college students’Â in the three types of behaviors people perpetrated on Facebook to harass their ex-partner: covert provocation (20-54%; e.g., post poetry or lyrics in status updates to taunt ex-partner), venting (7-11%; e.g., write inappropriate or mean things about ex-partner on Facebook), and public harassment (3-10%; e.g., create a false Facebook profile of ex-partner). Thus far the ambiguity about whether gender differences exist in cyberpursuit appears to mirror the findings regarding unwanted pursuit behaviors for women and men, but we need more research on using technology to stalkcyberstalking, especially with perpetrators.
One of the most pressing questions regarding stalking is when it might escalate into physically violent behaviors.Â Most stalkers, however, are not violent (Purcell, PathÃ©, & Mullen, 2004; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a); half of all stalking cases involve a threat and just under a third of all stalking cases involve physical violence. Both male and female stalkers are more likely to be violent if they are an ex-intimate, are younger than 30 years of age, have less than a high school education, and have made prior threats (Rosenfeld & Harmon, 2002). Other predictors of stalking-related violence include prior criminal convictions (Mullen et al., 1999; Palrea, Zona, Lane, & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 1999). Most stalkers, however, are not violent (Purcell, PathÃ©, & Mullen, 2004; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a); half of all stalking cases involve a threat and just under a third of all stalking cases involve physical violence.
Evidence is mixed as to whether there are gender differences in those who are likely to become violent.
Some research using US college student samples suggest that female unwanted pursuit perpetrators of unwanted pursuit engage in more mild aggressive stalking behaviors than men (Dutton & Winstead, 2006; Williams & Frieze, 2005). However, other college student samples reveal no gender differences in perpetration ofÂ stalking violence (Haugaard & Seri, 2004; Sinclair & Frieze, 2002). StillIn contrast, others find that men are more likely than women to threaten their victims (Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2000) and to escalate from threats to physical assaults, as reported in both Australian forensic samples (Purcell et al., 2001) and meta-analyses (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007). Former romantic partnersEx-intimate stalkers, who are mostly male, are the most violent compared to other categories of stalkers, a pattern that is consistent across culture and sample type (McEwan, Mullen, MacKenzie, & Ogloff, 2009; Meloy, Davis, & Lovette, 2001; Mohandie, Meloy, McGowan, & Williams, 2006; Palrea, Zona, Lane, & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 1999; Sheridan, Blaauw, & Davies, 2003; Sheridan & Davies, 2001). Given that men are more likely to stalk ex-intimate partners than women (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998), it seems that we should find more male-perpetrated stalking violence.
However, other college student samples and forensic samples reveal no gender differences in perpetration ofÂ stalking violence (Haugaard & Seri, 2004; Sinclair & Frieze, 2002). HoweverFor example, current evidence with forensic samples shows no gender differences in actual stalking cases regarding stalker lethality (Mullen et al., 1999; Purcell et al., 2001; Rosenfeld & Lewis, 2005).Â Specifically, both male and female stalkers can turn violent if they are an ex-intimate, are younger than 30 years of age, have less than a high school education, and have made prior threats (Rosenfeld & Harmon, 2002).Â Evidently, more research is needed to sort out whether gender is a useful predictor of extreme stalking and violence.
While there are some differences in how men and women pursue, there also may be some differences in their motivations for doing so. Victims in general population studies often attribute the stalkers’ motivation to attempts to keep them in a relationship, as well as a desire to control the them (Budd & Mattinson, 2000; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a). Mullen and colleagues (1999) have classified their samples of clinical and forensic stalkers in Australia into five motivation groups: rejected, intimacy-seeker, incompetent suitor, resentful, and predatory types, but have not found consistent gender differences between the groups. Stalking behaviors appear to be motivated most commonly by intimacy (e.g., a desire for reconciliation and feelings of love), with the second most common motive being aggression retaliation (e.g., a desire for revenge; Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007). In fact, perpetrators often report both motives for reconciliation of a relationship and for revenge (Mullen, PathÃ©, Purcell, & Stuart, 1999; Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007). These Cclinical/forensic rejected stalkers who are motivated by a mix of reconciliation and revenge needs have a higher likelihood of assaulting their victims than other motivation groups (Mullen et al., 2006).
Gender differences in motivations for stalking have been noted in juvenile forensic samples. Juvenile female stalkers more likely to be motivated by bullying and retaliation whereas juvenile male stalkers were have been found to be motivated more by rejection and sexual predation (Purcell et al., 2010).Â In a 2001 study of adult stalkers in Australia, Purcell and colleagues found that women were more likely to target professional acquaintances and less likely to target strangers than men. Nonetheless, the majority of female stalkers were still clearly motivated by the desire to establish intimacy with their target, whereas men’s motivations were diverse, spreading across the five categories. Likewise, in Meloy’s (2003) study of 82 female stalkers from the US, Canada, and Australia, he found the female stalkers were more likely to be motivated by a desire to establish intimacy, whereas men were known to stalk to restore intimacy. Ultimately, Tthere is a large gap in stalking motivation research, particularly using non-forensic samples.Â
Clinical/forensic rejected stalkers who are motivated by a mix of reconciliation and revenge needs have a higher likelihood of assaulting their victims than other motivation groups (Mullen et al., 2006). Both male and female stalkers are more likely to be violent if they are an ex-intimate, are younger than 30 years of age, have less than a high school education, and have made prior threats (Rosenfeld & Harmon, 2002). Other predictors of stalking-related violence include prior criminal convictions (Mullen et al., 1999; Palrea, Zona, Lane, & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 1999). Most stalkers, however, are not violent (Purcell, PathÃ©, & Mullen, 2004; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a); half of all stalking cases involve a threat and just under a third of all stalking cases involve physical violence.
Evidence is mixed as to whether there are gender differences in those who are likely to become violent. Some research using US college student samples suggest that female unwanted pursuit perpetrators engage in more mild aggressive stalking behaviors (Dutton & Winstead, 2006; Williams & Frieze, 2005). However, other college student samples reveal no gender differences in perpetration ofÂ stalking violence (Haugaard & Seri, 2004; Sinclair & Frieze, 2002). Still others find that men are more likely than women to threaten their victims (Langhinrichsen-Rohling et al., 2000) and to escalate from threats to physical assaults, as reported in both Australian forensic samples (Purcell et al., 2001) and meta-analyses (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007). Former romantic partners are the most violent compared to other categories of stalkers, a pattern that is consistent across culture and sample type (McEwan, Mullen, MacKenzie, & Ogloff, 2009; Meloy, Davis, & Lovette, 2001; Mohandie, Meloy, McGowan, & Williams, 2006; Palrea, Zona, Lane, & Langhinrichsen-Rohling, 1999; Sheridan, Blaauw, & Davies, 2003; Sheridan & Davies, 2001). Given that men are more likely to stalk ex-intimate partners than women (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998), it seems that we should find more male-perpetrated stalking violence. However, current evidence with forensic samples shows no gender differences in actual stalking cases regarding stalker lethality (Mullen et al., 1999; Purcell et al., 2001; Rosenfeld & Lewis, 2005).Â
Single surveys of Ccollege student samples ofabout unwanted pursuit and obsessive relational intrusion are the least likely to find fewgender differences in perpetration rates. However, meta-analyses and US and UK general population studies find that men are more likely to be stalking perpetrators than women, regardless of the victims’ gender (Baum et al., 2009; Budd & Mattinson, 2000; Spitzberg, 2002; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a).While the size of this gender difference varies, it is consistent across methodologies (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2003). There are some gender differences in the types of stalking and cyberstalking perpetrationbehaviors – e.g., men being more direct and women more indirect – and in pursuers’ motives – women being predominantly motivated by intimacy-seeking and men having a broader array of motives. However, we need more research on perpetration to better understand if gender is an important predictor to consider, especially with regard to the likelihood of escalation.Â with a variety of samples and with better means of differentiating unwanted pursuit from stalking.
As attention to the problem of stalking has increased, so has public opinion been shaped.Â However, there is not a true consensus in these opinions. Rather, people vary in how much they understand about stalking.Â It can be unclear when the line betweenÂ normal relational pursuit and stalking is crossed (Dunn, 1999; Emerson et al., 1998; Lee, 1998; Sinclair & Frieze, 2000, 2005). Perceptions can also diverge regarding multiple issues including: 1) which behaviors qualify as stalking, 2) how many behavior are enough to represent a “course of conduct,” 3) is stalking really serious, 4) whatÂ perpetrator intent may have been, 5) whether and how we should incorporate victim fear levels to judge stalking severity, and 6) what is “real” stalking (e.g., stranger vs. acquaintance stalking). Within each of these issues, gender may influence the perceptions people hold, both lay persons and legal decision-makers.
The literature is still mixed as to whether men and women differ in judgments to use a label of "stalking." Some researchers report that men and women do not differ in terms of which behaviors qualify as stalking (e.g., Kinkade, Burns, & Fuentes, 2005; Phillips et al., 2004, in Experiment 1; Sheridan & Davies, 2001; Sheridan, Davies, & Boon, 2001; Sheridan et al., 2002; Sheridan, Gillet, Davies, Blaauw, & Patel, 2003). Others have found that female participants are more likely than male participants to identify certain behaviors as stalking (e.g., Dennison & Thomson, 2002; Hills & Taplin, 1998; Phillips et al., 2004, in Experiment 2; Yanowitz, 2006). Clearer gender differences seem to emerge whenever men and women are judging “prototypical” stalking cases that involve a female victim and a male perpetrator. Laypersons may not be the best judge of what constitutes stalking; even victims’ own definitions of stalking may not match the legal requirements (Tjaden et al., 2000).
Where relatively consistent gender differences do emerge are in questions of incident seriousness and whether the perpetrator actually intended to cause harm or fear. Female participants more often view stalking behaviors as more serious than male observers, especially if a scenario depicted a male perpetrator stalking a female victim (as found in both US and Australian college student samples, e.g., Cupach & Spitzberg, 2000; Dennison, 2007; Dennison & Thomson, 2002; Hills & Taplin, 1998). For example, in Cupach and Spitzberg’s (2000) US college student sample, women judged a variety of pursuit behaviors as more annoying, upsetting, threatening, and violating than did men. Women are also more likely to judge that the perpetrator intended to cause harm and fear (Dennison & Thomson, 2002), and feel to call for police intervention is needed, and to feel afraidin response to the stalking (as found in an Australian community-based sample, Hills & Taplin, 1998). However, it should be noted that in Dennison’s (2007) study with Australian college students that without explicit evidence of intent, male and female observers’ perception of seriousness was the same. These data show that the question is more complex than that of whether there are perceiver gender differences in labeling stalking; participants may simultaneously consider gender, prior relationship, and intent in judgments of seriousness, threat, and danger to the victim.
Several researchers in US, UK, and Australian using student samples have found that participants judge male and female stalking victims differently (Dennison & Thomson, 2002; Phillips et al., 2004; Sheridan et al., 2003; Sheridan & Scott, 2010), while similar samples have found no differences in judgments of male and female victims (Kinkade et al., 2005; Phillips et al., 2004; Sheridan, Gillett & Davies, 2002). Generally we find that the gender of the perpetrator does not influence people’s perceptions of whether behaviors constitute stalking (e.g., Dennison, 2007; Kinkade et al., 2005; Phillips et al., 2004; Sheridan et al., 2003). However, we do find gender differences for slightly different questions. In cases of heterosexual intimate partner stalking, male stalkers are seen as more serious, threatening, and injurious than female stalkers (e.g., Cupach & Spitzberg, 2004; Phillips et al., 2004; Sheridan et al., 2003; Sheridan & Scott, 2010). In contrast, Mmale victims of stalking are generally judged both as more responsible for their own victimization and able to handle the situation more than female victims (e.g., Hall, 1998; Phillips et al., 2004; Purcell et al., 2001; Sheridan et al., 2003). In sum, women’s pursuit of men is judged as less serious than men’s pursuit of women (Sheridan et al., 2003; Sheridan & Scott, 2010).
On the other hand, women’s obsessive pursuit, particularly aggressive pursuit, may be seen as more unnatural because it is a violation of gender norms. Like girls who engage in physical or verbal aggression and are subsequently more socially rejected than aggressive boys (Bukowski, Gauze, Hoza, & Newcomb, 1993; Kerestes & Milanovic, 2006; Salmivalli, Kaukianen, & Lagerspetz, 2000), male pursuers may be viewed more leniently favorably than female pursuers in unwanted pursuit scenarios. As suggested by de Becker (1996, p. 38) that "If a man in the movies wants a sexual encounter or applies persistence, he’s a regular, everyday guy, but if a woman does the same thing, she’s a maniac or a killer." After all, his behavior falls within the “game of love” and courtship processes, but the female pursuer is stepping outside of proscribed gender roles, and thus may be viewed more negatively for violating norms. Indeed, in Dunn’s (1999, 2002) study, fraternity men characterized the unwanted pursuit behaviors of a woman as “pathetic” and “disturbed” whereas sorority women described the actions of a male pursuer in more romantic terms. Wayne and colleagues (2001; see also Wayne, 2000) have found that women harassing men were more likely to be found guilty than the inverse in a hostile work environment case.Accordingly, male pursuers might be seen as more normative than female pursuers.Â However, men as stalkers are deemed more of a threat than women.
The Thin Blue Line Between Love and Hate: Perceptions of Stalking in the Legal System
Thus far, the review of perceptions has focused on studies of college students, or lay person, samples. It is critical that more research be conducted with law enforcement professionals.Many law officials believe that the anti-stalking laws are effective and are serving to prevent a great deal of stalking behaviors (National Institute of Justice, 1996). Yet reports from victims tend to tell a different story: that law enforcement doesn’t seem to take stalking very seriously. While one ideally hopes that stalking cases are judged on their own merits, it is clear that certain biases come into play (Baum et al., 2009; Kamphuis et al., 2005; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a). When men and women do need assistance or legal intervention, the legal system may not regard their situation as serious. Law enforcement personnel might not know how to differentiate stalking from domestic violence, especially when justice system representatives tend to rely on physical harm rather than psychological harm when assessing the seriousness of a situation (Finch, 2001).
As with lay person perceptions, law enforcement officers’ judgments appear to be swayed by such factors as the gender of the victim or perpetrator and their relationship. Some police officers feel that stranger stalking is more serious than intimate partner stalking resulting in more need for intervention and arrest of a of stranger stalkers than intimates (Farrell et al., 2000; Logan, Walker, Stewart, & Allen, 2006; Modena Group on Stalking, 2005). Conviction rates are higher for stranger stalkers, even though intimate partner stalkers are more violent (Sheridan & Davies, 2001). Further, police officers are not always able to correctly identify cases of intimate partner stalking (Klein, Salomon, Huntington, Dubois, & Lang, 2009; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a). Klein et al. (2009) reviewed all the reports of domestic violence filed in Rhode Island for a year and found that for every incident police accurately identified as a stalking case, researchers found another twenty that also fit the legal definition of stalking. Police more readily identified cases as stalking when the perpetrator was male (Klein et al., 2009).Â
Only one study has experimentally law enforcement personnel’s judgments of stalking, conducted with four different European samples of police officers (Kamphuis et al., 2005).These police officers were able to discriminate between stalking and non-stalking scenarios, but they were biased in other ways. Specifically, Italian and Belgian police officers were more likely to blame on the victim for the stalking and endorse stalking myths, such a belief that stalking is flattering.Â Italian police officers were the least sensitive officials to victim reports of stalking.Â As a result, stalking victims may not receive appropriate police intervention and protection.
Victims report that the perpetrator ended the stalking because of informal, rather than formal interventions by law enforcement (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a). Of the people who reported stalking, only 8% reported that the perpetrator was arrested and 20% said that the police did not take any action at all. Not all are unsatisfied, however, as 61% victims of stalking in the UK who reported the stalking to police said that they were satisfied with the police intervention (Budd & Mattinson, 2000).
The victim’s gender also appears to influence the way that police officers respond to stalking situations once the crime is identified. US general population studies find that victims report that law enforcement officials provided female stalking victims with more information about protective services than to male victims; officials are also more likely to arrest stalking perpetrators when the victim was a woman. These results are consistent with the perception that male victims should be “man enough” to take care of themselves. Female stalking victims are also more likely to have their stalkers criminally prosecuted than male victims, even though men and women are equally likely to report stalking to the police (Baum et. al, 2009; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a). In a US forensic sample of victims who took their cases through the court system, women who suffered both domestic violence and stalking from former intimate partners were more likely to employ the help of law enforcement to prevent future violence and stalking instances. While there was a decrease in physical violence after police intervention for these victims, stalking behaviors lasted longer in both strength and frequency (Melton, 2007).Â
Only one study has experimentally examined law enforcement personnel’s judgments of stalking with four different European samples of police officers (Kamphuis et al., 2005).These police officers were able to discriminate between stalking and non-stalking scenarios, but they were biased in other ways. Specifically, Kamphuis et al. (2005) found that the attitudes these professional held about stalking (such as “Stalkers only continue because they get some sort of encouragement”) were the strongest predictor (beyond gender, profession, country, existence of anti-stalking statutes) of their likelihood to label stalking behavior, and, if labeled, to normalize – instead of criminalize – stalking behavior.Â As this research is relatively new, it remains to be seen whether attitudes – such as misconceptions about stalking – do consistently explain when gender differences might appear.Â Such is one of the contributions of one of the articles in the present special issue.Â We turn to the new articles now.
We have reviewed the current state of the literature regarding the role of gender in stalking research. We are able to make certain conclusions: that women are more likely to be stalked than are men; that men are more likely to be perpetrators; that fear is a strong determinant of the prevalence and perception of stalking, and that we have as many questions as answers in our review. This special issue hopes to clarify some of the equivocal findings and to extend our knowledge of men’s and women’s experiences with stalking in new and fruitful ways.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that stalking results in $342 million a year of direct and indirect costs borne by society due to stalking, with $2.1 million on mental health care visits related to stalking. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2003). While there is some evidence that women experience more stalking-related health problems (Davis et al., 2002), but others have found no difference between men’s and women’s physical and psychological consequences of being stalked (Dressing, Kuhner, & Gass, 2005). Sheridan and Lyndon (this issue) examine underlying connections between stalking and such consequences by considering the following relationships: 1) There are serious consequences to being stalked (CDC, 2003; Davis et al., 2002), 2) these consequences are more severe in intimate partner stalking than other types (Sheridan & Davies, 2001; Thomas et al., 2008), and 3) women are more likely to be stalked by an intimate partner than are men (Budd & Mattinson, 2000; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a). In addition, the authors explore the link between gender, fear, and consequences in that women have higher levels of fear of crime than men (Fisher, 1995; Warr, 2000) and greater fear is associated with greater stalking-related health problems (Davis et al., 2002).Â Thus, Sheridan and Lyndon test whether the level of fear and the perpetrator and the victim’s prior relationship better predicts the psychological, physical, social, and economic consequences to the victim than their gender, with a special emphasis on how fear may lead to gendered consequences.
While most stalking does not result in violence (Purcell et al., 2004; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a), it may be deadly when present (McFarlane et al., 1999).One possible outcome of stalking is violence escalation. Although most stalking does not result in violence, Rresearchers have identified several risk factors for increased stalking-related violence, including a prior intimate relationship, prior threats, motivation to seek revenge, and perpetrator substance abuse (Rosenfeld & Harmon, 2002; Rosenfeld & Lewis, 2005). However, as noted above, Rresearchers have not consistently found gender differences in stalking violence (Budd & Mattinson, 2000; PathÃ© & Mullen, 1997; Thomas, Purcell, PathÃ©, & Mullen, 2008). Thompson et al. (this issue) examine stalking-related violence performed by college student intimate partner stalkers in Australia. The authors question whether we underestimate moderate violence by female stalkers and examine whether commonly held sociocultural beliefs may lead female perpetrators to justify their level of moderately violent behavior within the context of intimate partner stalking.
Early discussions on stalking were spurred by the murder of an actress by an obsessed fan; the typical stalker, however, is not a crazed fan (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). The other end of the spectrum of stalking are culturally-approved romantic tactics that may become stalking when they are unwanted (Emerson et al., 1998; Lee, 1998). To investigate where the typical perception of stalking lies within this spectrum, Yanowitz and Yanowitz (this issue) use open prompts to identify US college students’ stalking scripts. These scripts help to determine whether the prototypical stalking case is "romantic" or "crazy" and whether there are gender differences in perceptions of what constitutes a typical stalking incident.
Sinclair (this issue) also examines people’s attitudes about what is typical about stalking cases.Â Specifically, she examines how endorsement of stereotypes about stalking – termed stalking myths – may affect how we assign blame in potential stalking cases. She argues that endorsement of these beliefs could explain gender differences – both gender of the perceiver and the genders of those involved in the stalking incident – in perceptions of stalking cases.Â
Also examining perceptions of stalking cases, Cass and Rosay (this issue) explore how the incidenta case may make its way through the criminal justice system. Stalking victims in the US report dissatisfaction with the handling of their case throughout the legal process (Baum et al., 2009; Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998a). In this study, college students act as potential law enforcement officers and judge the extent to which potential stalking cases will be investigated, lead to an arrest, whether charges will be filed, the defendant convicted, and sentenced. Participants’ judgments are hypothesized to depend upon the target and offender gender, as well as their relationship.
Dunlap et al. (this issue) takes the typical vignette study a step further by folding it into a mock juror study. Previous perception research asked people to judge whether they believed a set of behaviors constitute stalking. Dunlap et al. focus on legal judgments of a case of heterosexual intimate partner stalking that vary based on legal (fear expressed by the victim) and extra-legal (victim gender) factors. The authors test several explanations of why women and men may make differential legal judgments in stalking cases, including whether women will defensively blame female victims.
Lastly, Oone of the ways this special issue adds to our knowledge is through contributing to our theoretical understanding of stalking. To date, much of stalking research has been problem-based instead of theory-based.Â Integrating a theoretical approach could provide guidance for when gender differences may and may not be found. Duntley and Buss (this issue) outline how stalking may be shaped by evolutionary processes as a functional mating strategy. The authors hypothesize eight functions of stalking, including acquiring, guarding, and reacquiring a mate. While some functions apply equally well to men and women, others are more gendered.Â The authors propose 30 falsifiable hypotheses to stimulate testing of the theory. Davis et al. (this issue) also provide needed theoretical guidance. The authors review relevant theories as they apply to stalking: relational goal pursuit theory (Cupach & Spitzberg, 2004), adult attachment theory (Hazan & Shaver, 1987), and coercive control theory (Dutton & Goodman, 2005). In particular, Davis and colleagues use these theories to highlight the context, means, and motives of stalking for women and men, suggesting ways to integrate these theories, along with new gender-sensitive methods of measurement in new investigations.
In sum, each article provides one more piece to the puzzle of “understanding stalking.”Â From tackling the lingering issues of the importance of fear or biased attitudes in explaining gender differences to providing new theory-grounded directions for future research, we believe the present issue makes a valuable contribution to the field.Â Hopefully the next decade will see as much of an exponential boom in stalking research as the last decade, and the present contributions will be a part of that advance.
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