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“It's Not Really Stalking If You Know the Person”: Measuring Community Attitudes That Normalize, Justify and Minimise Stalking

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It has been hypothesised that attitudes minimising, justifying and normalising stalking exist in the community, influencing whether or not stalking is recognised, and potentially affecting the responses of police and others to whom victims turn for support. This study investigates the nature of these attitudes as measured using the Stalking Related Attitudes Questionnaire (SRAQ). Two hundred and forty-four community members and 280 police officers in Victoria, Australia (total sample 61% male, mean age=43.3, SD = 13.3) completed the SRAQ. Full information factor analysis identified three underlying stalking-related attitudes: “stalking isn't serious”, “stalking is romantic” and “victims are to blame”. Males endorsed all to a greater extent than females, whereas police and community only differed in that police believed stalking to be more serious. Stronger stereotype endorsement was related to judgements of not guilty in a fictional stalking case. These results indicate that attitudes and beliefs that downplay, excuse and normalise stalking behaviour can be measured, and have some influence on recognition of stalking behaviour.
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“It’s Not Really Stalking If You Know the Person”: Measuring Community
Attitudes That Normalize, Justify and Minimise Stalking
Bronwyn McKeon
a,b
, Troy E. McEwan
a,c
and Stefan Luebbers
a,c,d
a
Victorian Institute of Forensic Mental Health, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia;
b
Monash University,
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia;
c
Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Swinburne University of
Technology, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia;
d
Early in Life Mental Health Service, Clayton, Victoria, Australia
It has been hypothesised that attitudes minimising, justifying and normalising stalking exist
in the community, influencing whether or not stalking is recognised, and potentially affecting
the responses of police and others to whom victims turn for support. This study investigates
the nature of these attitudes as measured using the Stalking Related Attitudes Questionnaire
(SRAQ). Two hundred and forty-four community members and 280 police officers in
Victoria, Australia (total sample 61% male, mean age D43.3, SD D13.3) completed the
SRAQ. Full information factor analysis identified three underlying stalking-related attitudes:
“stalking isn’t serious”, “stalking is romantic” and “victims are to blame”. Males endorsed
all to a greater extent than females, whereas police and community only differed in that
police believed stalking to be more serious. Stronger stereotype endorsement was related to
judgements of not guilty in a fictional stalking case. These results indicate that attitudes and
beliefs that downplay, excuse and normalise stalking behaviour can be measured, and have
some influence on recognition of stalking behaviour.
Key words: attitudes; perceptions of stalking; stalking; stalking myths.
Stalking is broadly defined as a pattern of
repeated and unwanted contacts that are expe-
rienced as intrusive by the recipient, and lead
them to feel distressed or fearful (Mullen,
Path!
e, & Purcell, 2001). Approximately 20%
of people in English-speaking industrialised
nations report lifetime experience of stalking
of this nature (Spitzberg, Cupach, & Cice-
raro, 2010). Using this definition, the person
who makes threatening phone calls to their
ex-partner, posts compromising material
about them on the Internet and loiters outside
their home for months after the relationship
has ended is clearly stalking. Conversely, the
person who gets into a fight at a bar and
makes a one-off threat to harm another patron
is clearly not stalking. Yet between these
extremes lies a large grey area in which
unwanted behaviour may be construed as
stalking, depending on the perceptions of the
target. Unlike almost any other crime, stalk-
ing lies in the eye of the beholder; it is not the
intentions of the perpetrator that are the defin-
ing element but the reactions of the target
who, experiencing themselves as victimised,
identifies when stalking has occurred (Mullen,
Path!
e, & Purcell, 2000; Sinclair & Frieze,
2000). It is this “victim-defined” element of
stalking that means community perceptions
of what does and does not constitute stalking
are of real consequence. Perceptions of stalk-
ing affect whether perpetrators understand
Correspondence: Bronwyn McKeon, Forensicare, Locked Bag 10, Fairfield, VIC 3078, Australia. Email:
bronwyn.mckeon@forensicare.vic.gov.au
!2014 The Australian and New Zealand Association of Psychiatry, Psychology and Law
Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, 2014
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13218719.2014.945637
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their behaviour to be problematic, whether
targets recognise victimisation and, if they
do, whether they are able to obtain assistance
from others. The perceptions of health profes-
sionals, police officers, friends and family
members must match those of the victim if
their concerns are to be recognised and
responded to appropriately (Scott, Rajakar-
una, Sheridan, & Sleath, 2014).
Perceptions of Stalking
Since the introduction of the first anti-stalking
laws in the 1990s, research has revealed dis-
crepancies between the legal construct of
stalking, community perceptions and the
reported experiences of victims. An early
study of a small sample of Australian police
found that some officers were less likely to
use stalking legislation when prosecuting ex-
partner cases because they were viewed as
“domestic” situations in which stalking
charges were not appropriate (Pearce & East-
eal, 1999). Experimental research in the years
since has shown differences in attitudes
towards ex-partner stalkers versus strangers
and acquaintances in a wide variety of sam-
ples. When presented with short stalking
vignettes in which the prior relationship
between victim and stalker is manipulated,
all respondents, whether male or female, gen-
eral community or police officers, are more
likely to identify unwanted intrusions by
strangers as stalking. Strangers are also
judged to present a greater threat and require
more police response than ex-partners or
acquaintances (Hills & Taplin, 1998; Phillips,
Quirk, Rosenfeld, & O’Connor, 2004; Scott,
Lloyd, & Gavin, 2010; Scott, Nixon, & Sheri-
dan, 2013; Scott et al., 2014; Scott & Sheri-
dan, 2010; Sheridan, Gillett, Davies, Blaauw,
& Patel, 2003; Weller, Hope, & Sheridan,
2013). Recent research by Scott and col-
leagues (2013) and Weller and colleagues
(2013) demonstrates that even among police
who have specialist training or direct experi-
ence with stalking cases, stranger stalkers are
viewed as more problematic or a greater
threat. This widespread perception runs
counter to findings from real-world studies of
perpetrators and victims. This literature
shows that strangers are less likely to persist
in their behaviour and are far less likely to
use physical violence than ex-intimate
stalkers (McEwan, Mullen, & MacKenzie,
2009; McEwan, Mullen, MacKenzie, & Ogl-
off, 2009; Palarea, Zona, Lane, & Langhin-
richsen-Rohling, 1999; Purcell, Path!
e, &
Mullen, 2004). As evidenced by Pearce and
Easteal’s (1999) field research, mispercep-
tions about ex-intimate stalking may mean
that these victims are not actively assisted in
pursuing legal remedies, and they may be less
inclined to seek help.
In addition to prior relationship, percep-
tions of stalking have been shown to differ
depending on the nature of the behaviour.
Ambiguous scenarios are more likely to be
considered stalking when the behaviour is
more persistent (either repeated for longer or
more frequent), explicitly threatening, and
there is clear intent to harm on the part of the
perpetrator (Dennison, 2007; Dennison &
Thomson, 2002; Phillips et al., 2004; Scott
et al., 2014). Sheridan and Scott’s (2010)
findings suggest that people rely mostly on
evidence of overt aggression when identify-
ing stalking, to the exclusion of other indica-
tors. Their sample of British undergraduates
judged persistent relationship pursuit lasting
for 12 months to be stalking only when it
involved physical violence or a threat (other
kinds of verbal abuse had no effect on judge-
ments). The vignettes used in this study
clearly described a prototypical stalking epi-
sode involving both “romantic” and “non-
romantic” behaviours (leaving flowers, notes
and letters declaring love, following, silent
telephone calls and approaches). The reliance
on overt aggression in perceptions of stalking
is concerning because the majority of stalking
victims are not subject to physical violence,
and threats, although common, are not ubiq-
uitous (Dressing, Kuehner, & Gass, 2005;
Morris, Anderson, & Murray, 2002; Purcell,
Path!
e, & Mullen, 2002; Tjaden & Thoennes,
2B. McKeon et al.
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1998). Moreover, persistent stalking is asso-
ciated with harm to victims, regardless of
whether the stalking involves overt aggres-
sion (Purcell, Path!
e, & Mullen, 2005). These
findings suggest that the experiences of some
victims may go unrecognised or be mini-
mised by family, friends or helping professio-
nals, limiting access to necessary support and
assistance.
Stalking Knowledge Structures
It is unclear why one person’s acts are per-
ceived as stalking while another’s identical
behaviours are not. A likely explanation lies
in the knowledge structures that represent
stalking, including beliefs, attitudes and more
complex mental representations such as sche-
mas. Copson and Marshall (2002) were the
first to suggest that beliefs and attitudes may
exist that are untrue but which serve to
justify and/or minimise stalking and blame
the victim. They hypothesised that these
“stalking myths” may include beliefs that vic-
tims secretly like the attention; they must
have led the perpetrator on in some way;
must be imagining it, must be hysterical or
misinterpreting innocent expressions of inter-
est (i.e., over-reacting). At the same time,
Spitzberg and Cadiz (2002) proposed that
perceptions of stalking are likely to be
affected by common stalking stereotypes,
which are fuelled by media representations.
They suggested the existence of a number of
incorrect but widely accepted stereotypes,
including: stalking is a crime committed by
strangers (when most victims are actually
stalked by someone known to them; Spitz-
berg & Cupach, 2007); women are the only
victims of stalking (surveys show that
20!30% of victims are male; Spitzberg et al.,
2010); stalkers are psychopathic and violent
(violence is estimated to occur in 20!30% of
cases and psychopathy is rare; McEwan, Mul-
len, & Purcell, 2007; Storey, Hart, Meloy, &
Reavis, 2009); and stalking is tangibly differ-
ent to romantic pursuit (many stalking epi-
sodes are actually inept or coercive attempts
to pursue romance; Mullen, Path!
e, & Purcell,
2009). If these incorrect beliefs are present in
the community as Copson and Marshall
(2002) and Spitzberg and Cadiz (2002) sug-
gest, they may explain the pattern of results
observed in the perception studies previous
discussed. Stereotype-consistent scenarios
(e.g., a stranger stalker targeting a woman)
may be more likely to be judged as stalking,
whereas behaviours in inconsistent scenarios
(e.g., ex-partner using “romantic” approaches)
are minimised or otherwise disregarded.
Yanowitz (2006) expanded on the notion
of stalking stereotypes in her investigation of
mental representations of stalking (stalking
schemas). She proposed that gender and per-
sonal experience would affect stalking sche-
mas, influencing perceptions of whether
particular behaviours constituted stalking.
This was borne out among 102 US under-
graduates, when men with no stalking experi-
ence identified fewer approach behaviours as
stalking compared with women and men who
had been stalking victims. Yanowitz sug-
gested that in the absence of personal experi-
ence, these men’s stalking schemas might be
heavily influenced by inaccurate media por-
trayals of stranger stalkers engaging in
overtly aggressive behaviour. This type of
mental representation would exclude milder
approach behaviours by non-strangers and so
influence what is perceived as stalking.
Recently, Lambert, Smith, Geistman, Cluse-
Tolar, and Jiang (2013) obtained a similar
result in their study of 2174 US undergradu-
ates. In that study, men and women who
reported no experience of stalking were more
likely to agree that strangers were likely to be
targets of stalking. Although neither of these
studies directly tested Spitzberg and Cadiz’s
(2002) stereotypes, the findings are broadly
consistent with their suggestion that stalking
is commonly believed to be the act of a vio-
lent stranger and inconsistent situations are
discounted.
Taking a different approach, Yanowitz
and Yanowitz (2012) recently examined the
hypothesis that stalking is perceived as
Measuring Community Attitudes Towards Stalking 3
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clearly distinguishable from romantic pursuit.
They asked 154 students to generate “stalking
scripts”, procedural accounts of what they
think happens during stalking. The majority
of participants described a male perpetrator
and female victim, and 66% identified stalk-
ing perpetrated by a stranger or acquaintance
rather than an ex-intimate. Male participants
were less likely than females to describe
“romantic” behaviours in their stalking
scripts (e.g., sending gifts, asking someone
out), but there were no gender differences in
the frequency with which more disquieting or
overtly aggressive behaviours were described
(e.g., surveillance, forced interaction, physi-
cal violence). This finding suggests that
although many characteristics of stalking
schemas do not differ between genders, men
may be less likely than women to identify
symbolically “romantic” behaviours as stalk-
ing !reflecting Spitzberg and Cadiz’s (2002)
suggestion that stalking is perceived as distin-
guishable from romantic pursuit. Lambert
and colleagues (2013) used a very different
methodology to investigate the same ques-
tion, directly asking participants whether it
was difficult to distinguish between courtship
and stalking. Both male and female respond-
ents reported that the line between romantic
behaviours and stalking is blurred rather than
clear-cut and personal experience of stalking
had no effect on this belief. Although this
result is inconsistent with Spitzberg and
Cadiz’s (2002) stereotype, it requires further
investigation because the ascertainment
method was potentially problematic. Partici-
pants in Lambert and colleagues’ study were
asked only two questions, both of which
minimised the differences between courtship
and stalking. Given the somewhat contradic-
tory findings, further research about percep-
tions of the relationship between stalking and
courtship is warranted.
Measuring Stalking Knowledge Structures
To date, two measures of stalking knowledge
structures have been developed: the Stalking-
Related Attitudes Questionnaire (SRAQ),
developed in 2002 (McKeon, 2010)andpre-
sented in this study, and the Stalking Myths
Scale (SMS, Sinclair, 2012). Both scales
attempt to measure stalking-related attitudes
and beliefs by asking participants to agree or
disagree with statements about stalking. Using
the SMS, Sinclair (2012) found that endorse-
ment of stalking myths was associated with
negative internal attributions to fictional stalk-
ing targets (they were being targeted due to
flaws in their character) and external attribu-
tions to fictional stalking perpetrators (they
were using persistent pursuit due to contextual
factors rather than flawed character). Sinclair
interpreted these findings as evidence that per-
ceptions of stalking are affected by similar
stereotypes to other forms of intimate aggres-
sion, such as victim blaming, and that these
stereotypes (myths) are related to attributions
about perpetrators and victims. To date, the
SMS has only been analysed as an overall
measure of “stalking myths” and it is unclear
whether the SMS is measuring a uni- or multi-
dimensional construct.
The results of an early study using the
SRAQ suggest that the stalking myth con-
struct may not be unidimensional. Kamphuis
et al. (2005) used a principal components
analysis (PCA) to examine the SRAQ
responses of 516 police and general practi-
tioners from Belgium, the United Kingdom,
the Netherlands and Italy. Responses on items
clustered into three identifiable components,
which the authors labelled “blame the vic-
tim”, “see stalking as a nuisance” and
“stalking is flattering”. Items in the first two
components were strongly associated with
failure to recognise stalking behaviour and
degree of normalisation of stalking in a sub-
sequent vignette task (see also DeFazio &
Galeazzi, 2004 for detailed analysis of the
Italian sample). Unfortunately, the choice of
PCA limits the conclusions that can be drawn
about the presence of underlying stalking
stereotypes in this sample. Components pro-
duced by PCA are simply aggregates of cor-
related variables rather than reflecting some
4B. McKeon et al.
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underlying process, meaning it is unclear
whether the three identified components reflect
underlying attitudes that cause responses or
are simply an artefact of the empirical associa-
tions between items (Tabachnick & Fidell,
2013).
Aims of the Study
This study aimed to investigate attitudes and
beliefs about stalking that influence responses
to the SRAQ. Understanding and being able
to measure stalking knowledge structures
reliably would be of use in anti-stalking edu-
cation campaigns and offender and victim
treatment programmes. The primary aim of
the study was to investigate the latent factor
structure of the SRAQ. The primary research
question was whether the SRAQ was best
represented by a one-, two- or three-factor
structure, and whether identified factors
reflected stalking myths or stereotypes that
have been hypothesised in the literature. Sec-
ondary aims were to determine whether gen-
der differences were evident in attitudes and
beliefs about stalking; to examine attitude
and belief differences between general
community members and police officers;
and finally, to determine whether attitude
endorsement had any effect on determination
of guilt in a fictional stalking case. Based on
the extant research literature, we hypothes-
ised that males would more strongly endorse
stalking-supportive beliefs and attitudes than
females, and that police would endorse stalk-
ing myths to a lesser extent than other com-
munity members. We also hypothesised that
stronger endorsement of stalking myths, rep-
resented by higher overall scores on the
SRAQ, would be associated with judgements
that perpetrators were “not guilty” in fictional
stalking cases.
Method
Participants
One thousand two hundred potential partici-
pants from the general community were
randomly identified from the residential tele-
phone book for the state of Victoria, Australia
(population approximately five million). In
addition, 625 uniformed police officers were
randomly identified as potential participants
by their employer, Victoria Police. Two hun-
dred and fifty-six community members and
284 police officers returned surveys (response
rates of 24% and 45% respectively). Sixteen
participants were not included because they
had completed fewer than 90% of SRAQ
items, leaving a final sample of 524 partici-
pants (244 community, 280 police members),
which was predominantly male (total 60.9%;
community 46.9%; police 73.2%). Eighty-
two per cent of the sample was born in Aus-
tralia. Total sample mean age was 43.2 years
(range 20!84, SD D13.3), with the police
subsample reporting a reduced age range
(20!63 years) and being on average 10 years
younger than community respondents
(38.5 vs 48.9 years, SD D8.0 and 16.1 respec-
tively, (t(487) D9.19, p<.001, dD.81).
Prior to data collection, the research was
approved by the Monash University Human
Research Ethics Committee.
Procedure and Materials
Participants were mailed the research materi-
als and a reminder letter was sent two weeks
after the original mail-out. Each potential
participant received a package containing
an explanatory letter and return envelope,
a demographic questionnaire, a one-page
vignette describing a stalking situation, a
copy of the Victorian Crimes Act (1958)
s21A, which criminalises stalking, a ques-
tionnaire pertaining to their perceptions of
the behaviour and the individuals in the
vignette and the SRAQ. Only the SRAQ
results and perceptions of the guilt of the per-
petrator in the vignette are discussed in
this study.
The SRAQ (see Table 1) is a 34 item
questionnaire with a Likert-type response
scale from 1 Dabsolutely untrue to 7 Dabso-
lutely true. With the exception of items 2,
Measuring Community Attitudes Towards Stalking 5
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14, 15 and 33, all items are worded so that
“true” responses indicate greater agreement
with stalking myths or stereotypes. Fifteen
items are gender specific to a male perpetra-
tor and female victim (e.g., “A man should be
allowed to pursue a woman to a certain
extent, if it is part of romance”), whereas the
remaining 19 are non-gendered (e.g., “It’s not
really stalking if you know the person and
they know you”).
Participants viewed one of six vignettes
describing a stalking situation between a
male perpetrator and female victim that per-
sisted over a number of weeks and involved
unwanted approaches and unwanted commu-
nication. The vignettes differed in the motiva-
tion for stalking (seeking a date, delusional
love, resumption of a relationship, revenge
for mistreatment, sexual deviance) and were
presented prior to the SRAQ in all research
packs. The vignettes were originally part of a
wider study on participants’ understanding of
stalking and knowledge of stalking law
that was unrelated to the SRAQ. However,
a between-groups analysis of variance
(ANOVA) revealed no significant differences
in SRAQ scores in different vignette groups
(F(5, 471) D2.1, pD.06, h
2
D.02), allowing
us to use participants’ determinations of per-
petrator guilt in this study.
Statistical Analyses
A full information factor analysis of the
SRAQ was undertaken using the R Environ-
ment version 3.0.1 (R Development Core
Team, 2013). Full information factor analysis
is recommended over classical exploratory
factor analysis when data are not continuous
and multivariate normal (as in the case of the
SRAQ’s Likert-type items). Full information
factor analysis separates the item parameters
and sample characteristics from possible
latent factors, reducing the likelihood of iden-
tifying factors based solely on item distribu-
tion similarity (Bernstein & Teng, 1989;
Chalmers, 2012). Models were calculated
using the mirt package (Chalmers, 2012) in
the R environment, with items defined as
having a graded 2PL structure. Calculation of
one- and two-factor models used the esti-
mated maximum likelihood algorithm,
while the three-factor model calculation used
Cai’s (2010) Metropolis!Hastings Rob-
bins!Monro (MHRM) algorithm. Direct
oblimin rotation was used to identify factor
loadings and all other arguments in the mirt
command were left at the default settings.
The optimum model was selected using
Akaike information criterion (AIC) compari-
sons to evaluate the relative merits of the
one-, two- and three-factor solutions. AIC
comparisons provide a Dvalue for each
model i.D
i
DAIC
i
!AIC
min
, where AIC
min
is the minimum AIC obtained in the set of
models. D
i
>10 indicates that there is little
support for model iover the model with the
minimum AIC value, leading to selection of
the model with AIC
min
as best representing
the data (Burnham & Anderson, 2004). Fac-
tor scores were calculated for each participant
by summing their responses on relevant items
(see also Table 1 notes).
Further analyses used SPSS version 19
(IBM Corp, 2010) to conduct t-tests compar-
ing SRAQ total scores of male and female
participants and police and community partici-
pants, with Cohen’s das the measure of effect
size. A two-way multivariate analysis of
covariance (MANCOVA) (controlling age)
was used to examine between-group differen-
ces in factor scores associated with gender and
police versus community membership, with
post-hoc discriminant function analyses used
to determine how combinations of factor
scores differed between groups (Field, 2005).
The SRAQ scores of those who believed
the perpetrator in the vignette was guilty
(after viewing the relevant legislation) and
those who believed he was not guilty were
compared using Mann!Whitney U(the non-
parametric equivalent of a t-test). The effect
size statistic for Mann!Whitney Uwas esti-
mated using uDU/mn, where mand nare the
sample size of each group. uis an estimation
of the probability that a score randomly
drawn from population mwill be greater than
a score randomly drawn from population n
6B. McKeon et al.
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and uD0.5 is equivalent to chance (New-
combe, 2006). Acion, Peterson, Temple, and
Arndt (2006) provide interpretation guide-
lines for the magnitude of u, with uD.70
equivalent to a large effect size of dD.80.
Results
The total SRAQ had internal reliability coef-
ficients of aD.91 in the total sample, aD.92
in the community subsample and aD.90 in
the police subsample. Tests of one-, two- and
three-factor models produced interpretable
factor structures. The three-factor model
obtained the minimum AIC. Subsequent AIC
comparisons showed that this model was best
(D
1
D444.81, D
2
D86.76) and it was there-
fore used to define factors for subsequent
analyses. Item loadings for the three factors
are presented in Table 1. Examination of item
content suggested that Factor 1 captured atti-
tudes minimising the seriousness of stalking,
particularly in contexts in which victim and
stalker are known to each other, and was
labelled “Stalking isn’t serious” (19 items,
Cronbach’s aD.90). Factor 2 represented
beliefs that stalking is a legitimate form of
courtship, which was labelled “Stalking is
romantic” (7 items, Cronbach’s aD.76). Fac-
tor 3 captured items attributing responsibility
for stalking to women who are targeted and
was labelled “Victims are to blame” (5 items,
Cronbach’s aD.70). All three factors were
moderately positively correlated with each
other, rD.60!.66, all p<.001.
Descriptive statistics for the overall
SRAQ and each factor are shown in Table 2.
Comparison of mean SRAQ total scores
showed a significant, moderate-sized
difference between males and females
(t(469) D5.52, p<.001, dD.52), and a small
difference between police and community
members (t(476) D2.48, pD.01, dD.23).
Bivariate correlations between participant
age and SRAQ scores showed significant but
small positive correlations for overall SRAQ
score (rD.24, p<.001), “Stalking isn’t seri-
ous” (rD.29, p<.001) and “Victims are to
Table 1. Factor loadings for full information factor analysis with direct oblimin rotation of the Stalking-
Related Attitude Questionnaire.
Item number and text Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3
6. A woman who dates a lot would be more likely to be stalked. .83
7. Saying no to a stalker will just provoke him. .53
25. Certain types of women are more likely to be stalked.
a
.31 .53
27. A woman may be more likely to be stalked if she cannot
clearly say no.
.43
23. Victims of stalking are often women wanting revenge on their
ex-boyfriends.
.34
1. A man should be allowed to pursue a woman to a certain
extent, if it is part of romance.
.70
19. Women often say one thing but mean another. .53
18. What one person may see as stalking, another may see as
romantic.
.49
28. If a woman gives any encouragement, the man has a right to
continue his pursuit.
.45
10. Women find it flattering to be persistently pursued.
a
.36 .44
2. If a woman says no, even once, a man should leave her alone. .42
4. It’s normal for a woman to say no to a date at first because she
doesn’t want to seem too eager.
b
.33 .36
3. If a man and woman have been in a romantic relationship, the
man has more right to pursue her than if they have never met.
.33
(continued)
Measuring Community Attitudes Towards Stalking 7
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Table 1. (Continued )
Item number and text Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3
22. Some women actually want to be stalked; they see it as a
compliment.
b
.30 .34
21. If there is no actual violence, it shouldn’t be a crime. .95
9. The concept of stalking is just a fad. .81
24. Repeatedly following someone, making phone calls and
leaving gifts doesn’t actually hurt anyone.
.77
16. Stalkers are a nuisance but they are not criminals. .76
32. Stranger stalking is the only real stalking. .75
20. Stalking is just an extreme form of courtship. .73
11. It’s not really stalking if you know the person and they know
you.
.72
26. Stalking should be dealt with in civil, not, criminal law. .72
33. Any person could be stalked. .71
14. Stalking is a type of violence. .61
31. If someone continues to say nice things and give nice gifts,
then stalking is far more acceptable.
a
.52 .35
8. A certain amount of repeated phoning and following is okay,
even if a woman has said no.
a
.51 .32
15. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”, ideas like this
make stalking acceptable.
!.51
13. If a woman just ignored the man, he would eventually go
away.
!.50
17. If you were really in love with somebody, you wouldn’t take
no for an answer.
.49
34. Stalkers only continue because they get some sort of
encouragement.
.46
5. It’s not stalking if you are trying to get your wife back. .46
12. Staying in contact with someone shouldn’t really be seen as a
crime, if you are actually in love.
.43
30. Even if they were annoyed, most women would be at least a
little flattered by stalking.
a
.43 .35
29. Those who are upset by stalking are likely more sensitive than
others.
b
.35 .36
Note:
a
Cross-loading items that loaded >0.4 on at least one factor were only included in factor score calculations for
the higher loading factor.
b
Because of cross-loadings <0.4, these items were excluded from factor score calculations.
Item loadings <0.3 are not shown.
Table 2. Means (SD) of Stalking-Related Attitude Questionnaire scores for total sample and by
participant group.
Total sample Women Men Police Community
SAQ total 90.42 (26.87) 81.60 (26.02) 95.26 (26.02) 87.63 (23.76) 93.73 (29.85)
Factor 1 38.66 (16.45) 34.98 (15.64) 40.69 (16.61) 35.82 (13.56) 41.94 (18.75)
Factor 2 23.01 (7.91) 19.90 (7.24) 24.84 (7.79) 23.57 (7.91) 22.37 (7.90)
Factor 3 14.34 (6.03) 12.52 (5.94) 15.33 (5.77) 13.81 (5.51) 14.97 (6.55)
8B. McKeon et al.
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blame” (rD.22, p<.001). Between-group
differences were evident in the effect of age
on attitudes with the strongest relationship
observed among female community members
(SRAQ total score rD.35, “Stalking isn’t seri-
ous” rD.31, “Victims are to blame” rD.34,
all p<.001). Male community members only
had significant correlations between age and
SRAQ total score (rD.25, pD.01) and
“Stalking isn’t serious” (rD.32, pD.001).
Among police there was no relationship
between age and attitude endorsement for
either males or females.
A MANCOVA controlling for age
showed significant but small main effects for
police versus community (Wilks’ λD0.97, F
(3, 438) D4.66, pD.003, partial h
2
D0.03)
and gender (Wilks’ λD0.91, F(3, 438) D
14.09, p<.001, partial h
2
D0.09). There was
no significant interaction effect between gen-
der and police/community group (Wilks’
λD0.99, F(3, 438) D1.48 pD.28). Two dis-
criminant functions analyses generated sig-
nificant combinations of factor scores that
maximised differences between genders
(Wilks’ λD0.90, x
2
(3) D51.24, p<.001)
and between police and community members
(Wilks’ λD0.91, x
2
(3) D45.44, p<.001).
The structure matrix and group centroids for
both discriminating functions are presented in
Table 3. Examination of group centroids
showed that males were more likely than
females to endorse items consistent with the
gender function, and community were more
likely than police to endorse items consistent
with the police/community function. Vari-
ance in the gender function was largely
explained by scores on Factor 2 (R
c
2
D.86)
and Factor 3 (R
c
2
D.50), with less variance
attributable to Factor 1 (R
c
2
D.22). Con-
versely, variance in the police/community
function was explained by Factor 1 (R
c
2
D
.37), with endorsement of Factors 2 and 3
having little effect (R
c
2
D.02 and r
2
D.09
respectively).
Having read the local anti-stalking law,
89% of participants believed that the perpe-
trator in the vignette would be “guilty” of
stalking. Results of Mann!Whitney U-tests
of differences in SRAQ scores between
“guilty” and “not guilty” groups, and associ-
ated effect size calculations, are shown in
Table 4. Significant between-group differen-
ces were found for the SRAQ total score and
all factor scores, with moderate to large effect
sizes. In all analyses, those who believed the
perpetrator to be “not guilty” obtained higher
mean rank SRAQ scores.
Discussion
This study investigated latent attitudes and
beliefs about stalking that influence responses
Table 3. Structure matrix values and group cent-
roids from discriminant function analyses differen-
tiating between men and women, and police and
community on the SRAQ.
Gender
function
Police/community
function
Stalking isn’t serious
(Factor 1)
.47 .61
Stalking is romantic
(Factor 2)
.93 !.15
Victims are to blame
(Factor 3)
.71 .30
Group Centroids
Male .26 !
Female !.44 !
Community !.34
Police !¡.29
Table 4. Comparison of SRAQ mean rank scores
of participants making “not guilty” versus “guilty”
judgements in a fictional stalking case.
Uu
SRAQ total score 5994 .73
"
Stalking isn’t serious (Factor 1) 6103 .75
"
Stalking is romantic (Factor 2) 8022 .69
"
Victims are to blame (Factor 3) 10055 .61
""
Note:
"
p<.001,
""
pD.008.
Measuring Community Attitudes Towards Stalking 9
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on the SRAQ. An exploratory full informa-
tion factor analysis revealed three underlying
factors that were labelled “Stalking isn’t seri-
ous”, “Stalking is romantic” and “Victims are
to blame”. These factors correspond to cate-
gories of stalking myths or stereotypes that
have been hypothesised to exist in previous
research. Between-group comparisons of stalk-
ing myth endorsement were also generally
consistent with hypotheses based on findings
in previous research, with males scoring sig-
nificantly higher than females in all compari-
sons, and community members scoring higher
than police officers on total score and judge-
ments about the seriousness of stalking. Stron-
ger endorsement of stalking myths was
associated with judging a stalking perpetrator
in a vignette to be not guilty.
Factor Structure of the SRAQ
Factor 1 reflects beliefs and attitudes that
minimise stalking (e.g., “It’s not really stalk-
ing if you know the person and they know
you”, “If someone continues to say nice
things and give nice gifts, then stalking is far
more acceptable”). This factor also includes
items that emphasise the seriousness of stalk-
ing in some situations (e.g., “stranger stalking
is the only real stalking”, “stalking is a type
of violence”). The loading of these seemingly
contradictory items on a single factor could
be explained by the presence of a stalking
schema in which stalking is simultaneously
represented as problematic if perpetrated by a
stranger, but not problematic if it involves a
former romantic partner or makes use of
romantic gestures. This hypothesised schema
would include both of Spitzberg and
Cadiz’s (2002) stalking stereotypes, “stalkers
as strangers” and “stalking as different to
romantic pursuit”, and is consistent with
Yanowitz’s (2006) suggestion that a “stranger
stalking” schema was influential for those
without direct experience of stalking. The
presence of such a stalking schema may also
underlie the positive correlation between Fac-
tor 1 “Stalking isn’t serious” and Factor 2
“Stalking is romantic” that was observed in
this study.
Factor 1 is clearly the strongest factor in
the SRAQ, having the most high item load-
ings and achieving the strongest internal con-
sistency. Nonetheless, Factors 2 (“Stalking is
romantic”) and 3 (“Victims are to blame”)
both achieved satisfactory item loadings and
internal consistency in the current study. Sim-
ilar components were identified in Kamphuis
et al.’s sample (2005), suggesting that
responses of participants in that study may
have been influenced by similar attitudes and
beliefs as identified here. Factor 2 is also con-
sistent with Spitzberg and Cadiz’s (2002)
suggested stereotypes, and the wider body of
literature on knowledge structures related to
stalking. A number of authors have suggested
the presence of a cultural script, promoted by
the entertainment media, in which romantic
persistent pursuit is expected to result in
acquiescence and sexual or relationship suc-
cess (Anderson & Accomando, 1999; Brat-
slavsky, Baumeister, & Sommer, 1998;
Davis, Swan, & Gambone, 2012; Hall, 1998;
Lambert et al., 2013; Mullen et al., 2009;
Yanowitz & Yanowitz, 2012). The identifica-
tion of the “Stalking is romantic” factor may
reflect knowledge structures associated with
this cultural script, though further research is
required to investigate this possibility.
Factor 3 “Victims are to blame” is consis-
tent with attitudes related to other forms of
interpersonal violence that are perceived as
gendered, such as rape and intimate partner
violence (Henning, Jones, & Holdford, 2005;
Suarez & Gadalla, 2010). One suggested
explanation for “victim blaming” attitudes
being common in society is the just world
hypothesis (JWH; Lerner & Simmons, 1966).
According to the JWH, people are motivated
to view the world as a safe place where peo-
ple get what they deserve and deserve what
they get (Scott et al., 2013). Sheridan and col-
leagues (2003) suggested that, in the context
of stalking, victim blaming may be particu-
larly likely in ex-intimate cases as a shared
history makes it easier to diminish the
10 B. McKeon et al.
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perpetrator’s responsibility. Unlike in
stranger stalking contexts, ex-intimate vic-
tims can be perceived as blameworthy
because their actions in the prior relationship
may have “provoked” the stalker’s behaviour.
Attributing responsibility to the victim in this
manner is consistent with Sinclair’s (2012)
findings about the relationship between stalk-
ing myth endorsement and victim blaming
attributions. Such a tendency may also con-
tribute to perceptions of stranger stalking as
more serious and dangerous, because victims
are not attributed as much blame. Direct
empirical testing of the JWH in stalking situa-
tions is yet to be undertaken, but is a promis-
ing avenue for future research.
The other notable finding with regards to
the factor structure of the SRAQ is that all
factors were highly correlated in this sample.
This is to be expected, given the hypothesised
associative nature of knowledge structures
more generally (Fiske & Taylor, 2013). It
does raise the possibility that there may be
some superordinate knowledge structure
related to stalking that, though not assessed
directly by the SRAQ (leading to the failure
of the one factor model), accounts for high
scores on each factor in the tool.
Between Group Differences in Stalking
Myth Endorsement
One argument against the presence of a
superordinate “stalking myth” factor is the
inconsistency in factor score differences in
the police/community sample. Although
males and females differed across all three
factors and the total score, suggesting an
overall small gender effect for stalking-
related attitudes and beliefs, police only
scored significantly differently from commu-
nity respondents on Factor 1 (which trans-
lated to differences in total score, given the
dominance of Factor 1 in the SRAQ). This
suggests that although police in this sample
are as prone as the general community to
believing that many stalking behaviours are
actually just misconstrued romantic
approaches, when they do judge stalking to
be present, they take it more seriously. This
may reflect previous findings that knowledge
of or exposure to stalking may reduce
endorsement of some stalking myths. Weller
et al. (2013) and Scott et al. (2013) both
found that police with specialist training or
direct experience of stalking cases endorsed
fewer misperceptions about stalking, took
stalking more seriously and were less likely
to blame victims. Unfortunately, a firm con-
clusion about whether police took stalking
more seriously than community members due
to additional knowledge cannot be drawn as
such knowledge was not assessed in this
study.
The observed gender differences in both
overall and specific stalking myth endorse-
ment were small, but their presence supports
the idea that men, as a group, are somewhat
more likely to minimise and excuse stalking
behaviour. This may be a product of different
socialisation experiences contributing to
underlying gender role beliefs, cultural
scripts concerning relationship formation,
relational schemas developed through experi-
ence, or some combination of the three
(Lambert et al., 2013). Factor 2, “Stalking is
romantic” most strongly differentiated
between men and women, consistent with
suggestions by earlier authors that men may
be more likely than women to conceptualise
unwanted intrusions as a legitimate romantic
strategy (Sinclair & Frieze, 2000; Yanowitz,
2006; Yanowitz & Yanowitz, 2012). This, in
turn, reflects the broader literature on court-
ship and relationship scripts, which identifies
(male) persistent pursuit as a normative and
often successful method of entering or resum-
ing a relationship (Mullen et al., 2009;
Sinclair, 2012). It may be that strangers are
more often perceived as stalkers because
attempts by a known individual or former
partner to start or resume a relationship are
part of a commonly understood relationship
initiation or dissolution script and are there-
fore considered more acceptable (Battaglia,
Richard, Datteri, & Lord, 1998).
Measuring Community Attitudes Towards Stalking 11
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Relationship Between SRAQ Endorsement
and a “Guilty” Finding
The final aim of the study was to determine
whether endorsement of stalking myths was
associated with judgements about the guilt of
a perpetrator in a stalking vignette. As
hypothesised, those who believed that the
perpetrator was not guilty of stalking scored
significantly higher on the SRAQ than those
who believed he was guilty. This difference
was meaningful, with moderate to large effect
sizes found depending on which SRAQ
scores were compared. Scores on Factor 1
“Stalking isn’t serious” gave the greatest
probability of differentiating a “not guilty”
finding from a “guilty” one, with higher
scores associated with “not guilty” decisions.
Although responses to a vignette are not a
true test of the relationship between beliefs,
attitudes and behaviour, this result provides
further evidence that stalking myths or stereo-
types may have a real impact on the responses
of friends and family of victims, jury mem-
bers, and helping professionals such as police
(Kamphuis et al., 2005; Sinclair, 2012). This
strongly suggests that specific education for
helping professionals may be necessary to
ensure that appropriate responses are given to
all stalking victims. It also suggests that tar-
geted public awareness campaigns to mini-
mise misperceptions about stalking in the
community may be of benefit to ensure that
victims receive appropriate support from their
peers and family. Such campaigns already
exist in the USA (National Stalking Aware-
ness Month run by the Office on Violence
Against Women and the National Centre for
Victims of Crime; http://www.stalking
awarenessmonth.org/), and have recently
been suggested by the Council of Europe
Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination
(http://www.assembly.coe.int/Communication/
24062013_Stalking_E.pdf). It is worth noting
that these types of campaigns, although usually
supported by organisations targeting violence
against women, should recognise that approxi-
mately one in four stalking victims are male
(Spitzberg, et al., 2010) and that in half of
cases, stalking arises outside of the context of a
previous intimate relationship (Spitzberg, 2002).
Limitations and Future Directions
There are a number of limitations associated
with this research, some with the study itself
and others with the SRAQ as a measure. First,
with regards to the study design, information
about personal experience with stalking was
not collected and may have affected the
responses of some participants. There is con-
flicting evidence about whether or not victim-
isation or specialised education/training
affects reported perceptions of stalking,
meaning that this area requires further
research (cf. Scott et al., 2014 and Weller
et al., 2013). Understanding how increased
knowledge of stalking may affect mental rep-
resentations of the behaviour is key to deter-
mining whether specialised training or
awareness campaigns are a worthwhile
investment. Second, the police and commu-
nity samples were not matched on age and
gender, meaning that comparisons between
them may reflect sample differences rather
than differences due to profession. Third, as
in all research investigating beliefs and atti-
tudes, it is possible that responses to the
SRAQ were affected by social desirability
biases, which were not measured. The anony-
mous nature of the survey minimises this
likelihood, but it would be beneficial to assess
the nature of stalking myths with a more
implicit measure that forgoes forced
responses and reduces the tendency to
impression manage. Finally, the data reported
in this study were collected between 2003
and 2004 and it is possible that attitudes and
beliefs about stalking have changed in the
time since. This may not be a significant limi-
tation because stalking has been criminalised
in Victoria, where data were collected, since
1994. More problematically, because the data
were collected prior to the development of
the literature on stalking knowledge
12 B. McKeon et al.
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structures, some useful information was not
gathered. For instance, had the data been
gathered more recently, construct validity
could have been measured using the SMS
and specific questions reflecting Yanowitz’s
(2006; Yanowitz & Yanowitz, 2012) later
findings could have been investigated.
With regards to the structure of the
SRAQ, this study revealed that there are a
number of ways in which the tool could be
improved prior to full validation so as to pro-
vide a more comprehensive measure of atti-
tudes and beliefs related to stalking. The
SRAQ was designed as a measure of commu-
nity attitudes but it may also be useful as a
measure of stalking perpetrators’ attitudes
and beliefs. At present, its applicability to
this population is limited by the gendered
nature of some of the questions, the fact that
the tool deals largely with relational stalking
and does not apply to stalking that arises in
other contexts, and that it does not canvass
beliefs that are not specific to stalking but
may be conducive to the behaviour (e.g., gen-
eral antisocial beliefs). Revising the tool
to make it gender neutral and to canvass a
broader range of contexts, attitudes and
beliefs hypothesised to relate to stalking
would increase its utility for both future
research and clinical practice. Comparing the
attitudes and beliefs of perpetrators with
those of victims and those with no experience
of stalking would also be a useful next addi-
tion and would go some way towards answer-
ing questions about the impact of knowledge
of stalking. These changes are being incorpo-
rated into a revised version of the SRAQ that
is currently undergoing reliability testing and
validation.
Conclusions
This study showed that responses to the
SRAQ are influenced by three underlying
stalking myths or stereotypes that minimise
the seriousness of stalking, normalise the
behaviour as romantic and assign blame to
victims. There was an overall gender effect in
endorsement of these myths, with men tend-
ing to endorse them more strongly than
women. There were less strong differences
between police and community members,
although police did tend to minimise the
behaviour less than members of the general
community. The study provides preliminary
evidence that acceptance of these attitudes is
related to failure to recognise stalking behav-
iour when it is present. More broadly, the
findings of this study offer support for the
idea that attitudes exist in the community that
likely influence whether or not victim’s com-
plaints of stalking are taken seriously and the
level of assistance they receive.
Acknowledgement
The authors would like to thank Phil Chalmers for
his assistance and advice regarding the use of the
mirt package and the R Environment.
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... More specifically, people who had a history of stalking victimization were less likely to consider stalking to be a purely legal matter and were less likely to agree that stalking originates from mental health issues. Public attitudes and the tendency to excuse or normalize stalking are important as they may influence the recognition of this problem in a society (McKeon et al., 2015). The results of this study also point to the specific attitudes of Lithuanian residents that could be targeted in order to raise public's awareness on stalking phenomenon. ...
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This study investigates the influence of prior relationship and severity of behavior on perceptions of stalking and responsibility with a combined sample of 1,080 members of the community from Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Participants were presented with 1 of 12 versions of a hypothetical stalking scenario and responded to scale items regarding the behavior of a male perpetrator toward a female target. Prior relationship and severity of behavior influenced perceptions of stalking and responsibility, and the pattern of findings was consistent across the three countries. The perpetrator's behavior was perceived to constitute stalking, and necessitate police intervention and a criminal conviction to the greatest extent when the perpetrator and target were portrayed as strangers. In addition, the target was perceived to be the least responsible and the perpetrator was perceived to be the most responsible when they were portrayed as strangers.
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Although stalking has been increasingly recognized as a serious social problem, surprisingly few studies have investigated perceptions of the specific behaviors that comprise stalking. The focus of this article, therefore, was to further delineate college students’ stalking schemas and to examine the influence of gender and personal knowledge of stalking on their schemas. Participants judged whether or not a variety of behaviors were examples of stalking. Behaviors were designed to range from mild, somewhat ambiguous, examples of stalking to more severe examples. Results revealed an interaction between gender and experience on ratings of mild stalking behaviors. Men who had personal knowledge of stalking (by having been stalked themselves or knowing someone who had been stalked) were significantly more likely to rate mild stalking behaviors as stalking than men who had no experience. In contrast, experience did not affect women’s perceptions of mild stalking, as no differences were found between women as a function of experience. Results are discussed in terms of overall relationship schemas.
Article
Stalking has emerged as a significant social problem which not only commands considerable public attention but is now, in many jurisdictions, a specific form of criminal offense. This new edition brings the reader completely up-to-date with the explosion in published research and clinical studies in the field, and covers new issues such as cyberstalking, stalking health professionals, stalking in the workplace, female stalkers, juvenile stalkers, stalking celebrities, evaluating risk in the stalking situation, as well as exploring changes to the legal status of the behavior. Illustrated with case studies throughout, this is the definitive guide and reference for anyone with professional, academic or other interests in this complex behavior. © P. Mullen, M. Pathé and R. Purcell 2009 and Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Chapter
Publisher Summary This chapter highlights that stalking cases stimulate a good deal of interest. Unfortunately the tendency is to look at the more glamorous and sensational aspects of stalking rather than the more common characteristics. There is a common misperception regarding the stalking victim. The most popular image is that of a celebrity who is stalked by a crazed fan or a battered woman who has left a physically abusive relationship and is now being stalked by her ex-spouse or ex-lover. The emphasis on the victim allows researchers to uncover valuable information that is not available through official records or from interviewing individual offenders. Male respondents feel that their gender is a handicap in stalking situations, especially if they were being stalked by females. Most of the research to date is from a feminist bent investigating the effect of victimization of women. Little is known about the victimization of men despite the fact that most victims of violence are men. This chapter also emphasizes that the majority of stalking victims are women, who are being stalked by men who wish to either reestablish or initiate a relationship with them.