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Police and Public Perceptions of Stalking: The Role of Prior Victim–Offender Relationship

Michelle Weller, Lorraine Hope, and Lorraine Sheridan

Journal of Interpersonal Violence

January 2013, vol. 28, no. 2, 320-339

 

Abstract

One in every five women will experience stalking in their lifetime. Research suggests the lifetime prevalence rate ranges between 12% and 32% for among women and 4% and 17% among men. The majority of stalking victims have had some form of prior relationship with their stalker. The aim of the current study was to examine whether victim–offender relationship influences police officers' perception of a stalking event. Police officers (n = 132) and lay participants (n = 225) read one of three stalking scenarios where the nature of relationship between the victim and the stalker was manipulated to reflect an ex-intimate, work acquaintance, or stranger relationship. Results revealed that, for both samples, prior victim–offender relationship affected the extent to which the scenario was perceived to involve stalking behavior, with the stranger stalker scenario endorsed as most strongly constituting a case of stalking. Officer experience of stalking cases mitigated some prevalent stereotypical beliefs concerning stalking (e.g., victim responsibility). The findings suggest that further training is necessary to combat common misconceptions surrounding stalking. The importance of understanding how both lay and police responses are influenced by the perceived victim–offender relationship is discussed in relation to the development of public awareness campaigns and police officer training.

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