A joint study by Swinburne University of Technology and Monash University on understanding community attitudes towards stalking has identified three underlying attitudes that minimise and justify stalking behaviour.
They are: ‘stalking is romantic’, ‘victims are to blame’, and ‘stalking isn’t serious’.
Two hundred and forty-four community members and 280 police officers completed the Stalking Related Attitudes Questionnaire (SRAQ), a scale that attempts to measure stalking-related attitudes and beliefs by asking participants to agree or disagree with statements about stalking.
Dr Troy McEwan from the Centre for Forensic and Behavioural Science at Swinburne said the primary aim of the study was to investigate what kinds of attitudes and beliefs about stalking exist in the community, and whether these attitudes influence people’s behaviour.
“Understanding and being able to reliably measure stalking-related attitudes and beliefs would be of use in anti-stalking education campaigns and offender and victim treatment programs,” Dr McEwan said.
Unlike most other crime, stalking lies in the eye of the beholder; it is not only the intention of the perpetrator that defines when stalking occurs, but the reactions of the target are also essential.
The victim-defined element of stalking means community perceptions of what does and does not constitute stalking are of real consequence.
Researchers also wanted to identify whether gender differences were evident in attitudes about stalking; whether police officers endorsed these myths, which would affect how they respond to stalking cases; and whether attitude endorsement had any effect on determination of guilt in a fictional stalking case.
Results revealed that more men than women supported the stalking myths. There wasn’t a huge difference between police and community members, although responses indicated that police officers took stalking behaviour more seriously than community members.
Importantly, attitudes towards stalking did seem to affect whether or not participants thought a stalker was guilty in a fictional court case. Those who thought that stalking wasn’t as serious or that it was romantic were much more likely to find the stalker ‘not guilty’.
“The study provides preliminary evidence that these attitudes are related to failure to recognise stalking behaviour when it is present,” Dr McEwan said
“Specific education for helping professionals may be necessary to ensure that appropriate responses are given to all stalking victims.”
The study titled: It’s not really stalking if you know the person: Measuring community attitudes that normalize, justify and minimise stalking, was published in the Psychiatry, Psychology and Law journal.