Issues of gender in stalking research

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An Introduction to Issues of Gender in Stalking Research

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).  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. 

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).  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”

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