Stalkingis the ‘persistent, distressing, or threatening behavior consisting of at leasttwo elements: the actor must repeatedly follow the victim and must engage inconduct that annoys or alarms the victim and serves no legitimate purpose’. (Dictionary of legal terms: definitions andexplanations for non-lawyers, 2016, in Credo Reference, n.
d.). Althoughstalking behaviour has become very common, the introduction of an anti-stalkinglegislation is still quite new; the first anti-stalking act in the UK was putinto action in 1997 (“Protection from Harassment Act 1997”, 1997). However, a problemregarding the introduction of the stalking legislation is how someone can identifywhether a behaviour is stalking or not since stalking involves a sequence ofintrusions over a period of time that might appear to be harmless in a singleevent (Dennison, 2007). For instance, instead of defining what stalking, is theProtection from Harassment Act 1997 lists examples of stalking behaviours andactions (“Stalking and harassment: Legal guidance: Crown ProsecutionService”, n.d.). Stalkingis a world-wide phenomenon that can lead to terrible consequences, such as victimssuffering from increased levels of anxiety or ceasing to work (Pathé &Mullen, 1997) which has adverse effects on their work and social lives.
Yet,only a minority of men and women report that they are being stalked to thepolice (Walby & Allen, 2004). One common reason for this is that victimsthink that it is a personal or trivial matter (Baum, Catalano, Rand & Rose,2009). Seeing as stalking is a widespread issue but is not being reported enough,it is important for researchers to investigate why victims and people whowitness stalking are not identifying it or reporting it. Studies on stalking havefound that stalking behaviour is seen to cause greater fearof violence and victim alarm when the perpetrator is portrayed as a man ratherthan a woman (Scott &Tse, 2011) and that the target and the offender’s gender wouldaffect arrest decisions as well as influence police investigations (Cass , 2012).A variety of data collection methodsare available when doing research on the perceptions of stalking such asquestionnaires, interviews and meta-analysis.
This essay will be focusing onthe use of vignettes as a data collection method and as a method forinvestigating the perceptions of stalking. ‘Vignettes refer to stimuli including text and images, which researchparticipants are invited to respond to’ (Hughes & Huby, 2004).An advantage of vignettes is that it collects qualitativedata. Qualitative data is collected by using open-ended questions in textualvignettes. This is beneficial when doing research on stalking because byobtaining qualitative data, researchers would be able to gain greater insightinto the social reality of how individuals perceive stalking and better insighton how they would, behave if they were a victim of stalking or an observer of astalking situation. Even so, qualitative data has been criticised for lackingreliability and being subjective as the results obtained are interpreted by theresearcher from their own perspective. Nonetheless, this problem can beresolved by placing closed questions or rating scales in vignettes which would enablethe researcher to gain quantitative data which would help to reduce some of theproblems associated with qualitative data. Though vignettes are useful forcollecting qualitative and quantitative data, a disadvantage of vignettes isthat participants might feel fatigued or less interested in responding to vignettesproperly.
When using long vignettes or multiple short vignettes in a study itcan become very repetitive and time-consuming for the participants and mighteven lead to a carry-over effect (Sniderman & Grob, 1996) which wouldaffect the validity of the results gathered, for example, if participants startto lose interest because there are multiple, short stalking situations,participants may start to respond to each vignette in the same way even thoughin reality this would not be the way in which they would actually respond tothe different stalking situations. Nonetheless, this problem can be resolved bycreating continuous narrative vignettes that carry on from each other like asequence of events rather than single, isolated scenarios; through this moreresearch topics can be investigated in depth. Another advantage of using vignettes is that it is appropriatefor research questions that explore sensitive topics such as stalking.
This is becauseit allows participants to respond from the perspective of someone else which desensitisesthe sensitive topic being investigated and protects participants from potentialpsychological harm or stress; this implies that participants would be lesslikely to withdraw from the study which means that the results collected areless likely to be skewed. Another disadvantage of using vignettes is that participantsmight believe that they are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. This might occur whenvignettes take a different course to the one that a participant suggested. Thisindicates that it is important for researchers to reassure participants thatthere are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers when they are responding to vignette scenariosas well as making sure that participants are told that their identities and responseswould kept confidential. In relation to researching the perceptions of stalkingthis means that participants may choose to give the ‘right’ response to astalking scenario rather than in the way that they would actually respond ifthe researcher does not inform the participants that there are no ‘correct’ responses.However, vignettes are still advantageous as researchers can use a combinationof perspectives in their research. For example, Farrow (1987) askedparticipants what parts of a dangerous driving situation sounded like somethingthat they had been in involved in.
Afterwards, an interviewer askedparticipants to imagine themselves in the vignette character’s position. By usingthe participants’ own personal perspective and their responses from looking atthe scenario from the vignette character’s perspective, different aspects of theresearch question would be answered and the effects of social desirabilitywould be reduced. This is useful for investigating stalking as researcherswould be able to explore whether there are any similarities or differencesbetween how people perceive stalking for their own viewpoint as well as from anotherperson’s (the vignette character) viewpoint which could help to bring in newresearch questions and prompt further research. An additional disadvantage of vignettes is that itis low in mundane realism. Spratt (2001) stated that vignette responses are decontextualizedand are unlike the ‘real’ responses. This suggests that it might be difficultto generalise findings from vignettes to real-life situations due to vignette scenariosbeing presented in isolation which is unlike how situations are in real life.
Thiscan be problematic when studying the perceptions of stalking because if astalking scenario is depicted as eccentric, participants might respond to thevignette in a hypothetical way which might not correspond to the way that the participantswould respond in real life. This implies that it is important to presentrealistic occurrences in vignettes that reflect people’s real life so thatrealistic responses can be obtained. Although, a vignette may be low in mundanerealism, an advantage of using a vignette is that it is high in internalvalidity. Vignettes are formed using a combination of many features such asresearchers’ and their mentors’ personal and expert experiences, case studiesand existing literature. Vignettes are also piloted before they are used inactual experiments. These measures increase the internal validity of vignettesespecially when the vignette needs to be as realistic as possible. Wheninvestigating the perceptions of stalking, this would allow the researcher to havegreater confidence in their results being due to the different stalkingscenarios that they manipulated rather than extraneous variables.
To conclude, stalking is a common phenomenon thatis not being reported enough, which has initiated research on the perceptionsof stalking. Findings so far include how the gender of the stalker influencespeople’s perceptions of stalking and that the victim and the preparator’sgender can influence arrest decisions and police investigations. Vignettes areuseful for studying the perceptions of stalking because it allows theresearcher to explore sensitive topics and addresses ethical issues such asprotection from harm and confidentiality.
Vignettes are advantageous becausethey generate quantitative and qualitative data, are high in internal validity,can generate new research questions and combine different perspectives. Even thoughvignettes have been criticised for being time-consuming, lacking in realism andleading participants to think that there are ‘right’ answers, these problemscan be resolved effectively by making minor adjustments to the vignettes suchas putting in mundane situations and creating continuous narrative vignettes.