Stalking work and social lives. Yet, only a

Stalking
is the ‘persistent, distressing, or threatening behavior consisting of at least
two elements: the actor must repeatedly follow the victim and must engage in
conduct that annoys or alarms the victim and serves no legitimate purpose’. (Dictionary of legal terms: definitions and
explanations for non-lawyers, 2016, in Credo Reference, n.d.). Although
stalking behaviour has become very common, the introduction of an anti-stalking
legislation is still quite new; the first anti-stalking act in the UK was put
into action in 1997 (“Protection from Harassment Act 1997”, 1997). However, a problem
regarding the introduction of the stalking legislation is how someone can identify
whether a behaviour is stalking or not since stalking involves a sequence of
intrusions over a period of time that might appear to be harmless in a single
event (Dennison, 2007). For instance, instead of defining what stalking, is the
Protection from Harassment Act 1997 lists examples of stalking behaviours and
actions (“Stalking and harassment: Legal guidance: Crown Prosecution
Service”, n.d.).

Stalking
is a world-wide phenomenon that can lead to terrible consequences, such as victims
suffering 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 the
police (Walby & Allen, 2004). One common reason for this is that victims
think 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 who
witness stalking are not identifying it or reporting it. Studies on stalking have
found that stalking behaviour is seen to cause greater fear
of violence and victim alarm when the perpetrator is portrayed as a man rather
than a woman (Scott &
Tse, 2011) and that the target and the offender’s gender would
affect arrest decisions as well as influence police investigations (Cass &
Rosay, 2012).

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A variety of data collection methods
are available when doing research on the perceptions of stalking such as
questionnaires, interviews and meta-analysis. This essay will be focusing on
the use of vignettes as a data collection method and as a method for
investigating the perceptions of stalking.

 

‘Vignettes refer to stimuli including text and images, which research
participants are invited to respond to’ (Hughes & Huby, 2004).
An advantage of vignettes is that it collects qualitative
data. Qualitative data is collected by using open-ended questions in textual
vignettes. This is beneficial when doing research on stalking because by
obtaining qualitative data, researchers would be able to gain greater insight
into the social reality of how individuals perceive stalking and better insight
on how they would, behave if they were a victim of stalking or an observer of a
stalking situation. Even so, qualitative data has been criticised for lacking
reliability and being subjective as the results obtained are interpreted by the
researcher from their own perspective. Nonetheless, this problem can be
resolved by placing closed questions or rating scales in vignettes which would enable
the researcher to gain quantitative data which would help to reduce some of the
problems associated with qualitative data. Though vignettes are useful for
collecting qualitative and quantitative data, a disadvantage of vignettes is
that participants might feel fatigued or less interested in responding to vignettes
properly. When using long vignettes or multiple short vignettes in a study it
can become very repetitive and time-consuming for the participants and might
even lead to a carry-over effect (Sniderman & Grob, 1996) which would
affect the validity of the results gathered, for example, if participants start
to lose interest because there are multiple, short stalking situations,
participants may start to respond to each vignette in the same way even though
in reality this would not be the way in which they would actually respond to
the different stalking situations. Nonetheless, this problem can be resolved by
creating continuous narrative vignettes that carry on from each other like a
sequence of events rather than single, isolated scenarios; through this more
research topics can be investigated in depth.

 

Another advantage of using vignettes is that it is appropriate
for research questions that explore sensitive topics such as stalking. This is because
it allows participants to respond from the perspective of someone else which desensitises
the sensitive topic being investigated and protects participants from potential
psychological harm or stress; this implies that participants would be less
likely to withdraw from the study which means that the results collected are
less likely to be skewed.

 

Another disadvantage of using vignettes is that participants
might believe that they are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers. This might occur when
vignettes take a different course to the one that a participant suggested. This
indicates that it is important for researchers to reassure participants that
there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers when they are responding to vignette scenarios
as well as making sure that participants are told that their identities and responses
would kept confidential. In relation to researching the perceptions of stalking
this means that participants may choose to give the ‘right’ response to a
stalking scenario rather than in the way that they would actually respond if
the researcher does not inform the participants that there are no ‘correct’ responses.
However, vignettes are still advantageous as researchers can use a combination
of perspectives in their research. For example, Farrow (1987) asked
participants what parts of a dangerous driving situation sounded like something
that they had been in involved in. Afterwards, an interviewer asked
participants to imagine themselves in the vignette character’s position. By using
the participants’ own personal perspective and their responses from looking at
the scenario from the vignette character’s perspective, different aspects of the
research question would be answered and the effects of social desirability
would be reduced. This is useful for investigating stalking as researchers
would be able to explore whether there are any similarities or differences
between how people perceive stalking for their own viewpoint as well as from another
person’s (the vignette character) viewpoint which could help to bring in new
research questions and prompt further research.

 

An additional disadvantage of vignettes is that it
is low in mundane realism. Spratt (2001) stated that vignette responses are decontextualized
and are unlike the ‘real’ responses. This suggests that it might be difficult
to generalise findings from vignettes to real-life situations due to vignette scenarios
being presented in isolation which is unlike how situations are in real life. This
can be problematic when studying the perceptions of stalking because if a
stalking scenario is depicted as eccentric, participants might respond to the
vignette in a hypothetical way which might not correspond to the way that the participants
would respond in real life. This implies that it is important to present
realistic occurrences in vignettes that reflect people’s real life so that
realistic responses can be obtained. Although, a vignette may be low in mundane
realism, an advantage of using a vignette is that it is high in internal
validity. Vignettes are formed using a combination of many features such as
researchers’ and their mentors’ personal and expert experiences, case studies
and existing literature. Vignettes are also piloted before they are used in
actual experiments. These measures increase the internal validity of vignettes
especially when the vignette needs to be as realistic as possible. When
investigating the perceptions of stalking, this would allow the researcher to have
greater confidence in their results being due to the different stalking
scenarios that they manipulated rather than extraneous variables.

 

To conclude, stalking is a common phenomenon that
is not being reported enough, which has initiated research on the perceptions
of stalking. Findings so far include how the gender of the stalker influences
people’s perceptions of stalking and that the victim and the preparator’s
gender can influence arrest decisions and police investigations. Vignettes are
useful for studying the perceptions of stalking because it allows the
researcher to explore sensitive topics and addresses ethical issues such as
protection from harm and confidentiality. Vignettes are advantageous because
they generate quantitative and qualitative data, are high in internal validity,
can generate new research questions and combine different perspectives. Even though
vignettes have been criticised for being time-consuming, lacking in realism and
leading participants to think that there are ‘right’ answers, these problems
can be resolved effectively by making minor adjustments to the vignettes such
as putting in mundane situations and creating continuous narrative vignettes.

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