A Wolf in sheep’s clothing: taxometric evidence of the dimensional structure of stalking

Published date03 January 2023
Date03 January 2023
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Criminal psychology,Sociology,Sociology of crime & law,Deviant behaviour,Public policy & environmental management,Policing,Criminal justice
AuthorNicholas Longpré,Ewa B. Stefanska,Maria Tachmetzidi Papoutsi,Eleanor White
A Wolf in sheeps clothing: taxometric
evidence of the dimensional structure
of stalking
Nicholas Longpr
e, Ewa B. Stefanska, Maria Tachmetzidi Papoutsi and Eleanor White
Purpose The purposeof this study is to examine the latent structure of stalking.Stalking can be defined
as a pattern of repeated and unwanted behaviours that cause another person to be afraid. The
consequences for the victims can be severe and potentially happen over a long period of time. While
stalking is considered as a taxon, empirical evidence and an absence of pathognomonic criteria point
towardsa dimensionalstructure.
Design/methodology/approach The aim of this study is to examine the latent structure of stalking
using taxometric analyseson the Severity of Stalking Behaviours Scale. Analyseswere conducted on a
sampleof N= 1,032 victims’accounts, who had contacted the National StalkingHelpline in the UK.
Findings Taxometric analysesrevealed that stalking presents a dimensional structure,and no taxonic
peaks emerged. The results were consistent across analyses (MAMBAC, MAXEIG and L-Mode),
indicators(CCFI, curves) and measures (items,factors).
Research limitations/implications A dimensionalstructure implies that individual variationis a matter
of intensity, and the present results suggest that the conceptualization of stalking should be modified.
Understandingstalking from a dimensional perspectiveprovides support to study stalking in non-clinical
populations. Scales that measure stalking should provide discrimination along the entire continuum
ratherthan focusing on putative taxonic boundariesand arbitrary threshold.
Originality/value This paper is proposing the firstset of taxometric analyses on stalking. The results
are providing empirical support to the idea that stalkingexists on a continuum. It also strengthened the
validity of previous findings in non-clinical populations and their applications all along the continuum,
includingwith clinical populations.
Keywords Stalking, Taxometric, Latent structure, Dimensionalstructure, Measurement, Cut-off
Paper type Research paper
Stalking: definition and prevalence
Stalking can be defined as a pattern of fixated, repeated and unwanted behaviours,
ranging from the following: contacting, spying, to homicide, that causea reasonable person
to be afraid for his/her safety (Meloy, 1999;White et al.,2020). Stalking behaviour involves
two or more incidents that the perpetratorknows, or ought to know, will cause another to feel
distressed, alarmed or fear that violence will be used against them (White et al.,2020).
While some of the behaviours may not be perceived as serious (e.g. browsing someone’s
social media without their consent and knowledge, sending unsolicited text messages), it is
the persistence and the level of intrusion by the stalker that makes the behaviour criminal
(Stefanska et al., 2021b). Victims of stalking can experience a wide array of psychological,
physical, social or financial costs (Chan and Sheridan, 2019;Chan et al., 2020). Given its
chronic nature, it can impact the victim over a long period of time (Sheridan and Lyndon,
2012). Although the empirical scrutiny of stalking has significantly increased in the past
(Informationabout the
authorscan be found at the
end of this article.)
Received 30 September 2021
Revised 29 April 2022
15 July 2022
3 October 2022
Accepted 16 November 2022
The authors would like to thank
the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and the
National Stalking Helpline for
their consent to access and use
their database. The authors
hope that their research will help
to improve their practice on the
prevention of stalking and their
responses to the victims.
Compliance with ethical
Conflict of interest: The authors
declare that they have no conflict
of interest.
Ethical approval: Allprocedures
performed in studiesinvolving
humanparticipantswere in
accordance with the ethical
standards of the institutional
and/or national research
committee and with the 1964
Declaration of Helsinki and its
later amendments or
comparable ethical standards.
Informed consent: For this type
of study, formal consenti snot
PAGE 18 jJOURNAL OF CRIMINAL PSYCHOLOGY jVOL. 13 NO. 1 2023, pp. 18-33, ©Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 2009-3829 DOI 10.1108/JCP-09-2021-0038
three decades, it remains an elusive offenceas it is defined by the perpetrator’s acts, which
may be partly hidden, as well as by the frequency of the offending behaviours. Further
adding to the heterogeneity of this offence, stalking is also defined by the victim’s
perception of the behaviours, which may be subjective to some extent (James and
MacKenzie, 2018). While stalking is legally and conceptually different from harassment,
they can be difficult to disentangle (Chan and Sheridan, 2021). Stalking is considered as a
more serious and aggressive type of crime than harassment, with elements of fixation and
obsession (Police UK, 2022). As a result, the prevalence of stalking remains unclear, in part
because of a lack of consensus on how to operationalize (Patton et al.,2010) and measure
(Stefanska et al., 2021b) thiscrime.
While stalking was initially used to describe the intrusive behaviours of individuals towards
celebrities (Lowney and Best, 2017), it was soon adopted for unwanted activities and
behaviours in the general population (James and MacKenzie, 2018). The estimated lifetime
prevalence of stalking victimization is ranging between 8 and 15% (Chan and Sheridan,
2019;Office for National Statistics, 2016), with up to 45% of women and 30% of men
reporting that they have been stalked by their ex-partner (Office for National Statistics,
2016). However, the prevalence of stalkingperpetration remains unclear, with estimates that
between 1 and 8% of the population has engaged in committingvarious stalking behaviours
at some point in their life (Patton et al.,2010). Furthermore, stalking appears to be a gender-
based offence, with a majority of stalkersbeing men, and a majority of victims being women
(Chan and Sheridan,2019, 2021;Fox et al., 2014). Spitzberg and Cupach (2007) meta-
analyses revealed that women are 2.6 times more at risk of being a victim of stalking when
compared to men.
Level of contact and violence
Several stalking typologies have been proposed, with a focus on the stalkervictim
relationship (Sheridan and Boon,2002), the stalker’s initial motivation (Mullen et al.,1999)or
the stalking context (Mohandie et al.,2006). For more details on stalking typologies, see
McEwan and Davis (2020). However, there is a consensus that using the stalkervictim
relationship led to more valid and reliable classifications over other types of categorizations
(Mohandie et al.,2006). Stalkers are generally classified into three groups: (1) ex-intimates,
(2) acquaintances, or (3) strangers (Spitzberg, 2002); with ex-intimates representing up to
half of the stalkers (Sheridan and Davies,2001;White et al.,2020).
While the general population and police officers are more likely to believe that a behaviour
constitutes stalking and requires police intervention when the perpetrator is a stranger
(Scott et al.,2013;Scott and Sheridan, 2011), studies have revealed that ex-intimate
stalkers present a wider array of behaviours and are more violent (Chan and Sheridan,
2021;White et al.,2020). The level of contact prior to stalking generally influences the
perception of danger and fear (White et al.,2020). However, Scott and colleagues (Duff and
Scott, 2013;Scott, 2020;Scott et al.,2013) revealed that risk awareness toward ex-intimate
stalkers can be increased in research settings by providing contextual information.
Ex-intimate stalking has been associated to several other offending behaviours, such as
intimate partner violence (Senkans et al.,2017), sexual violence (Tjaden and Thoennes,
1998), harassment and coercion (Longpr
eet al.,2022;Tachmetzidi Papoutsi and Longpr
2022), violence (Mullen et al.,1999) and homicide (Monckton-Smith et al.,2017).
A limited number of scales are available to assess the presence of stalking, the risk and
what course of action is needed (Nobles et al., 2009;Stefanska et al., 2021b). Furthermore,
while some scales are unvalidated professional checklists (e.g. Stalking version of the
Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment [DASH] risk checklist; Richards, 2009), others

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