Developing and Testing an Integrated Theoretical Model of Stalking Violence

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Dennison, Susan

Stewart, Anna

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Violence occurs in an average of 30% to 40% of stalking cases. In these cases, targets endure the psychological harm associated with stalking in addition to the psychological and physical harm associated with physical violence, with potentially debilitating repercussions. Despite this, little is known about the causes of stalking violence. What little knowledge has accumulated is primarily derived from atheoretical investigations of risk factors with limited discussion of how these risk factors influence stalking violence and under what conditions. To address these limitations, the present research aimed to develop and empirically test an integrated theoretical model of stalking violence. This theoretical model integrated research on stalking violence risk factors with existing theories of interpersonal violence to propose a comprehensive explanation of the etiology and escalation of stalking violence.

The integrated theoretical model of stalking violence proposes that humans have a biological propensity for violence, particularly in response to conflict or frustration of goals/rewards. As stalking typically occurs in these contexts, stalkers need to inhibit violence and employ alternative pro-social coping strategies. A stalker’s ability to do so is either strengthened or weakened by various sociocultural, psychological and historical factors (i.e. predisposing factors). Although predisposing factors may weaken one’s behavioural restraints, contextual factors determine if, when and where stalking violence occurs. However, the severity of violence that ensues in these contexts is primarily determined by predisposing factors. Those stalkers with numerous, or severe types, of predisposing factors (e.g. a need for control or history of severe violence) are likely to perpetrate severe violence, while stalkers with few, or moderate types of, predisposing factors (e.g. a history of moderate violence), are likely to perpetrate moderate violence. In this research, risk factors derived from this framework were investigated across the severity of stalking violence.

Study 1 investigated 13 historical and contextual risk factors derived from the integrated theoretical model of stalking violence. The utility of these risk factors were examined in a qualitative analysis of stalking cases derived from Magistrates, District, Supreme and Appeal court transcripts (N = 43) in Queensland, Australia. As 95% of violent stalkers engaged in severe violence, moderate and severe violence were not analysed separately. The results indicated that nearly all of the predisposing and contextual risk factors were associated with stalking violence. However, a more comprehensive understanding of stalking violence was attained through the integration of multiple risk factors. Most cases that included a combination of historical factors (i.e. predisposing factor), an intent to hurt/harm the target (i.e. contextual factor) and either triggering events, opportunities or disinhibitors (i.e. an additional contextual factor) included a violent component. Those cases without risk factors across these domains were less likely to perpetrate violence. All of these results were consistent with the integrated theoretical model of stalking violence.

Study 2 re-examined several risk factors from Study 1 across moderate and severe violence and investigated additional risk factors from the theoretical model that could not be examined in Study 1. These risk factors were examined in a convenience sample of relational stalkers from Queensland, Australia (N = 1738; relational stalkers n = 703). Participants completed a self-report perpetration questionnaire assessing (a) relational stalking (b) stalking violence (no/moderate/severe violence) and (c) sociocultural, psychological, historical and contextual risk factors. The results were consistent with the integrated theoretical model of stalking violence. At the bivariate level, the importance of predisposing variables differed markedly across moderate and severe stalking violence. While severe violence was associated with sociocultural and psychological factors and a history of severe violence, moderate violence was not associated with sociocultural and psychological factors but was associated with a history of moderate violence. Despite marked differences at the bivariate level, similar combinations of variables were significant in logistic regressions differentiating moderate and severe violence from no violence. This indicated that several variables are associated with the occurrence of any stalking violence (i.e. a history of moderate domestic violence, triggering events and anger). Additional predisposing factors (i.e. a history of any severe violence and a need for control) and contextual factors (i.e. threats and illegal drug use) were required to predict whether the violence that ensued was moderate or severe in nature. These findings were consistent with the integrated theoretical model of stalking violence.

Despite the use of markedly different samples sources in Study 1 and Study 2, the propositions of the integrated theoretical model of stalking violence were supported in both studies. Given the high level of preliminary support for the integrated theoretical model of stalking violence, future research should continue to test the utility of this framework. Additionally, stalking violence research should continue examining both predisposing and contextual factors and investigate the causes of moderate and severe stalking violence separately. Together, this will contribute towards a more comprehensive understanding of the causes of stalking violence and subsequently, facilitate the development of preventative strategies.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

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stalking violence

biological propensity for violence

integrated theoretical model of stalking violence

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