Responding to stalking victims – a qualitative study of police officers' experiences of stalking cases in Hampshire

Examining police officers' experiences of stalking cases and their perceptions around this type of offending behaviour.

Key details

Lead institution
Principal researcher(s)
Deborah Balfour
Police region
South East
Level of research
Masters
Project start date
Date due for completion

Research context

Stalking is a very serious offence which can have harmful physical, psychological, and social consequences for the victim (Dreßing and others, 2020). However, a clear issue emerging from the stalking literature is the ambiguity around what constitutes stalking.

In some instances, individuals may believe that in pursuing a relationship, some persistence is desired, which can cause confusion about what behaviours are acceptable (Cupach & Spitzberg, 1998).

Despite the identification of reasons for only a small number of cases resulting in legal action, gaps in the literature remain with regard to understanding the experience of those professionals (for example, police) in dealing with such cases in the legal system. Added to this, there is evidence that police officers are not immune to the bias associated with the perpetrator-victim relationship in stalking cases.

A recent study commissioned by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Fire and Rescue services (HMICFRS; Taylor-Dunn and others, 2021) found that police were more likely to rate a stranger-stalker scenario as constituting stalking than an acquaintance or ex-intimate partner scenario, despite evidence that stalkers are more likely to be ex-partners or acquaintances (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007). This finding is supported by previous research (Sheridan and others, 2016; Weller and others, 2013). Moreover, research by Scott and others, (2014) indicates that misperceptions of police officers may affect decision making processes during investigation.

Much of the extant qualitative literature on experiences within the criminal justice system when it comes to stalking cases (and how these can be improved) focuses on the lived experience of victims (Chung & Sheridan, 2021) and researchers such as Boehnlein and others, (2020) have identified a need to investigate the barriers to investigation and prosecution. It is imperative to address this gap in research to improve police response to victims. 

Research methodology

Participants will be police officers recruited from Hampshire Constabulary. To get a balanced view of stalking cases, police officers of different experience levels will be contacted to take part, including some from the specialist stalking team and some front-line officers with no specific stalking training. 

This study will use a qualitative design. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with participants to gather data about their experiences of stalking cases. The data will be thematically analysed by the researcher. Thematic analysis is a method commonly used in qualitative research and involves analysing patterns or themes in data to extract meaning (Javadi & Zarea, 2016; Tjandra and others, 2013). An advantage to this approach is its flexibility (Braun & Clarke, 2006). This allows an analysis of the information provided during the interviews which reflects the reality experienced by the participants.

An email will be sent to officers in the Hampshire Constabulary containing a survey explaining the aims of the research and asking if they would be interested in taking part. The survey will contain an information page detailing the study and explaining what is expected of them and a consent form.

Participants who provide their contact information will be contacted by email by the lead researcher to arrange an interview. Semi-structured interviews will take place on Teams. At the end of the interview, participants will be given the opportunity to review what was discussed and confirm that they still give consent for that data to be used. All interviews will be recorded and then transcribed and analysed using Thematic Analysis by the researcher. 

Research participation

This research will involve interviews with police officers currently serving with Hampshire constabulary, any officers who fit this profile are welcome to contact the researcher to take part. 

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