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Fleming, J.C.; Fansher, A.K.; Randa, R.; Reyns, B.W. Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Victims of Stalking. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 24 June 2024).
Fleming JC, Fansher AK, Randa R, Reyns BW. Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Victims of Stalking. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 24, 2024.
Fleming, Jessica C., Ashley K. Fansher, Ryan Randa, Bradford W. Reyns. "Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Victims of Stalking" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 24, 2024).
Fleming, J.C., Fansher, A.K., Randa, R., & Reyns, B.W. (2023, August 11). Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Victims of Stalking. In Encyclopedia.
Fleming, Jessica C., et al. "Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Victims of Stalking." Encyclopedia. Web. 11 August, 2023.
Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Victims of Stalking

Stalking is a crime characterized by persistent, unwanted pursuit, often inciting fear and emotional distress in victims through experiences such as unwanted following or communication.

stalking victimization help-seeking sexual orientation

1. Introduction

Stalking involves a repeated course of conduct on the part of a perpetrator that harms or causes fear/distress in the victim (e.g., Fox et al. 2011; Nobles et al. 2014; and Tjaden and Thoennes 1998). Stalking was first criminalized in the United States approximately three decades ago and has since been researched extensively (e.g., Brady et al. 2020; Fisher et al. 2002; and Gatewood Owens 2017), but gaps remain in the extant literature, particularly with regard to victim decision-making. In recent decades, this area has emerged as an important focus within victimology, with researchers investigating help-seeking, self-protection, and bystander intervention, among other topics (e.g., Coker et al. 2011; Fisher et al. 2003, 2007; Reyns and Englebrecht 2010, 2014; and Tark and Kleck 2004).

Generally speaking, victim help-seeking decisions involve formal or informal sources of help. Victims may formally invoke the criminal justice system by calling law enforcement to respond to the crime. This represents an important step in the criminal justice process and provides a gatekeeper role for crime victims (e.g., Gottfredson and Gottfredson 1990). Formal help-seeking may also afford victims opportunities to utilize victim services. Help-seeking can also be more informal and include reaching out to friends or family for assistance, support, or advice (e.g., Fisher et al. 2003; McCart et al. 2010; and Reyns and Englebrecht 2014). Overall, victim help-seeking decisions shape the course of events for the criminal justice system and crime victims as they begin the recovery process.

2. Stalking Victimization among Sexual Minority and Heterosexual Individuals

Stalking is a crime characterized by persistent, unwanted pursuit, often inciting fear and emotional distress in victims through experiences such as unwanted following or communication (Logan and Walker 2017; Morgan and Truman 2022; and Reyns et al. 2023). Stalking victimization affects a substantial number of individuals and remains a serious public health concern (Morgan and Truman 2022; Purcell et al. 2002; Reyns et al. 2016; Smith et al. 2022; and Spitzberg and Cupach 2007). Estimates show that in 2019, approximately 1.3% (3.4 million) of all individuals in the United States, 16 years of age or older, were victims of stalking (Morgan and Truman 2022). Differences in the prevalence of stalking victimization exist between different demographics, such as sex, age groups, marital statuses, and household incomes, with younger individuals, divorced or separated individuals, and those in households annually earning less than USD 25,000 experiencing higher rates of stalking victimization (e.g., Elvey et al. 2018; Fisher et al. 2002; Morgan and Truman 2022; Mustaine and Tewksbury 1999; Purcell et al. 2002; Reyns et al. 2016; Smith et al. 2022; and Spitzberg and Cupach 2007). Moreover, national estimates from the United States’ Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that females are stalked at approximately twice the rate of males (Morgan and Truman 2022; Smith et al. 2022).

Extant research shows that both heterosexual and sexual minority populations experience stalking victimization (Boyle and McKinzie 2021; Cantor et al. 2019; Chen et al. 2020; Edwards et al. 2015a, 2015b; Langenderfer-Magruder et al. 2020; Mennicke et al. 2021; and Walters et al. 2013). However, assessing the prevalence of stalking victimization among sexual minority victims is challenging due to methodological differences across studies. As a result, reported victimization rates among sexual minority populations exhibit significant variation, ranging from 7% to 53% (Boyle and McKinzie 2021; Cantor et al. 2019; Chen et al. 2020; Edwards et al. 2015b, 2022; Langenderfer-Magruder et al. 2020; Nobles et al. 2018; Sheridan et al. 2019; Trujillo et al. 2020; Turell 2000; and Walters et al. 2013).

Despite an increasing understanding of the prevalence of stalking victimization, there is limited research on the differences in stalking victimization based on sexual orientation, with existing research finding conflicting results. Some studies indicate that sexual minority individuals face a higher risk of stalking victimization compared to their heterosexual counterparts (Edwards et al. 2015b, 2022; Langenderfer-Magruder et al. 2017; Mennicke et al. 2021; Sheridan et al. 2019; and Walters et al. 2013), other studies find no such differences (Boyle and McKinzie 2021; Langenderfer-Magruder et al. 2020; and Turell 2000). Data from several studies identified that bisexual individuals report a higher lifetime prevalence of stalking victimization than other sexual orientations (Chen et al. 2020; Langenderfer-Magruder et al. 2020; Nobles et al. 2018; and Walters et al. 2013). This is supported by Walters et al. (2013) using estimates from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS); they reported that one in three bisexual women experience stalking during their lifetime, compared to one in six heterosexual women. These findings are consistent with the sexual minority domestic violence and sexual minority intimate partner violence research (Langenderfer-Magruder et al. 2017; Martin-Storey 2015; and Stults et al. 2021).

As noted above, other studies revealed no statistically significant variations in the rates of stalking experienced by sexual minority and heterosexual stalking victims (Boyle and McKinzie 2021; Langenderfer-Magruder et al. 2020; and Turell 2000). These contrasting findings, however, should be interpreted with caution, as they are drawn from studies that rely on community-based or college student samples and do not use nationally representative data (Boyle and McKinzie 2021; Langenderfer-Magruder et al. 2020; and Turell 2000). Moreover, these contrasting results may reflect outdated practices, given that some studies cited are based on data from over 20 years ago (Turell 2000).

3. Reporting and Help-Seeking Behaviors

After an individual is victimized, they are left with several decisions: report the incident to the police, confide in a friend or family member, seek help from other professional services, or even choose not to disclose their victimization to anyone. Studies consistently demonstrate that victims of crime tend to rely more on informal sources, such as family and friends for help, rather than on formal sources, such as the police, mental health services, or medical professionals (e.g., Barrett and St. Pierre 2011; Coker et al. 2000; Fisher et al. 2003; McCart et al. 2010; Reyns and Englebrecht 2014; Sylaska and Edwards 2014; Ullman 2007; and Xie and Baumer 2019). Furthermore, a crime victim’s decision to seek help can vary based on a number of factors, including age, sex, race, and the relationship between the victim and offender (Kaukinen 2002, 2004; Sylaska and Edwards 2014; and Xie and Baumer 2019). Research also suggests that the type of victimization experienced may influence help-seeking decisions. For example, Reyns and Englebrecht (2014) found increased odds of victims engaging in formal and informal help-seeking for stalking victims who were also cyberstalked.

Research on the help-seeking behaviors of stalking victims is limited, but findings are comparable with other types of violence. According to a United States Bureau of Justice Statistics report, less than one-third (29%) of all American stalking victims reported their victimization to the police in 2019 (Morgan and Truman 2022). While stalking victims may turn to formal sources, such as law enforcement, when their attempts to seek informal help fail to deter their stalker (Campbell and Moore 2011; Reyns and Englebrecht 2014; and Taylor-Dunn et al. 2021), the low rate of reporting suggests that many victims may not feel comfortable seeking help from formal sources. Studies show that stalking victims may choose not to report incidents to the police for a variety of reasons, including a lack of faith in the ability or willingness of police to help, perceiving the incident as minor or not important enough to report, or fear of retaliation from the offender (Baum et al. 2009; Fisher et al. 2002; and Tjaden and Thoennes 1998). However, research also found that stalking victims who experienced both traditional and cyberstalking were more likely to apply for a restraining, protection, or no-contact order compared to victims of traditional or cyberstalking only (Morgan and Truman 2022).

The severity of the offense was identified in prior research as a significant determinant of help-seeking generally (e.g., Brady et al. 2023; Fissel 2021; Gottfredson and Gottfredson 1990; and Reyns and Englebrecht 2010). Victims who experience more severe types of stalking are also more likely to engage in formal help-seeking (Ameral et al. 2020; Buhi et al. 2009; Fissel 2021; Jordan et al. 2007; and Reyns and Englebrecht 2014). According to Reyns and Englebrecht (2014), individuals who previously sought help, whether from formal or informal sources, are more likely to turn to the same type of source, formal or informal, when seeking help again. Lastly, studies indicated that stalking victims often hesitate to report the behavior to law enforcement if they know the perpetrator, due to fear that their claims may not be taken seriously (Reyns and Englebrecht 2014). Bendlin and Sheridan (2019) hypothesized that the controlling behavior exhibited by stalkers can also leave victims feeling reluctant and fearful of disclosing the crime to the police.

4. Sexual Minority Help-Seeking

Individuals from marginalized groups, such as sexual minority individuals, may have lower levels of trust and confidence in the criminal justice system (Dario et al. 2020; Miles-Johnson 2013; and Owen et al. 2018). Studies examining violence against sexual minority individuals suggest that this group does not trust the police to treat them fairly and reported mistreatment by police officers (Dwyer and Ball 2012; and Finneran and Stephenson 2013). Additionally, sexual minority crime victims were shown to underutilize victim assistance services due to fear of secondary victimization by homophobic and insensitive workers and organizations (LaSala and Fedor 2020; and Messinger 2020). This lack of faith and trust in the system may influence the decision of sexual minority stalking victims to report their stalking victimization and/or seek help for their stalking victimization. While research specifically related to the help-seeking behaviors of sexual minority victims is extremely limited, Langenderfer-Magruder et al. (2020) found that sexual minority female victims reported stalking to the police at higher rates than male sexual minority victims and transgender victims. Additionally, the study found that lesbian victims reported stalking victimization to the police at higher rates than gay, bisexual, or queer victims.

5. Policy Suggestions

Understanding the help-seeking behaviors of sexual minority stalking victims necessitates nuanced interventions. Several policy recommendations arise from this understanding. Public campaigns remain paramount, aiming to both shed light on the emotional trauma of stalking and advocate for victim support. Addressing misconceptions, particularly those affecting sexual minorities, is essential to foster a supportive environment (Weller et al. 2013). Victims require a blend of general and specialized resources, such as hotlines, counseling, and other services specifically designed for sexual minority victims. Further, strengthening collaborations between governmental bodies, non-profits, and community groups that support sexual minorities can create a robust safety net (Craig et al. 2015). Improving the relationship between marginalized communities and the criminal justice system is foundational for trust-building. This can be achieved through advanced police training focused on sexual minority concerns (Levenson et al., 2023), introducing liaison officers familiar with these issues, and by collaborations with related community organizations (Pickles 2020 and Craig et al. 2015). Furthermore, inclusive victim services (Meyer 2015) and stringent anti-discrimination policies (Nakamura et al, 2022) can empower victims to come forward.

Considering age impacts help-seeking behaviors, it's crucial to provide tailored interventions across age groups, ensuring victim services are universally accessible (Morgan and Truman 2022). Creating virtual support spaces becomes increasingly important as the digital age progresses, ensuring accessibility, especially for marginalized communities. However, preventative strategies are just as crucial as reactive ones. Incorporating insights about stalking, which can mimic adolescent dating patterns, into dating violence curriculums, including higher education institutions, can change perceptions (Theriot 2008). Holistic prevention efforts should confront gender abuse myths, promote bystander intervention, and be inclusive of diverse populations (Kettrey and Marx 2019). In conclusion, continuously updating policies, informed by current research findings, is vital. The diverse and sometimes conflicting data on stalking victimization, especially among sexual minorities, underscores the need for regular policy refinement.

Subjects: Social Issues
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Update Date: 07 Sep 2023
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