Risk Factors for Severe Violence in Intimate Partner Stalking Situations: An Analysis of Police Record

Bendlin, M., & Sheridan, L. (2021).
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(17-18), 7895–7916.
Type of Profession:

The present study aims to identify factors associate with nonviolent, moderate, and severe physical violence within a sample of domestically violent police incident reports where stalking had also occurred.


Expanded Abstract: 
Stalkers can be violent, and empirical studies have sought to identify factors associated with violence perpetrated by the stalker. Most of these works view physical violence as a homogeneous construct and do not differentiate between moderate and severe violence.  
Research has established a consistent positive relationship between stalking and intimate partner violence (Churcher & Nesca, 2013; McEwan, Mullen, & Purcell, 2007; Miller, 2012; Norris, Huss, & Palarea, 2011; Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007), the potential for violence toward victims of intimate partner stalking underlines the critical importance for law enforcement agents to be successful in identifying victims at high risk and intervene early using empirically supported practices.
Research on cases of homicide and stalking has found that stalking can precede fatal violence, with a U.S. study showing that 76% of femicides were associated with prior stalking (McFarlane et al., 1999). As the presence of violence in stalking has been well established in the literature, research has focused on identifying the risk factors for violence perpetration. One of the most consistent findings within the literature is that intimate/ex-intimate partners are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing stalking violence than those stalked by strangers, acquaintances, friends, or family members (Farnham, James, & Cantrell, 2000; McEwan et al., 2007; Mohandie, Meloy, McGowan, & Williams, 2006; Resnick, 2007; Sheridan & Davies, 2001). A review of stalking studies found that overt threats of harm were associated with a higher risk of stalking-related violence (e.g., (Churcher & Nesca, 2013, a finding that had also been produced by Rosenfeld (2004). Churcher and Nesca (2013) also found that the presence of a criminal record and/or previous violence were associated with a higher risk of stalking violence; however, these findings are contrasted by research which has reported no significant associations between criminal history and stalking violence risk (Rosenfeld, 2004; Rosenfeld & Harmon, 2002). Mental health appears to be associated with violence risk among stalking perpetrators. substance abuse has been a well-established risk factor for stalking violence (Churcher & Nesca, 2013; Groenen & Vervaeke, 2009; Mullen et al., 1999; Rosenfeld, 2004). Other risk factors that have been associated with stalking violence include separation (Dutton & Goodman, 2005; Kienlen, 1998; Mechanic, Weaver, & Resick, 2000; Melton, 2007; Walker & Meloy, 1998) and fear (Sheridan & Lyndon, 2012), although fear is a factor few studies have explored. Like fear, the association between suicidality and stalking violence has rarely been examined, although research has shown that stalkers have a higher rate of suicide than the general population (McEwan, Mullen, & MacKenzie, 2010), and risk assessments commonly outline suicidal ideation. as a “red flag” for serious violence (MacKenzie et al., 2009; Meloy, Hoffman, Guldimann, & James, 2012). Victim’s perceptions of risk have been explored in domestic violence and often used as an assessment of danger (Campbell, 2004). Jealousy is another factor that has been the focus of few studies, although Roberts (2005) found that perpetrator jealousy was a significant predictor of increased stalking violence. Jealousy has been associated with family violence/domestic violence (Dutton & Goodman, 2005), and is a well-established characteristic of stalkers (Langhinrichsen- Rohling, Palarea, Cohen, & Rohling, 2000; Roberts, 2002; Silva, Derecho, Leong, & Ferrari, 2000). Further, a risk of homicide is 7 times higher for victims who have previously experienced nonfatal strangulation than those who have not (Glass et al., 2008).
The present study aims to identify correlates of nonviolent, moderate, and severe physical violence within an archival sample of 369 domestically violent police incident reports, where stalking behavior was indicated. The incident reports utilized in this study occurred between 2013 and 2017, among intimate or ex-intimate partners. The present study explored 12 independent variables that have yielded mixed findings in previous stalking violence literature, as well as two previously untested factors of nonfatal strangulation and child contact. The police records were coded for severity of physical violence using the Revised Conflict Tactics Scale and analyzed using a logistic regression. The regression analysis revealed significant independent associations between the outcome variable of severe physical violence and child contact, history of domestic violence, separation, nonfatal strangulation, jealousy, previous injury, and victim belief of potential harm. 
In this study, a significant association was found between the presence of jealousy and physical violence in the stalking sample. Our study also showed that jealousy was significantly associated with higher severity of physical violence. The results also showed that the victim’s belief that the perpetrator would cause them injury and previous physical harm to the victim by the perpetrator were associated with higher severity physical violence.
These results may help produce pragmatic recommendations for law enforcement agencies and other relevant bodies who seek to identify victims at risk of severe violence, increasing the potential for early intervention and prevention of physical harm. The awareness of factors that are shown to be related to serious physical violence may assist first responders in recognizing which victims may be at risk of serious harm, as well as effectively allocating any appropriate resources to reduce and prevent harm.
(The expanded abstract is excerpted and adapted from the article cited above).