Coping with Stalking among University Students

Article excerpt

The present study examined behavioral coping actions and coping strategies in relation to specific contextual factors (e.g., victim-stalker relationship, stalking violence, duration of stalking, and prior victimization) among Finnish university students. Participants completed a stalking survey, also including items concerning coping. Victims of violent stalking threatened the stalker with the use of certain legal actions significantly more compared with victims of nonviolent stalking, but no difference in the actual use of formal help was found. Instead victims of stalking tried to avoid the stalker or turned to friends and family for help. Victim-stalker relationship, stalker violence, and number of stalking episodes had a significant main effect on certain coping strategies (e.g., positive reappraisal, escape-avoidance, and problem-solving), while no interaction effect was found. The findings suggest that knowledge of victim-coping behavior and strategies is crucial for health care and law enforcement professionals when devising appropriate support for victims and developing multidisciplinary approaches.

Keywords : stalking ; coping ; university students ; victim-stalker relationship ; stalker violence ; intervention development

Unlike many discrete crimes, stalking is usually characterized by prolonged and repeated victimization ( Purcell, Pathé, & Mullen, 2005 ). It is well known that stalking as a form of chronic stress is related to high levels of psychopathology (e.g., Amar, 2006 ; Blaauw, Winkel, Sheridan, Malsch, & Arensman, 2002 ; Dressing, Gass, & Kuehner, 2007 ; Kamphuis & Emmelkamp, 2001 ; Kaysen, Resick, & Wise, 2003 ; Purcell et al., 2005 ). Thus, an ability to cope with enduring stress might emerge as a key factor in coping with stalking, even though curtailing the stalking episode is the optimal goal. Yet, there is limited information available concerning how various victim and stalker characteristics are related to victim responses ( Jordan, Wilcox, & Pritchard, 2007 ) or which particular interventions effectively discourage which type of victimization ( Briere & Jordan, 2004 ). Thus, there is still a persistent need for coping research ( Coyne & Racioppo, 2000 ) along with an urgent requirement for professional networks and multidisciplinary interventions for stalking ( Dressing, Gass, & Kuehner, 2007 ). This study aims to address this gap by examining how certain contextual factors (e.g., victim and stalker characteristics) are related to both victim behavioral actions and cognitive coping strategies.


Victims' attempts to cope with their victimization can be broadly categorized into coping behaviorally (by taking observable and/or instrumental actions) or cognitively (by processing thoughts, emotions, and perceptions) in order to reduce stress ( Frieze, Hymer, & Greenberg, 1987 ; Waldrop & Resick, 2004 ). Most previous works on coping with stalking have focused on listing a variety of behavioral and instrumental coping actions (e.g., moving to a new residence, making one's home safer, changing the telephone number; Spitzberg, 2002 ). Following several such studies and reviews, Spitzberg and Cupach suggest dividing these victim actions into five functional categories (see Spitzberg, 2002 ; Spitzberg & Cupach, 2003 , 2007 ): moving inward (denial, meditation, drugs), moving outward (contacting third parties for social support or protection), moving toward or with (negotiating or reasoning with the stalker), moving against (threatening or harming the stalker), and moving away (attempting to escape the stalker). Studies of student samples have demonstrated that students usually try to deal with stalking by themselves, via changing their social environment, ignoring the stalker, or sometimes by confronting the stalker ( Amar, 2006 ; Bjerregaard, 2002 ; Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2002 ; Fremouw, Westrup, & Pennypacker, 1997 ). …