The impact of frequency of behavior and type of contact on judgments involving a criminal stalking case

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We investigated mock juror perceptions of the frequency of behavior and type of contact in an ex-intimate stalking case. We used a mock-juror methodology, in which 204 community members (129 women) read a stalking trial summary, rendered a verdict, and evaluated the intent of the defendant to cause the victim fear and distress, as well as the victims experience with these emotions. The trial varied as to whether there were 5 or 30 stalking incidents and whether the stalking involved personal contact or stalking via text message. Results showed that females were more likely to render a guilty verdict when the victim had been stalked 30 times rather than 5 times while males were equally likely to render a guilty verdict regardless of the frequency. Mock jurors were significantly more likely to render guilty verdicts in the personal contact condition than in the text message condition. Females perceptions of the victims fear and distress mediated the frequency of incidents x gender interaction. The victims fear and the defendants intentions mediated the main effect of type of contact on verdict. Cognitive network analyses showed that victim fear and the defendants intent to cause fear were central to participant verdict decision making. We discuss these results in terms of the implications, specifically that victim fear should be a primary focus in stalking legislation.

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