A new study suggests that the normalization of stalking behaviors in romantic comedies influences our perception of these behaviors in real life. The study, conducted by Julia Lippman of the University of Michigan, analyzed women’s acceptance of stalking behaviors before and after they viewed various films. The results showed that, while many of us grasp the concepts of escapism and reality, movies and other media can shape our views over time.
Over 400 women participated in the study. Each watched one of six movies that had been edited down to 30 minute time slots. In one instance, the participants viewed one of two romantic comedy films in which persistent romantic pursuit leads to a happy ending. In another, participants watched one of two movies in which stalking behaviors were depicted as disturbing (Sleeping with the Enemy or Enough). A control group watched a neutral nature documentary.
After the movie, each woman was asked to complete a survey that monitored how strongly they agreed with several “stalking myths” or beliefs about stalking that are not necessarily true. Lippman describes such myths as “false or exaggerated beliefs about stalking that minimize its seriousness.” Examples of these include “Many stalking victims are people who play hard to get but deep down have feelings for their stalkers,” or “One who stalks his love interest must really care for them.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, the women who watched the romantic comedies more strongly supported these myths if they felt the movie was realistic, while those who viewed the scary stalking films were less likely than the control group or the rom-com viewers to support these ideas.
Approximately 3.4 million Americans are stalked each year, 78% of whom are women. Although more women than men report having experienced stalking that has made them feel “very fearful” at some point in their lives, most movies depicting stalking portray male stalking of female victims as romantic and desirable while female stalking of male victims often portrays the woman as mentally unstable. Normalizing these tropes carries implications for the prosecution of stalkers and the legal support women who are stalked may have available to them.
Over time, a society that accepts obsessive pursuit of its women by its men will come to believe that this is normal behavior and make it more difficult for stalkers to be prosecuted. Women may already face scrutiny by law enforcement when reporting stalkers, and may be asked why they did not report the stalker sooner.
Stalking remains a criminal offense that can have a lasting impact on its victims, who sometimes develop post traumatic stress disorder. It often takes place between people who know each other, and is not always based on romantic pursuit. Stalking can manifest in several ways and can be a serious misdemeanor or felony crime, which is why if you have been accused of stalking you should seek the legal expertise of a qualified criminal defense attorney in West Palm Beach. At The Law Office of Gabriel & Gabriel, attorney Brian Gabriel has defended those accused of criminal offenses like stalking for over 30 years. Call 561-622-5575 or schedule a free consultation online.