The Dark Figure of Stalking: Examining Law Enforcement Response

J Interpers Violence. 2017 Oct;32(20):3149-3173. doi: 10.1177/0886260515596979. Epub 2015 Jul 30.


Despite the growing body of scholarship on stalking victimization, the criminal justice system's response has been substantially understudied. Although scholars consider stalking to be a significant issue, its prevalence is not echoed in official data representing stalking arrests and convictions. The disparity between prevalence estimates and official data reinforces a "dark figure" of stalking that warrants further examination. To develop a better understanding of underreporting and/or underrecording, this exploratory study used official data from the Houston Police Department to examine police response to stalking. Findings indicated that, compared with other interpersonal crimes, incidents of stalking are dramatically underrecorded. Over an 8-year period, there were a total of 3,756 stalking calls for service, 66 stalking-related incident reports, and only 12 arrests for stalking. However, not one of the stalking calls for service generated a stalking-related incident report nor an arrest for stalking. Of the stalking calls for service that did generate an incident report, the large majority of the reports were classified as either harassment or a violation of a protective order. Furthermore, incident reports and arrests for stalking generally emerged from calls for service for harassment or terroristic threats. Implications for research and policy are discussed.

Keywords: interpersonal violence; official data; policing; stalking; victimization.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Crime Victims / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement / methods*
  • Male
  • Police / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Prevalence
  • Stalking / epidemiology*
  • Texas / epidemiology