An estimated 3.4 million Americans are stalked annually, and the experience of being stalked can take a significant toll on victims’ well-being (Baum, Catalano, Rand, & Rose, 2009). Some scholars have noted that there is a “thin line” between stalking and the dominant male script for heterosexual pursuit, since both involve a man pursuing a (at least initially) reluctant woman (Sinclair & Frieze, 2000, 2005). For this reason, when stalking behaviors are portrayed in the media, they are often portrayed as part of a romantic narrative (Dunn, 2002; Sinclair, 2010). Thus, media may normalize persistent pursuit.
In a survey of high school students, I found that total amount of television exposure predicted higher levels of “stalking myth” endorsement (Sinclair, 2006) (i.e., beliefs about stalking that minimize its seriousness). Two viewing orientations – perceiving television as realistic, and watching television to learn about sex and relationships – also predicted higher levels of stalking myth endorsement. Experimental work built on these correlational findings, offering causal evidence for a link between media exposure and stalking myth endorsement. Watching a film that depicted persistent pursuit as scary (Enough or Sleeping with the Enemy) led participants to endorse lower levels of stalking myths. Additionally, although exposure to a film that depicted persistent pursuit as romantic (Management or There’s Something About Mary) did not affect level of stalking myth endorsement for all participants, it did lead to higher levels of stalking myth endorsement among those who perceived the films as more realistic or who experienced higher levels of narrative engagement.