When will they stop? An exploration of protective and desistance factors amongst people who have been involved in stalking behaviours

Project summary

Stalking perpetration is seemingly gendered, with men being responsible for the majority of stalking episodes, regardless of the sex of the victim (Jutasi & McEwan, 2021). One in five women and one in ten men will become victims of stalking at some point in their lives in the UK (ONS, 2019). According to the 2020 Crime Survey for England and Wales, an estimated 2.5 million people experienced stalking in the previous year. The duration of stalking varies greatly. For example, in a forensic sample of people who had stalked, about four-fifths persisted beyond two weeks, half beyond 12 weeks, and a quarter beyond 52 weeks (Purcell et al., 2002). However, this research noted that it is often the persistence of the stalking (even in the absence of violence) that presents a significant concern for victims.

Despite this, factors related to deterrence and desistance for this group are not well-understood, and published studies on interventions (including psychological treatment) and on measuring recidivism and related features, are sparse (Logan & Walker, 2017).  Further, although most people who stalk do stop at some point, there is limited knowledge related to how best to respond, in a timely way, to reduce contemporaneous harm and recidivism (Hehemann et al., 2017; Storey & Hart, 2011). Legal sanctions alone are thought to offer little deterrent (Benitez, McNeil & Binder, 2010), and recidivism studies suggest that a substantial proportion continue stalking, and reoffend rapidly, despite being reported to the police (McEwan et al., 2020).

To add complexity, each person who stalks will engage in this behaviour in the context of their situation, personality, and maladaptive coping modes; stalking results from an event or situation combined with a psychological vulnerability (Purcell & McEwan, 2018; Siepelmeyer & Ortiz-Müller, 2020). As such, the multifaceted nature of, and motivations for, stalking necessitate a multifaceted approach (Leigh, 2021).

Therefore, understanding common factors related to desistance in people who have stalked in the past is essential for advancing knowledge, practical application, public protection and supporting wellbeing in those affected by stalking (including the perpetrator themselves).

Entry requirements

For this PhD programme, we expect you to have a first-class or upper-second (2:1) honours degree in Psychology or a Psychology-related discipline and a master's degree from a UK university in Forensic Psychology. 

International students may also need to meet our English language requirements. Find out more about our entry requirements for international students.

Project specific requirements must align with the University’s standard requirements.

How to apply

Please contact Dr Karin Spenser (k.spenser@derby.ac.uk) in the first instance for more information on how to apply.

The University has four starting points each year for MPhil/PhD programmes (September, January, March and June). Applications should be made at least three months before you would want to start your programme. Please note that, if you require a visa, additional time will be required. 


Self-funded by the student or partially funded, subject to application and availability. 

There is a range of options that may be available to you to help you fund your PhD. 


Professional Psychological Practice Programme Manager (Postgraduate Diploma in Forensic Psychology Practice)

Rachael is the Professional Psychological Practice Programme Manager (PG Dip in Forensic Psychology Practice) and module leader on the MSc in Forensic Psychology. Rachael has a Doctor of Psychology degree and is an experienced Forensic Psychologist. Her primary professional/academic interests are in understanding stalking as a problem behaviour and a crime.

karin spenser
Discipline Lead: Head of Forensic and Health Psychology

Karin Spenser is Discipline Lead: Head of Forensic and Health Psychology and has both academic and professional experience in the field. From an academic perspective, her focus is on quantitative research methods, the paradigms of psychology, working with sexual offenders, offenders with mental or intellectual disabilities, and women veterans.