Crossing a line? Understandings of the relative seriousness of online and offline intrusive behaviours among young adults

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Title

The Palgrave Handbook of Gendered Violence and Technology




School of Arts and Humanities / Sellenger Centre for Research in Law, Justice and Social Change




Coleman, V., Scott, A. J., Gavin, J., & Rajakaruna, N. (2022). Crossing a Line? Understandings of the Relative Seriousness of Online and Offline Intrusive Behaviours Among Young Adults. In The Palgrave Handbook of Gendered Violence and Technology (pp. 229-257). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.


There has been a rise in online stalking via social media platforms in part because stalking perpetrators can perform many intrusive behaviours with a degree of anonymity and relative impunity. This chapter examines young adults’ understandings of the seriousness of conceptually similar online and offline intrusive behaviours. Focus groups were conducted with 45 university students across 10 groups, using a modified Q-sort task, whereby participants categorised and ranked 20 cue cards that presented 10 online and 10 conceptually similar offline intrusive behaviours. Overall, participants perceived offline intrusive behaviours as more serious than their conceptually similar online counterparts, and five key assumptions shaped their understandings of the relative seriousness of these behaviours: intent, effort, physicality, choice and control, and norms and expectations. Importantly, there were notable gender differences in their understandings, whereby men focused on the explicit content of the intrusive behaviours and women focused on the implicit meaning of these behaviours. Consequently, men were more likely to trivialise both online and offline intrusive behaviours than women. Implications for future research and responses addressing the gendered nature of online stalking are discussed.



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