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(Front row, L to R): Eve McDowell, Senator Lisa Chambers, Una Ring, Senator Fiona O’Loughlin. The Journal
stalking bill

Stalking is not a specific crime and victims say 'harassment' does not cover it

Stalking Ireland has worked with Fianna Fáil’s Lisa Chambers on the bill.

VICTIM SUPPORT GROUP Stalking Ireland has said a new bill to make stalking a specific offence in law for the first time would make it easier for gardaí to investigate. 

Co-founders of the group Una Ring and Eve McDowell said outside Leinster House today that the current harassment laws used to deal with stalking do not accurately represent the trauma felt by victims. 

As it stands, stalking is usually dealt with under Section 10 of Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act which makes harassment a crime. It carries up to seven years in prison.

The act criminalises an individual interfering in another person’s peace by persistently following, watching, pestering, besetting or communicating with them. 

The new bill is being tabled by Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers and seeks to insert the term ‘stalking’ into Section 10 and criminalise “repeated unwanted behaviour”  that causes distress or harm to a victim. 

Chambers said today that stalking can include patterns of behaviour where there is “no direct communication”, so the new legislation is required. 

“As distinct from harassment, it’s repeated unwanted behavior, it’s not just communication, because in Eve’s case there was no direct communication through text messages or phone calls or even speaking to her. Una had a different experience,” the Senator said.

It’s  repeated unwanted behaviors that show an intensity, an obsession, and create an intense fear within the victim. So it’s a step up from what is currently there as the impact on the victim is far more severe. 

Ms Ring, who was subjected months-long campaign of harassment by a former work colleague, said that the characterisation of harassment does not cover the behaviour she was a victim of. 

“As far as I’m concerned, it was harassment when he was messaging me. When someone is creeping around your house to the point where you have to get in CCTV cameras, where you have to have the guard sitting outside, that’s above and beyond harassment,” she told reporters.

Harassment is more of an annoyance, stalking is very, very sinister. The end result of stalking is either rape or murder. Whereas the end result for somebody harassing somebody is about getting inside someone’s head and freaking them out.

“When you’re tidying up your house before you go to bed for crime scene photographs that may need to be taken. When you’re thinking of getting a tattoo on your body to identify your remains if that happens, that’s not harassment, that is being stalked.”

Ms McDowell said that she was stalked by someone who was in her university and who started turning up outside the shop she worked at.

He used to stalk the clothes shop that I worked at, that was the extent that I knew him. I started asking about him and he stopped coming into the shop and instead starting walking by. I didn’t really understand what was happening to me was stalking because when I Googled it nothing really came up. When I went to the guards they said that nothing could really be done as he hadn’t done anything, no crime had been committed. Nothing was done until he broke into my house and tapped my housemate with a hammer. 

Under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, threats to kill or cause serious harm to someone can be punished by a jail term of up to 10 years. 

Senator Chambers said the new bill would also mean that this 10-year sentence should apply to those convicted of stalking. 

“When you actually rename an experience, words matter. And how we identify this point matters and how we actually identify a crime matters. And that will have an impact on how the gardaí treat a complaint of this nature and it will have an impact on how judge’s view prosecution’s of this nature and have a direct impact on sentencing,” she said. 

Ms McDowell also added that it is hoped that making stalking a specific offence will mean that more victims come forward: 

We knew that it was more common than what was discussed. But I think as well a lot of people didn’t actually recognise they we’re being stalked. We define our acronym as F.O.U.R, which means fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated.

“It’s only from I suppose sharing experience, that you get some victims coming forward. They’re like, ‘Oh I heard your story, it wasn’t as bad as what you went through now but there was this fella doing this or that’, and then they go on to tell a really traumatising story about them being stalked, but they don’t even feel confident enough to put the label on their experience.”

In 2016, the Law Reform Commission recommended that there should be a separate offence of stalking and Senator Chambers urged the Department of Justice to “reflect on their position” that stalking can be dealt with under harassment legislation.

Stalking Ireland provides a list of support phone numbers for victims

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