National Stalking Awareness Week 2020 runs this week from Monday 20th April 2020 to Friday 24th April 2020.
Many people associate stalking as something experienced only by those in the public eye – we read stories in the papers of a ‘crazed fan’ being found on a high-profile celebrity’s premises or trolling them online and sending unwanted messages.
Many would not associate stalking with something that would happen to ordinary people in their in ordinary lives. However, according to the National Stalking Helpline, approximately 45% of people who contact them are being stalked by people they have previously been in a relationship with, while a further one third will have had some prior acquaintance with their stalker.
What is the definition of stalking?
There is currently no legal definition of stalking, though it is generally seen as behaviour which is persistent and unwanted, and which causes the victim to feel frightened, anxious and distressed. This persistent and unwanted behaviour can take many forms, including the following:-
- Following, observing and spying on someone.
- Non-consensual communication, such as repeated phone calls, emails, text messages, and unwanted gifts.
- Showing up uninvited at the victim’s home school, or work.
- Driving past the victim’s home or work.
- Burglary or robbery or criminal damage of the victim’s home, workplace, vehicle or other property.
- Threatening the victim, their family, or even pets with violence.
- Harassment of people associated with the victim (e.g. family members, partner, work colleagues).
- Physical and/ or sexual assault of the victim.
- Cyber stalking – i.e. conduct or communication via electronic devices which are intended to distress or harass the victim – for example, sending or leaving unsolicited material/gifts, graffiti, and/or messages on social networking sites.
How can I protect myself if I am being stalked?
Stalking was made a criminal offence in England and Wales in November 2012. However, in Northern Ireland, no legislation currently exists dealing specifically with stalking and making it a stand – alone criminal offence. In March 2020, the Minister of Justice Naomi Long confirmed that she would be introducing stalking legislation in Northern Ireland as a priority and the Department of Justice is currently working on a Stalking Bill, something that will be awaited with interest.
Presently however, the law has some remedy in place to protect those who are being stalked or harassed. There are different options available for those who are being stalked by a family member and those being stalked by someone unknown or unrelated to them.
- Civil Injunction
The Protection from Harassment Order (NI) 1997 provides a victim with the ability to apply to the Court for a Civil Injunction against their stalker. This remedy can be used where the victim and perpetrator are not related to one another via blood or marriage and indeed even if the perpetrator is not known to the victim.
A Civil Injunction, if granted, stops a person from harassing, assaulting, molesting or otherwise interfering with the victim, including restraining that person from being able to communicate or contact the victim and, in some cases, prohibiting them from being able to enter a certain property or area.
In order to make an application for a Civil Injunction, there must be evidence of two separate incidents of harassment. It is therefore important that any incident of harassing or threatening behaviour is logged with the Police.
Civil Injunctions can be applied for on an emergency basis without the perpetrator being notified and dependant on a victim’s income, they may be entitled to Legal Aid assistance.
- Non-Molestation Order
Under the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Order (NI) 1998, if a victim and the perpetrator are deemed to be ‘associated persons’, then the victim has the option of applying for a Non-Molestation Order against the perpetrator. In general terms, the parties are deemed to be ‘associated persons’ if they are family members, have lived together in a familial relationship or have a child together.
If a Non-Molestation Order is granted by the Court, the perpetrator cannot molest, harass, pester, use or threaten violence against the victim. It means that they cannot harass the victim directly (in person, by text, phone, email or social media) and they also cannot get someone else to harass them on their behalf.
The Court can also grant a victim an Occupation Order if they live with the perpetrator or if the perpetrator has some right to reside in their home (for example, if they are on the tenancy agreement or a joint owner). If the Court grants an Occupation Order, this means that the perpetrator they can be removed from the home and barred from returning to it.
The Court can also make an exclusion zone, excluding the perpetrator from a particular place, for example from the street in which the victim lives or the place they work.
Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders can be made on an emergency basis if there has been a recent incident of abuse (usually within the past 7 days). Some Legal Aid assistance is available to anyone applying for these Orders.
If you are the victim of stalking or harassment, you should contact the Police as soon as possible and report this behaviour and also seek legal advice on obtaining protection from the Courts. There are organisations available to provide such support, such as the Domestic and Sexual Violence helpline (0808 8021414) Women’s Aid, the Men’s Advisory Project and The Rainbow Project. With the help of the police, legal system and support services, you do not have to suffer in silence. With the right advice and support, you can put an end to the harassment you are suffering and move forward to a happier and healthier life.
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