NZ’s lack of stalking laws “dangerous and outdated”
Better laws and public understanding of stalking are urgently needed to protect victims from the fear, toxic stress, silencing, violence and possible risk to their lives, says the Auckland Coalition for the Safety of Women and Children.
“As multiple stories show, our lack of fit-for-purpose stalking laws is dangerous and outdated, leaving targeted women without protection, and poisoning our public life,” says Coalition chair Leonie Morris. “We’ve waited too long for successive governments to fix this horrific reality.”
People tend to think of stalking as following someone, but that is only one kind of stalking. Stalking is any “unwanted repetitive and persistent intrusions into a person’s life”, such as surveillance, following, threatening, contacting/phoning/messaging, leaving unwanted items (anything from excrement to flowers), spreading untruthful and/or damaging accusations (online or to a victim’s workplace for example), or doxing. Stalking can continue for years and stalkers can escalate their behaviour, including to physical violence and/or killing.
“Sometimes people see malicious behaviour and think ‘how awful!’, but they don’t necessarily put it in the category of ‘stalking’,” says Morris. “Or people see one stalking action in isolation as trivial, but actually, as part of a pattern of repeated behaviour, such actions are designed to control the victim and assert power over them through fear. This ignorance leads to victim blaming and minimising of stalking.”
Women are disproportionately targeted by stalking, particularly young women, disabled women, rainbow women and wāhine Māori. The most dangerous, and persistent stalking is conducted by ex-partners of women. In a shared parenting context, the hand-over of children is a particularly risky time for mothers. In addition, the stalking of women politicians, journalists and celebrities may dissuade others from speaking out.
The Coalition is urging the government introduce stand-alone stalking legislation that makes all stalking criminal. Most parts of the European Union, UK, Australia and the United States have stalking laws; but New Zealand does not. Instead, New Zealand has various different laws that were not designed to respond specifically to stalking.
“Our current piecemeal laws do not hold stalkers accountable or make victims safer,” says Morris. “As the current discussion about New Zealand’s misogynistic political arena shows, we need to do better to uphold human rights, to ensure our country lives up to our expectations.
“A robust, coherent stalking law would go a long way to ensure all New Zealanders, especially women, are empowered to make life choices without fear.”