What is stalking and is it illegal?

"Stalking" is defined as repeated and persistent unwanted communications and/or approaches that produce fear in the victim. The stalker may use such means as telephone calls, letters, e-mail, graffiti and placing notices in the media. A stalker may approach or follow the victim, or keep their residence under surveillance. Stalking is often associated with other forms of harassment, such as ordering goods on the victim's behalf, sending unsolicited materials and initiating spurious legal actions (Mullen et al., 1999). Stalking intrudes on the victim's privacy and evokes a fear of violence. Such fears are justified, as threats, property damage and assault occur all too frequently in association with stalking.

Community surveys suggest that each year between 1% and 2% of women and 0.25% to 0.5% of men are stalked (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996; Tjaden and Thoennes, 1998). Although these behaviors have been documented for centuries, stalking has been recognized as a social problem only during the last decade (Meloy, 1999; Mullen et al., 2000). The media began using the word stalking in the late 1980s to describe persistent following of celebrities. It was soon generalized to include a wide range of recurrent harassments and an equally diverse range of victims. Successful media campaigns established stalking as a public issue and stimulated legislative changes to allow the more effective prosecution of stalkers.

California passed the first anti-stalking statute in 1990, followed shortly by the rest of the United States as well as Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and now some European countries. It was only after stalking became a specific form of offensive behavior that behavioral scientists and health care professionals began to systematically study stalkers and, equally important, the impact of their conduct on the victims.

From: Stalkers and their Victims by Paul E. Mullen, M.B.B.S., D.Sc., and Michele Pathé, M.B.B.S. featured in the Psychiatric Times April 2001 Vol. XVIII Issue 4 defines stalking as follows and expands on how the community and the law should view stalking.

What to do about it?

It is imperative that you realize that you are not dealing with a rational person. Attempts at rational conversation will not work. This person needs help and this is not your responsibility. Usually psychological help is appropriate. Sometimes however, a psychiatrist will need to make an assessment and perhaps prescribe medication.

Your responsibility is to look after yourself and take all the precautions necessary for your safety. If you have had at least two instances of stalking behavior it is important to lodge a complaint at your local police station. They will then advise whether taking out an AVO (Apprehended Violence Order) is appropriate. Pursuant to the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 No 80, Stalking is now a criminal offence in NSW and includes the following behaviors:

It is also important to alert trusted friends, neighbours, work colleagues and anyone else who may be able to offer support. Support is needed not only for your physical safety, but your psychological safety as well. Being followed and being subjected to the invasion of privacy that constitutes stalking behavior can leave long-term scars. Seek the help of a suitably qualified therapist if you feel traumatized by your experience. This will help in preventing any long term damage and provide helpful coping strategies.

Keeping your home secure and being careful in car parks is important. If necessary, change your telephone number or use an answering service to screen your calls. Block unwanted e-mails and be aware of your surroundings when away from your home or office. Initially it may help to stay with friends or go away on holiday where you are removed from your known routines.

It is imperative that the stalker is given absolutely NO ATTENTION from you. Even negative attention is food for the stalker's hunger and will only prolong the situation. Do not answer their phone calls, emails, SMS or satisfy any attempt of contact by any means. Ultimately they will lose interest and seek satisfaction from another source. Have an authority figure such as a police officer or lawyer contact the stalker to make it very clear that their conduct is illegal and must stop immediately.

More information on Stalking

NSW Police Force: What is Stalking?

Stalking and Intimidation: Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 - Sect 13.

The maximum penalty for stalking and intimdation is imprisonment for 5 years or 50 penalty units, or both.

Stalking:Trouble or Love?

Suspicious Spouses turn to Spyware: Technology, smh.com.au
"Monitoring a victim's online, cell phone, or general computing activity is of more value than ever in controlling or hurting a victim."

Dennise Simpson, manager of the Domestic Violence Crisis Service in Canberra, said her organization had dealt with cases of domestic spying for years and "spyware really takes the whole thing up another notch in terms of being able to really watch your partner".

Christine Bennett offers Family Dispute Resolution and Marriage Counselling in Crows Nest, Central Coast NSW and online.

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