Stalking Consultation Paper

2. Recognising and reporting stalking

Introduction

2.1 This chapter looks at community attitudes to stalking. Community attitudes influence how stalking is recognised, regarded, reported and responded to. We ask if there is a need to raise community awareness about stalking.

2.2 We also look at reasons why people might not identify stalking and ask what could be done to help people recognise stalking and take action to stop it.

2.3 We ask how to make it easier for people who have been stalked to get the information they need, in a way that they understand, so they can decide whether to report stalking to the police.

2.4 Finally, we discuss why some people do not report stalking to the police and what can be done to overcome this.

How is stalking understood in the community?

2.5 It is important to understand how stalking is understood in the community because community attitudes affect:

• whether a person who is being stalked recognises the behaviour as stalking

• how support and service providers, family members and friends respond to a person’s experience

• how some people who commit stalking might not understand that their behaviour is a crime.[64]

2.6 Studies have found that ‘stalking myths’ can minimise stalking and blame the person who experiences being stalked. Common stalking myths include:

• that the person being stalked is misinterpreting innocent expressions of interest

• that if the person being stalked ignores it, it will go away

• that the people being stalked secretly likes the attention

• that the person being stalked made the stalking happen by leading the person stalking on

• that the person being stalked is imagining it.[65]

2.7 Community attitudes to stalking influenced by stalking myths may affect whether a person’s experience is taken seriously and the standard of the victim service response and investigation.[66]

2.8 Little is known about young people’s attitudes towards stalking due to the limited empirical research that exists on the topic.

Table 1: Examples of stalking myths

The belief

Why it is false

‘That the person being stalked has just misinterpreted an innocent gesture’

Stalking can involve actions that would, in another context, be legal or even welcome. But if someone repeatedly gives another person unwanted gifts and will not stop when asked, this can be stalking (discussed in Chapter 1)

‘That if the person being stalked just ignored the unwanted behaviour, the person committing stalking would just go away’

Research suggests that stalking that has already continued beyond two weeks is a risk factor for continued stalking (stalking persistence).[67] For this reason, it is important that people who experience stalking can identify it as stalking as soon as it starts happening so they can take action to try to prevent it continuing or escalating (discussed in this chapter)

‘That the person being stalked secretly likes the attention they get from the person committing the stalking’

Stalking is unwanted behaviour which can cause long-term psychological harms such as depression, anxiety, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation, eating disorders, and increased suicidality. Victim survivors often experience significant lifestyle changes including avoiding places where their stalker might be and changing routines.

2.9 There is no national or Victorian campaign that specifically raises awareness around stalking.

2.10 In contrast, the United States of America has an established centre funded by the federal government.

Stalking Prevention, Awareness, Resource Centre (SPARC) is a project funded by the US Justice Department. It conducts public awareness-raising campaigns including an annual national stalking awareness month. This campaign operates across social media platforms, encouraging the community to ‘speak up when you see stalking minimised’.

SPARC’s ‘Know It, Name It, Stop It’ public awareness program provides tools and strategies to incorporate stalking awareness education into existing programs on issues such as family violence. These include webinars, videos and fact sheets on how to support a family member or friend who has experienced stalking.

SPARC provides training on stalking for multi-disciplinary professionals so that they have the skills to identify and respond to stalking.[68]

Recognising stalking

2.11 It is not always easy to identify stalking. It can take time to understand what is happening. For example, if someone keeps turning up whenever you are shopping or out with friends, at first it might seem like a harmless coincidence, not a crime.

2.12 A person being stalked might ask a friend for advice on how to respond. If their friend minimises the behaviour, or blames the person being stalked (because of stalking myths), they are less likely to identify the behaviour as stalking and report it to police.[69]

2.13 Research suggests that stalking that has continued beyond two weeks is a risk factor for continued stalking (stalking persistence).[70] So it is important that people who experience stalking identify it as stalking as soon as it starts, so they can take action to prevent it continuing or escalating.

2.14 In the United Kingdom, the national stalking helpline has an online tool, ‘Am I being stalked?’ The online assessment helps a person understand if what they are experiencing is stalking.[71] The tool also provides information about local specialised services based on the information the person provides. However, it is not a substitute for personal advice, and also advises people to contact the national stalking helpline for tailored advice.

Deciding whether to report stalking to police

2.15 Some people who experience stalking might not go straight to the police. They might try to get other support and practical help first.

2.16 Supports include helplines such as the Victims of Crime helpline, health services, community services, and IT services for cyberstalking. (See Chapter 6).

2.17 These supports and services are often the first place where someone may learn that stalking is a crime or think about reporting their experience to police.

2.18 We want to hear how to make it easier for people to get the information they need from support services so that they can decide whether to report stalking to the police.

2.19 We also want to know how to improve the response for those who face greater barriers, such as people with disability or those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

What kinds of stalking cases are reported to police?

2.20 Stalking is often only reported to police by the person being stalked when the stalking has escalated or persisted for some time.[72] One survey found that 77 per cent of victim survivors do not report stalking until the 100th incident.[73]

2.21 The more serious the stalking incident, the more likely the person is to contact police.[74] This means that stalking incidents involving weapons, breaking into a person’s car or home, property damage or threats, are more likely to come to the attention of police.

2.22 People other than the direct victim survivor of stalking may report stalking to police. For example, a friend, parent or guardian, or a carer for someone with a disability may report it. Bystanders are more likely to report to police if the person being stalked has experienced other crimes as well.[75]

2.23 People who recognise that they are being stalked are more likely to report to police.[76] This is significant, given that like other non-physical forms of violence, often the person themselves is unaware that the concerning behaviour is a crime.

Barriers to reporting stalking to police

2.24 The evidence base on the experiences of people who have reported stalking to police in Victoria is limited. However, internationally, police responses, including inaction or inappropriate action, have been identified by researchers as barriers to reporting or seeking help for different types of stalking (including cyberstalking, to be discussed in Chapter 8). Fear of retaliation from the person engaging in stalking is also understood as a barrier to reporting or seeking help.[77]

2.25 Australian research indicates that in general police responses to interpersonal violence have been inconsistent for some communities, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and people with disabilities.[78] These communities experience higher rates of policing issues, such as incorrect identification of the predominant aggressor of family violence and child removal and incarceration, resulting in police mistrust.[79] Research suggests that people from diverse communities might be reluctant to involve police when they experience victimisation.[80]

2.26 Victim survivors may be reluctant to report if they think:

• police will not believe them[81]

• their experience will be viewed as a personal dispute rather than a crime

• police will not be able to do anything about it

• it is not ‘serious’ enough to need police attention.

2.27 Victim survivors may also be reluctant to report stalking to police due to fear of how the police might respond or the possibility of making the stalking worse.[82] For example:

• LGBTIQ people might not report crimes due to a fear that the police officer to whom they report might hold transphobic, homophobic or heterosexist views.[83]

• Young people might not report stalking (including cyberstalking) due to fear of reprisals from peers or other negative consequences such as attracting police attention or escalating the situation.[84]

• Public figures (including health practitioners) may choose to respond to their experiences using other means to avoid any media attention that may result from engaging in court proceedings.

2.28 Community perceptions of what ‘real’ stalking looks like—where some kinds of stalking are perceived as criminal (for example, involving damage, violence or threats) while others are not—may discourage reporting.[85]

2.29 Those who are stalked by an acquaintance or a stranger, those whose stalking experience did not involve threats, and those whose experience did not fit the ‘classic’ (that is, the most extreme) example of stalking, are less likely to report to police.[86]

Question

1 What are the factors that influence whether people who experience stalking report their experiences to police? Are there barriers to reporting that need to be addressed?


  1. Adrian J Scott et al, ‘International Perceptions of Stalking and Responsibility: The Influence of Prior Relationship and Severity of Behavior’ (2014) 41(2) Criminal Justice and Behavior 220; Bronwyn McKeon, Troy E McEwan and Stefan Luebbers, ‘“It’s Not Really Stalking If You Know the Person”: Measuring Community Attitudes That Normalize, Justify and Minimise Stalking’ (2015) 22(2) Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 291, 292–3.

  2. Gary Copson and Nicola Marshall, ‘Police Care and Support for Victims of Stalking’ in Stalking and Psychosexual Obsession (John Wiley & Sons, 2002) 49; Bronwyn McKeon, Troy E McEwan and Stefan Luebbers, ‘“It’s Not Really Stalking If You Know the Person”: Measuring Community Attitudes That Normalize, Justify and Minimise Stalking’ (2015) 22(2) Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 291, 293.

  3. Bronwyn McKeon, Troy E McEwan and Stefan Luebbers, ‘“It’s Not Really Stalking If You Know the Person”: Measuring Community Attitudes That Normalize, Justify and Minimise Stalking’ (2015) 22(2) Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 291, 303.

  4. Troy McEwan, Paul E Mullen and Rosemary Purcell, ‘Identifying Risk Factors in Stalking: A Review of Current Research’ (2007) 30(1) International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 1, 7.

  5. Stalking Prevention, Awareness, & Resource Centre, ‘Our Mission’, SPARC (Web Page, 2020) <https://stalkingawareness.org/>.

  6. Bronwyn McKeon, Troy E McEwan and Stefan Luebbers, ‘“It’s Not Really Stalking If You Know the Person”: Measuring Community Attitudes That Normalize, Justify and Minimise Stalking’ (2015) 22(2) Psychiatry, Psychology and Law 291, 303.

  7. Troy McEwan, Paul E Mullen and Rosemary Purcell, ‘Identifying Risk Factors in Stalking: A Review of Current Research’ (2007) 30(1) International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 1, 7.

  8. ‘Am I Being Stalked’, Suzy Lamplugh Trust (Web Page, 2019) <https://www.suzylamplugh.org/am-i-being-stalked-tool>.

  9. Patrick Brady, Bradford Reyns and Rebecca Dreke, ‘A Sign of the Crimes: Examining Officers’ Identification of, and Arrest for, Stalking in Domestic Violence Complaints’ (2020) 23(4) Police Quarterly 500.

  10. Homa Khaleeli, ‘Stalkers Are Criminals—Not “Incompetent Suitors”’, The Guardian (Online, 29 January 2010) <http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jan/29/stalkers-are-criminals>.

  11. Patrick Q Brady and Bradford W Reyns, ‘A Focal Concerns Perspective on Prosecutorial Decision Making in Cases of Intimate Partner Stalking’ (2020) 47(6) Criminal Justice and Behavior 733.

  12. Fawn T Ngo, ‘Stalking Victimization: Examining the Impact of Police Action and Inaction on Victim-Reported Outcome’ (2020) 35(2) Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology 146.

  13. Bradford W Reyns and Christine M Englebrecht, ‘The Stalking Victim’s Decision to Contact the Police—A Test of Gottfredson and Gottfredson’s Theory of Criminal Justice Decision Making’ (2010) 38(5) Journal of Criminal Justice 998.

  14. Holly Taylor-Dunn, Erica Bowen and Elizabeth A Gilchrist, ‘Reporting Harassment and Stalking to the Police: A Qualitative Study of Victims’ Experiences’ (2018) 36(11–12) Journal of Interpersonal Violence 1; Tim Boehnlein, Jeff Kretschmar, Wendy Regoeczi and Jill Smialek, ‘Responding to Stalking Victims: Perceptions, Barriers, and Directions for Future Research’, 35(7) Journal of Family Violence 755, 755.

  15. Marcia Langton et al, ‘Family Violence Policies, Legislation and Services’ (ANROWS Research Report 26/20, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, 2020) 124; JaneMaree Maher et al, Women, Disability and Violence—Barriers to Accessing Justice: Final Report (Horizons No 02/2018, ANROWS Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, 27 April 2018) <https://apo.org.au/node/173826>; Dr Cathy Vaughan footnote item to: Cathy Vaughan et al, ‘Promoting Community-led Responses to Violence against Immigrant and Refugee Women in Metropolitan and Regional Australia. The ASPIRE Project: Key Finding and Future Directions’, (Compass No 8, ANROWS Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, December 2016) 10.

  16. Marcia Langton et al, ‘Family Violence Policies, Legislation and Services’ (Research Report 26/20, ANROWS Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, 2020) 124.

  17. Marie Segrave, Temporary Migration and Family Violence: An Analysis of Victimisation, Support and Vulnerability (Report, School of Social Sciences, Monash University, 10 December 2017 <https://apo.org.au/node/114311>; Dr Cathy Vaughan footnote item to: Cathy Vaughan et al, ‘Promoting Community-led Responses to Violence against Immigrant and Refugee Women in Metropolitan and Regional Australia. The ASPIRE Project: Key Finding and Future Directions’, (Compass No 8, ANROWS Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety, December 2016) 10.

  18. Bradford W Reyns and Christine M Englebrecht, ‘The Stalking Victim’s Decision to Contact the Police—A Test of Gottfredson and Gottfredson’s Theory of Criminal Justice Decision Making’ (2010) 38(5) Journal of Criminal Justice 998.

  19. Fawn T Ngo, ‘Stalking Victimization: Examining the Impact of Police Action and Inaction on Victim-Reported Outcome’ (2020) 35(2) Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology 146.

  20. Angela Dwyer, ‘Policing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Young People: A Gap in the Research Literature’ (2011) 22(3) Current Issues in Criminal Justice 415, 416. See also Royal Commission into Family Violence: Report and Recommendations (Report, March 2016) vol 5, 145–146 <http://rcfv.archive.royalcommission.vic.gov.au/Report-Recommendations.html>.

  21. Michele Grossman and Jenny Sharples, Don’t Go There: Young People’s Perspectives on Community Safety and Policing (Collaborative Research Project with Victoria Police: Region 2, Victoria University, May 2010) 108 <https://www.vu.edu.au/sites/default/files/mcd/pdfs/dont-go-there-study-may-2010.pdf>.

  22. Bradford W Reyns and Christine M Englebrecht, ‘The Stalking Victim’s Decision to Contact the Police—A Test of Gottfredson and Gottfredson’s Theory of Criminal Justice Decision Making’ (2010) 38(5) Journal of Criminal Justice 998.

  23. Fawn T Ngo, ‘Stalking Victimization: Examining the Impact of Police Action and Inaction on Victim-Reported Outcome’ (2020) 35(2) Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology 146.

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