1 This report recommends ways to improve the justice system’s response to non-family violence stalking.
2 People who experience stalking can be trapped in a frightening situation that is hard to identify and escape. Many do not report it to police, and they may not even realise that stalking is a crime.
3 If they do report stalking, they may not get the response they need from the justice system.
4 Getting help through the justice system in court can be a long, frustrating and traumatic experience.
5 Too often people who stalk do not change their behaviour. They may stalk with no consequence.
6 The law and justice system must change so that:
• People who experience stalking are protected by adequate safety measures.
• The justice system responds to the justice needs of victim survivors.
• People who stalk are accountable for their behaviour and are given the opportunity to address it.
Understanding and responding to stalking
7 Stalking is not well understood. Information about stalking is hard to find, incomplete or not clear enough.
8 There should be education about stalking for people in the community and those who work in the justice system.
9 People need to know more about what stalking is, how best to respond to it and the justice and support options available.
10 For people who work in the justice system, education should include practical information that will help them respond to stalking effectively.
Supporting people who experience stalking
11 It can be isolating, all-consuming and frightening to be stalked. People who experience stalking should be well supported.
12 People who experience stalking need quick, practical and ongoing support which might be different to other victims of crime. For example, those who experience cyberstalking may need tracking software removed from their phones.
13 Victoria has the foundations of a strong support system. But it needs to be improved to make it accessible and effective for stalking victim survivors.
14 The Victorian Government should implement recommendations on victim support from recent inquiries. It should remove any barriers to eligibility that victim survivors of stalking face.
15 It should fund a stream of quick financial assistance to help victim survivors pay for practical things such as home security.
16 People who experience stalking should be quickly connected with the services that can support them.
17 Independent advocates should provide victim survivors with ongoing and ‘joined up’ support and information, to help meet their needs and enable them to feel safe. The ever-present nature of stalking makes it the kind of crime that justifies this intensive support.
The civil response and stalking
18 The main civil response to non-family violence stalking, the personal safety intervention order (PSIO) system, is under strain. This makes it challenging for all stalking matters to get the attention they need.
19 The civil response should be more focused than it is now. We recommend developing evidence-informed guidance for identifying and prioritising stalking matters.
20 The Magistrates’ Court should apply the guidance to identify stalking matters that need a specialised approach.
21 A specialised approach—which could include a specialist workforce, court infrastructure and supports—would help make the response to stalking more effective, efficient and less traumatic for victim survivors than it is now.
22 A potential way to implement a specialised approach for non-family violence stalking matters is through the current system of family violence courts. If that is done, these matters should be separate and clearly identified as non-family violence matters.
23 Mediation should be used for cases that are assessed as not involving stalking or other serious harm. This would free up the civil response to focus on stalking and other serious harm.
24 People who experience stalking should be treated fairly, be able to present their best evidence and avoid further distress. This means:
• expanding the ban on publishing what happens in court, with some exceptions
• preventing respondents from personally cross-examining protected witnesses in court, and funding Victoria Legal Aid to conduct the cross-examination
• expanding access to legal advice and representation for PSIO applicants.
25 Respondents, not just applicants, in PSIO matters should have access to legal advice and representation.
26 Other changes could be made to help the civil response run efficiently and safely:
• The recent implementation of online applications for PSIOs should be monitored and evaluated.
• The court should be able to choose to make orders even when no one has applied.
• Higher courts should rely on material from the lower courts for PSIO appeals.
27 The response to children in the PSIO system must take into account evidence about their development and try to prevent long-term contact with the justice system.
28 PSIOs should not be made against children under the age of 14.
29 Alternative pathways should be available for children aged 14 and over who engage in stalking behaviour. The law should require that these pathways be explored before making a final PSIO against child respondents.
30 Access to legal advice and representation should be expanded for child applicants and respondents in PSIO matters. Courts should be able to order that a child is legally represented.
The criminal response and stalking
31 The criminal justice system is not dealing effectively with stalking.
32 People who work in the justice system can find the stalking offence hard to understand and apply. Some of them think the offence is hard to investigate and prove.
33 The stalking offence should be drafted clearly so that it is more easily understood.
34 Victoria Police should ensure that guidance and training are given to police to strengthen stalking investigations.
35 Victim survivors are often told to stop using their devices to prevent cyberstalking. ‘Unplugging’ is not the appropriate solution. Victoria Police should improve its capability to respond to cyberstalking.
36 There is no need for new criminal offences for breaches of PSIOs.
37 While the police are increasingly responding to breaches, there are still some victim survivors who feel let down by the justice system. Victoria Police should improve how it responds to breaches. If it decides not to file a charge for a breach, it should provide its reasons to the victim survivors.
38 People who experience stalking should have extra protections in criminal proceedings:
• They should have access to alternative arrangements that make it less difficult and less traumatic to give their evidence than it is now.
• Court infrastructure and facilities should be designed to protect them.
• The accused should be prevented from personally cross-examining protected victims, and Victoria Legal Aid should receive funding to conduct the cross-examination.
Responding to people who stalk
39 For too long the response to stalking has focused on what the victim survivor is expected to do to avoid being stalked. The focus should shift to the people who commit the crime.
40 There is some evidence that therapeutic treatment may reduce the risk of re-offending.
41 People who stalk need to get the appropriate intervention early to stop their behaviour. But reforms, including early intervention, will only work if there are services in place.
42 To protect victim survivors and the community there should be a coordinated, system-wide response to stalking behaviour, focusing on early intervention.
43 The response should deliver accessible and effective treatment and support programs to people who stalk.
44 If in the future there are strong indicators that compelling people to have treatment is an effective response to stalking in the PSIO system, the Victorian Government should consider introducing court-ordered treatment.
45 In Australia, Victoria has the highest maximum penalty for the offence of stalking. Changes to sentencing legislation are not needed, but courts should have guidance on sentencing people who stalk.
46 Relevant data and research about stalking is urgently needed. The Victorian Government should address gaps in data and research on stalking and the justice system’s response to it.
47 As the knowledge base on stalking improves, so should the response to stalking.