Stalking: Interim Report (html)

5. The Whole Story model for identifying risk in stalking situations


• This chapter focuses on the Whole Story approach to investigating complex crimes such as family violence, sexual offences, and child abuse.

• The Whole Story approach is a valuable way to improve the identification of stalking behaviour and enhance the ability of police to respond appropriately. It provides a more complete picture of any identifiable course of conduct. At this point an informed decision can be made about interventions.

• A key aim of this inquiry is to facilitate early intervention and de-escalation in stalking reports made to police.

• Early intervention requires proper interviewing and recording of statements.

• Appropriate referrals to specialist police within existing criminal investigation units (CIUs) should be made by Victoria Police.

• In this chapter we present an alternative model for identifying risk of serious harm and/or outcomes in stalking that is more firmly established in research and current police practice.

It is important for police to hear the whole story

5.1 Experts informed us that ‘a barrier at the recognition stage [of stalking is] the police response to the initial victim report, which tends to be triggered by the victim’s identification of their level of fear’.[1]

5.2 It was explained that:

the way victims tell their story may not accord with the neat package that a police officer expects to hear to satisfy the proof of crime … if we look at stalking cases that end tragically, the misidentification of the seriousness of behaviour has potentially arisen in that original victim-police interaction … It is about equipping the victim to give their story the best chance and equipping the police to hear the story the best way.[2]

5.3 We were told that:

the literature is quite clear that victim statements of their own risk have a degree of predictive validity [and that police] do need to take them seriously. The heterogenous nature of stalking makes it difficult to prove the predictive validity for stalking, so we need to keep in mind that if a victim doesn’t feel like they are in danger this doesn’t mean the behaviour isn’t to be taken seriously. However, we certainly need to give priority to victims’ assessments that they feel unsafe.[3]

5.4 Experts stated that:

police already have certain triggers that will lead to them taking certain decisions, we just need to change what they do with these triggers. At the moment, the trigger response may be to get a PSIO and then charge a breach when it occurs.[4]

5.5 We were also told that a further barrier at the identification stage is that evidence gathering can create challenges for police. Victoria Police submitted that ‘a victim may not typically record or retain details of interactions they have had with their stalker or otherwise retain certain physical or digital evidence that can later be used to illustrate a pattern of behaviour’ and that ‘legislative barriers exist for police in acquiring evidence from third parties (such as dating apps, and social media platforms)’.[5]

5.6 If people report only a single incident in a wider pattern of stalking, these cases might not be identified as stalking by police. For police to be able to accurately identify stalking, and prevent serious harm and/or outcomes, they need to ask victim survivors enough questions—and the right questions—to elicit the whole story.

The Whole Story framework for investigating stalking

5.7 In any type of offending, the focus for police should be on obtaining useful, valid, ethically sound information that is probative and not prejudicial. It is key that the focus is on the individual. This also applies to assessments of risk of harm.

5.8 As Dr Patrick Tidmarsh—the author of the Whole Story framework—explains:

Whole Story is not an interview framework. It provides a professional knowledge base to guide information gathering from victims, investigation of the elements of the alleged crime, the subsequent interview with the suspect, presentation of evidence at court (including legal argument regarding relevance, probative vs prejudicial value, tendency, uncharged acts, etc), and decision-making by jurors.[6]

5.9 A key benefit of the Whole Story framework, in the context of stalking, is that it would enable police to gather sufficient evidence—primarily from the victim survivor—to satisfy the evidentiary requirements of section 21A(2). The Whole Story framework should gather evidence and information going well beyond formal elements of proof. It must also ensure that all formal points of proof are in fact addressed, as part of the broader narrative given by the victim.

5.10 The questions police ask could incorporate (without being limited to) the 13 questions devised for the SASH tool.

5.11 This chapter focuses on how police can make principled and informed decisions about interventions.

5.12 The Victims of Crime Commissioner submitted that guidance for police should ‘include ways in which police can better respond to course of conduct offences like stalking and build a holistic picture of a victim’s experience through:

• minimising a victim’s need to continually tell/re-tell their story to a new police officer each time they wish to report

• minimising the need for victims to contextualise their stalking experience each time they engage with police

• ensuring Victoria Police’s recording system can capture and record ‘course of conduct’ information in ways that support victims, as well as any increased escalation in behaviour or risk.[7]

5.13 We were told by organisations which provide specialist domestic violence services that ‘police interview techniques such as the “Whole Story” method of taking a victim’s statement would be applicable to non-family violence stalking’.[8]

5.14 This was supported in a consultation with the Children’s Court, which explained that:

the initial police contact, and the method of extracting information is vital to achieving a positive outcome. If someone goes into a busy watchhouse to report stalking, they are confronted with an environment with a lot of noise, visual stimulus, and activity. It doesn’t instil confidence in people to make a statement. The person coming forward needs the right environment to provide encouragement and know that they are being taken seriously.[9]

5.15 The need to elicit the Whole Story was first identified by Patrick Tidmarsh and was developed in the Specialist Development Unit of the Sexual Offence and Child Abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT) Project within Victoria Police.[10]

5.16 It was developed because child sexual abuse does not always result in physical evidence, and often there are complex surrounding circumstances—often pertaining to the relationship between the victim survivor and the perpetrator—that are not otherwise reported to police.

5.17 It was also developed to overcome other evidentiary issues. Research suggests that victims of violent offences, and specifically gendered violence, often suffer fragmentation of their memories, making it difficult to provide complete accounts of their experiences to police.[11] As Tidmarsh explains, ‘these fragilities of episodic memory, compounded by the trauma of the offending, can become problematic when investigators ask victims to particularise different offences’.[12]

5.18 The Whole Story framework focuses on listening to the stories of complainants rather than forcing the particular experience to fit within traditional constructs of criminal offending. As scholars have explained, ‘when we listen to the voices of women who are experiencing or have survived … violence… [we see] how much of the abuse they experienced bore little or no resemblance to conventional notions of crime’.[13]

5.19 The framework is also considered to be culturally sensitive by some Indigenous representatives ‘because the “Whole Story” was designed with a focus on listening to the stories of complainants’, and Indigenous justice models are based on listening.[14] It also provides avenues to a variety of justice outcomes.

5.20 The framework has practical application in the context of stalking. Research that explores police perceptions of stalking has ‘identified a number of difficulties [for police] when dealing with cases of stalking’, such as:

• insufficient evidence

• victim retraction

• the likelihood of the case being dropped by [prosecution services].[15]

5.21 Police interviewed for this research explained that stalking is a ‘really difficult crime to deal with as it can go on for such a long time before we can get evidence that we can use’ and that ‘victims often get rid of evidence or do not collect it [which] makes it very hard to take any further’.[16]

5.22 This was similarly reflected in the submission from Victoria Police (see Chapter 3).

Poor record keeping is the opposite of getting the whole story

5.23 A theme emerging in this inquiry was that record-keeping and evidence management by Victoria Police should be improved. There is a clear relationship between use of the Whole Story framework and improved evidence-gathering and management.[17]

5.24 While Whole Story is ideally suited to stalking because of the ‘course of conduct’ evidentiary basis of the offence, it may be used in practice in two different situations: first, where there has already been (as at the first report) a sufficient history of behaviour to justify investigation and charging, and second, where individual incidents are reported over time, which (individually) may not initially justify intervention, but which when assessed collectively, do constitute evidence of the course of conduct required.

5.25 Research has emphasised that police should take detailed statements at the point of first disclosure, rather than placing responsibility for collecting and maintaining evidence on the victim survivor.[18]

5.26 Similarly, we heard from victim survivors that it was not a consistent practice by Victoria Police to take detailed or formal statements from victim survivors disclosing stalking. This is highlighted in the excerpts below:

The police could start by taking it seriously. I was stalked for like eight years. I’ve lost count of the police reports. Not once was I given a proper opportunity to adequately get my story across. Frankly, I don’t know why I’m wasting my time now.[19]

Every time I went to the Police [in my small regional town], no notes were ever taken and generally I felt as if I simply wasn’t believed. Every single time I saw someone new [at the station], and never could I understand why the Police simply felt every incident [I reported] was just a one off.[20]

5.27 We were told by organisations with expertise in the area that if stalking is not identified or recorded as such by police, this can lead to fragmentation of evidence. Victim survivors may be required to re-tell their stories to a new police member each time they report a new incident.[21]

5.28 The Federation of Community Legal Centres submitted that:

where victim survivors make an initial complaint to the police, but are not invited to, or are deterred from, making a formal statement to the police, this can result in there being no record of the initial complaint. Victim survivors would then not be able to rely on their initial complaint to the police as evidence of ongoing stalking.[22]

5.29 Consultations and submissions revealed that police do not consistently record complaints of stalking on the appropriate Victoria Police information management system(s). Multiple victim survivors described experiences where their reports of stalking reports were lost. This is illustrated in the following statements.

I needed police to take this seriously. We live in a small regional town, yet every time we called to report another incident, we had to explain the entire situation as no records were kept of any of our calls, or even of the person having been visited and spoken to by police. When we asked why there was no record, we were told if they recorded everything people called in about, they’d never get any work done.[23]

To make it worse, it was my understanding that each time I spoke with an officer at the station and reported the stalking that they were recording the information. Finally, I came into the [police] station hysterical and spoke with an officer I had never dealt with before. I was told there was no record of me ever coming into the station the countless times I thought I was reporting the stalking were never recorded.[24]

5.30 It is important to note that where the stalking situation is ongoing, it is critical that police have evidence-management systems in place to ensure that the whole story is cumulatively gathered and recorded by them. This will reduce the need for victim survivors to re-tell the whole story (to date) every time and would also assemble the body of evidence from which the police can properly conclude that a sufficient course of conduct can be proven.

How the Whole Story investigative framework can help police

5.31 The Whole Story framework is one way of improving police attitudes and culture in the investigation of stalking that has been tested in other contexts, such as sexual offending and family violence.

5.32 The underlying premise of the Whole Story training is that police must understand the nature and dynamics of abusive relationships. They must also understand the psychology and behaviour of individuals who stalk.

5.33 Tidmarsh suggests this approach assists ‘in countering any myths and misconceptions’ police may hold about these types of offences, and in ‘explaining victim behaviour that may [otherwise] be interpreted as “counter intuitive”, such as delay of complaint, a lack of injury, or a continued relationship with the alleged perpetrator’.[25]

5.34 Victim survivors may behave in counter-intuitive ways because they are not aware of the entirety of the offending. It therefore ‘requires a skilled interviewer to elicit’ sufficient information about the very beginning of the offending from the victim survivor.[26]

5.35 The Whole Story framework requires police to focus on the whole context rather than on individual details or discrete incidents as in traditional police approaches.

5.36 The framework is already part of the Victoria Police five-year strategic plan to address family violence, sexual offences and child abuse.[27]

5.37 The Whole Story approach could help to inform police of what action should be taken in a given stalking situation, such as whether to:

• appoint a single point of contact for victim survivors of stalking

• conduct a ‘stop conversation’ with the person committing stalking

• refer the victim survivor or the person committing stalking to appropriate external services

• apply for a PSIO to protect the victim survivor.

5.38 According to Tidmarsh, evaluations of the framework have indicated that ‘a narrative approach that allows interviewees to recount their stories at their own pace, with minimal interruption, increases the number of details that they report compared to when they are not interviewed in this way’.[28]

5.39 The framework provides ‘an accurate knowledge base from which to work, victim-supportive attitudes, as well as empathetic attitudes towards suspects’.[29]

5.40 The elements that would need to become part of this framework to be effective in the context of stalking include:

• improved understanding among police of what behaviours constitute stalking

• ‘an understanding of enhanced evidence gathering and case building, and a clear re-examination of all aspects of investigation and prosecution’.[30]

5.41 The Whole Story approach is a victim-centred framework that asserts that offending begins ‘in the mind of the offender’ and that ‘offenders are always the initiators and victims always the reactors’.[31]

5.42 The framework has been associated with improved ‘definitions of success and victim satisfaction [and] improvements to training in complainant and suspect interviews’.[32]

5.43 Because the framework gathers, particularises and records more detailed and complete evidence, it has also been associated with higher rates of ‘brief authorisation’, which plays a ‘pivotal gate-keeping role in the prosecutorial process’.[33]

5.44 This approach may result in more individuals choosing to report their experiences of stalking to police. Individuals are ‘more likely to report their concerns [when it is clear that] more positive action [is] being taken by the police in stalking cases’.[34]

5.45 For example, ‘increased publicity of successful prosecutions’ has been shown to correspond with increased confidence to report to police. [35]

5.46 Importantly, the Whole Story framework is premised on fairness to both the victim survivor and the accused person.[36]

5.47 Evaluation of the use of Whole Story in the context of stalking will be important to ensure it achieves its aims. These are:

• that Victoria Police responds efficiently and effectively to stalking

• that there is less need for people to re-tell their stories and manage the stalking situation on their own

• that escalation of stalking is prevented.


9 The Whole Story investigation framework should be used by Victoria Police for reports of stalking.

  1. Consultation 7 (Small Group Meeting on stalking and risk of serious harm and or outcomes).

  2. Ibid.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Submission 115 (Victoria Police).

  6. Patrick Tidmarsh, ‘Training Sexual Crime Investigators to Get the “Whole Story”’ (PhD Thesis, Deakin University, 2016) 53


  7. Submission 49 (Victims of Crime Commissioner).

  8. Consultation 12 (Domestic Violence Victoria and Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria).

  9. Consultation 2 (Children’s Court).

  10. Patrick Tidmarsh, Stefanie Sharman and Gemma Hamilton, ‘Police Officers’ Perceptions of Specialist Training, Skills and Qualities Needed to Investigate Sexual Crime’ (2021) 22(1) Police Practice and Research 475, 476.

  11. A Hardy, K Young and E Homes, ‘Does Trauma Memory Play a Role in the Experience of Reporting Sexual Assault during Police Interviews? An Exploratory Study’ (2009) 17 Memory 783.

  12. Patrick Tidmarsh, ‘Training Sexual Crime Investigators to Get the “Whole Story”’ (PhD Thesis, Deakin University, 2016) 46–47 <>.

  13. Nicole Westmarland and Liz Kelly, ‘Domestic Violence: The Increasing Tensions Between Experience, Theory, Research, Policy and Practice’ in Roger Matthews (ed), What Is to Be Done About Crime and Punishment? (Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2016) 31, 42–43.

  14. Dr Patrick Tidmarsh and Dr Gemma Hamilton, Submission No 44 to Victorian Law Reform Commission inquiry, Improving the Response of the Justice System to Sexual Offences (2020).

  15. Michelle Weller, Lorraine Hope and Lorraine Sheridan, ‘Police and Public Perceptions of Stalking: The Role of Prior Victim–Offender Relationship’ (2013) 28(2) Journal of Interpersonal Violence 320, 330.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Patrick Tidmarsh, ‘Training Sexual Crime Investigators to Get the “Whole Story”’ (PhD Thesis, Deakin University, 2016)


  18. Michelle Weller, Lorraine Hope and Lorraine Sheridan, ‘Police and Public Perceptions of Stalking: The Role of Prior Victim–Offender Relationship’ (2013) 28(2) Journal of Interpersonal Violence 320, 330.

  19. Victorian Law Reform Commission, Stalking: Summary of Responses to Online Feedback Form from People with Experience of Stalking (Report, December 2021).

  20. Ibid.

  21. Submission 32 (Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science).

  22. Submission 97 (Federation of Community Legal Centres).

  23. Victorian Law Reform Commission, Stalking: Summary of Responses to Online Feedback Form from People with Experience of Stalking (Report, December 2021).

  24. Ibid.

  25. Patrick Tidmarsh, ‘Training Sexual Crime Investigators to Get the “Whole Story”’ (PhD Thesis, Deakin University, 2016)


  26. Ibid.

  27. ‘Family Violence, Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Strategy’, Victoria Police (Web Page, June 2021) <>.

  28. Patrick Tidmarsh, ‘Training Sexual Crime Investigators to Get the “Whole Story”’ (PhD Thesis, Deakin University, 2016) 49


  29. Ibid 61.

  30. Ibid 62.

  31. Ibid 66.

  32. Ibid 157.

  33. Ibid.

  34. Michelle Weller, Lorraine Hope and Lorraine Sheridan, ‘Police and Public Perceptions of Stalking: The Role of Prior Victim–Offender Relationship’ (2013) 28(2) Journal of Interpersonal Violence 320, 330.

  35. Ibid.

  36. Dr Patrick Tidmarsh and Dr Gemma Hamilton, Submission No 44 to Victorian Law Reform Commission inquiry, Improving the Response of the Justice System to Sexual Offences (2020).