Until this year, Northern Ireland was the only region in the UK to not set out specific legislation to target stalking harassment.
The Department of Justice Minister, Naomi Long had brought forward a bill entitled ‘The Protection from Stalking Bill,’ in 2021 and it reached the final stage of scrutiny and was passed just before the Executive was brought down.
Minister Long said that ‘The delivery of this new legislation offers greater protection in our communities and its passing will be of great significance to anyone affected by stalking.’
Long then went onto pay tribute to the many victims she had spoking to who she credits as ‘the driving force’ for the bill.
Under the new law, it sets out specific criteria which defines stalking and behaviours associated with the crime. These include:
Following a person.
Contacting, or attempting to contact a person by any means.
Monitoring a person via the internet.
Watching or spying on a person.
Prior to this, stalking itself did not constitute as a crime and was categorised or branded as a form of domestic abuse and harassment under ‘The Protection from Harassment Order 1997.’
A recent analysis carried out by the Belfast Telegraph, which was conducted before the Naomi Long’s bill had entered its final stage showed that 61% of cases regarding stalking result in prosecution. But statistics provided by the PSNI, indicate that cases of harassment have increased by 21.1% in the last year. We reached out for specific statistics relating to stalking, but they did not respond. Any statistics held by the Executive are outdated due to a lack of Executive for 3 years, with their most recent being in 2017.
Yet, lived experiences of victims of stalking tend to go understated, and it is easy to look at statistics and not fully appreciate the human experience.
One woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, spoke about her ongoing experience of stalking and the daily harassment she endures.
“For the last 3 years I have been getting phone calls, both to my mobile and house landline.”
“It started off with just private numbers and I assumed it was probably fraudsters or people misdialling.”
“One afternoon I answered, and I could here two people laughing, and it then the line cut. I was really confused and wondered if it was my sister had accidentally called, or my niece or nephew were trying to play a joke.”
The woman then became worried after she had learnt it was neither her sister or her niece or nephew and received a chilling phone call later that evening.
“I was sitting watching TV and my phone starts to ring; again, it is a private ID. I answer and there’s silence. I then said something like ‘I think you’ve the wrong number, could you stop calling me.’”
“The person who sounded like a man said ‘OK’ but said my name after.”
The man then ended the call abruptly and the victim could feel the panic set in stone. She the phoned the police and reported the incident. “The police came out and I told them how I’d been receiving phone calls for quite a while and that this was the first time they’d said my name. They took my details and told me to call them if this happened again.”
The victim noted that the calls had stopped after she had rung the police, but that this did not last very long.
“I own a small business and was in work and suddenly this delivery man with Pizza’s comes into my store looking for me. I was confused and asked why he was here to which he said he had an order for my name and my shops address.”
“I was confused but then I realised that this is probably something to do with the phone calls. I rang the police and they advised I change all phone numbers that I had. So, I did, but the calls kept on coming.”
“I then started to receive calls to my store, and it was people who started to reveal personal details about my to me that only me and a handful of my close family members would know.”
When asked if the calls still occur, the victim replies “I had 72 missed calls last week. I’m beyond despair, its something I’ve had to accept as a daily occurrence.”
We spoke with Pamela Whyte, who works with the Women’s Aid organisation. She describes her experience in helping people who deal with stalking.
“As your figures show, a lot of domestic abuse related crimes are on the up, which is quite sad but not surprising as we are emerging on the tail end of the pandemic.”
“In regard to stalking, it was much worse over the pandemic. We were all cocooned in our homes when lockdown was in full swing, but with that came an increase in cyberstalking.”
“Woman would repeatedly get mysterious phone calls or inundated with random pictures. There was a couple of instances over lockdown where women would receive spam messages from men, saying how they ‘loved’ them and demanded.”
“Covid was stressful as it was but receiving these unwarranted and at times aggressive messages added to the stress for a lot of women.”