Survey prompts call to add stalking to Harrassment Act

7:28 pm on 15 October 2019

Frightening stories from women who have suffered stalking and abuse from their partners have prompted calls to review the Harassment Act.

hooded criminal stalking in the shadows of a dark street alley alleyway

The head of Women's Refuge, Ang Jury, says intimate partner stalking is harmful because it was often a precursor to worse. Photo: 123RF

New Zealand Women's Refuge surveyed 700 women who had experienced intimate partner stalking and found it was part of a wider pattern of violence.

The results, released this morning, found 60 percent were stalked by their partner after they had broken up, but 70 percent experienced the behaviour while in the relationship.

For one victim, it was as pernicious as the Women's Refuge warned it could be.

Pattie, as she wanted to be called, said the beatings started long before she split with her partner.

"Well, when I first met this person I obviously fell for him and we were together six years, and 90 per cent of that (time) I was harassed, victimised, beaten...

"Basically I stayed there because I thought I could help him because he was an alcoholic, a drug abuser, addicted to porn and I thought that if I could prove to him that I was going to stay with him and that he could trust me, then all would be well."

But it wasn't. Pattie said the physical abuse began when they had an argument. She had to find ways to hide it from her friends, and it only stopped once she threatened to call the police.

But then the verbal abuse began, and the tactics that Women's Refuge identified as a subversive type of control within a relationship - the stalking on social media.

"And he... unbeknown to me, was getting on my Facebook and stalking me through that. He was reading all of my messages to my friends, my family. He was also stalking me on Skype and discovered stuff from way back that I'd forgotten about, and which I'd actually deleted."

She said messages to a friend from long before were dragged back to the surface and used against her, to intimidate her.

So she changed her passwords, but he found those too.

The head of Women's Refuge, Ang Jury, said Pattie's case was a classic display of violence that most women respondents said they experienced.

"That's where somebody is monitoring your behaviour, you know, checking your bank account to see where you've been spending your money; ringing you 50 times a day to ask where you are and who you're with.

"It's the same (stalking) behaviour, but happening when the relationship is still going on. It's equally as frightening and equally as controlling."

Dr Jury said intimate partner stalking was harmful because it was often a precursor to worse, and it was often really frightening.

"We're looking at things like having GPS trackers put in your car, spyware on your phone, hidden cameras, drive-bys at all hours of the day or night, turning up at someone's workplace or outside a workplace when you know that person is about to finish work."

And more often than not, it was hidden from the victim.

Pattie finally broke up with her partner, and said she was unaware he was monitoring her house.... until he told her.

"I was actually incredulous, more than anything, that he'd had the foolish desire to keep track and then come to me and let me know.

"I thought it was bizarre."

A lawyer who handles family violence matters, Sue Grey, said it was part of a wider problem.

"We've had such a change with social media, there are all these new ways of people communicating with each other, and I think we're still all learning the rules and what's okay and what's not."

Ms Grey said for clients embroiled in domestic violence it was often a big step to ask for help.

"It's a really big problem for women - or for anyone who's been harassed and who's been the subject of violence, to make a stand.

"It includes domestic violence but from my experience even workplace violence, is that when people have been exposed to it, and they've been bullied, they need all the help they can get."

Ms Grey said they needed to know they could get support and not be further intimidated by complicated processes, and then "fobbed off".

Dr Jury said part of the problem was that complainants were not being taken seriously enough, and it was time people were better protected by the law.

She would like to see the Harassment Act reviewed to include stalking, which she said "shrinks people's lives".

"You can't use social media so easily, you can't go out and do a lot of the normal things. Your life becomes smaller and circumscribed by efforts to keep yourself safe."

For Pattie, it was not as simple as just walking out. And Dr Jury agreed.

"You know, sometimes it can be better and feel safer to go back.

"At least when you're there you know what this person is doing - you can keep an eye on them, rather than have to look behind every corner to see where they happen to be."