19 Apr 2024

Calls to make stalking a crime after Farzana Yaqubi's murder

1:03 pm on 19 April 2024
Police at a walkway beside a Massey, West Auckland, badminton centre after what they are calling a sudden death.

Police at the scene where Farzana Yaqubi was murdered in Massey, west Auckland, on 19 December 2022. Photo: RNZ / Mohammad Alafeshat

Stalking should be made a crime in New Zealand, a clinical psychologist says, after police failures were highlighted in its handling of stalking complaints by Farzana Yaqubi.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority report found a litany of police failures into police handling of complaints from Yaqubi.

Almost eight weeks after 21-year-old Yaqubi first reported the matter to police, she was murdered by Kanwarpal Singh, 30.

The IPCA report found the police's initial assessment matrix was not fit for purpose as it did not consider all lines of enquiry.

The report also found that police "did not adequately take into account cultural and religious factors which influenced how Ms Yaqubi engaged with police, nor did they provide her with appropriate support".

Police apologised for its handling of Yaqubi's case.

Clinical psychologist Dr Alison Towns told Morning Report the current laws were not fit for purpose.

"Very clearly the police failed to do an adequate risk assessment, but also our stalking laws are really poor, and we do actually need a criminal stalking law," Towns said.

"The police tend to treat stalking like it's a civil concern and not a crime."

"We think it [a criminal stalking law] should recognise the harm that's done to people by providing clear guidelines about what consequences there would be if someone engages in stalking.

"It should lay out what stalking is, and that stalking involves a pattern of behaviours."

Towns said that stalking could involve unwanted contacted from someone, being watched or filmed or spied on by any means, being followed, being abused, having false information being published about you, being tracked by any means, or having someone break into your property.

The Coalition for the Safety of Women and Children, which Towns is a part of, has proposed stalking laws that would lay out very clearly to police what stalking is, as well as consequences for offenders.

"With Farzana's case, there were clearly criminal acts that he was engaging in, such as threatening to kill. There's no reason why the police couldn't have acted on those," Towns said.

"However, the police treat harassment and stalking as though it is a civil concern, and not a crime."

New Zealand is one of the few countries that does not treat stalking as a crime.

"In Australia, United States, UK, European Union, there are stalking laws.

"So we are not protecting people. Surveillance and stalking are ways in which offenders control people's lives.

"We need that criminal stalking law for police to take stalking seriously."

In a statement, a spokesperson said police were limited in their enforcement powers.

"Police's role is to enforce current legislation put in place by the government."

They said there was a wide-ranging review under way into the initial assessments for complaints, including 105 online reports.

"This case has highlighted the need for police's focus to be on cases where there is high harm or risk of violence towards victims."

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