‘EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE’ – STALKING AND FAMILY LAW

Stalking in Australia is a societal epidemic and you may be amazed by the statistics:

• One in ten Australians experience stalking and victimisation. This includes one in 5 women;
• One in 13 men experience stalking;
• 85% of stalkers are male and known to the victim;
• More than 60% of victims move home after being stalked and some change their names and occupations. (ABS 2012 Personal Safety Survey).

Our firm Principal, Vic Rajah, was recently asked to contribute to the book “Stalked: The Human Target” by Rachel Cassidy as a legal expert.

When victims are able to identify their stalker and have proof of the incidents giving rise to their fears, they will usually apply for a Family Violence Intervention or Restraining Order. Breaching an Intervention Order is a criminal offence and police over the past 3 years have shown a greater willingness to investigate these offences and to lay charges.

In Victoria, a defendant who persistently breaches a Family Violence Intervention Order can be imprisoned for a maximum of five years and / or be fined up to 600 penalty units ($93,276).

All Australian States and Territories have enacted anti-stalking laws. In Victoria, the offence of stalking is dealt with in the State’s Crimes Act.

Section 21A lists the types of behaviour which constitute the offence of stalking which is punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years. This includes:

• making threats or contacting the victim by post, telephone, fax, text message, e-mail or other electronic communication or by any other means whatsoever;
• following the victim or entering or loitering near the victim’s residence or place of business;
• publishing material on the Internet or electronically about the victim;
• conducting surveillance or tracing the victim’s electronic communications;
• interfering with the victim’s property;
• using or performing abusive or offensive acts or words to or in the presence of the victim;
• acting in any other way that could reasonably be expected to cause physical or mental harm to the victim, including self-harm or to arouse apprehension or fear in the victim for his or her own safety.

A person being stalked may only realise they are being stalked after they identify a pattern of strange or suspicious incidents occurring, such as:

• phone calls;
• text messages;
• messages left on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter etc;
• notes left on their car or at their home;
• strange or unwanted gifts left at their home;
• an awareness that they are being followed;
• being continually stared at or gestured to by another person.

Applying the law appropriately requires police, prosecutors, Magistrates and Judges to understand the nature of the stalking involved. It is all too often a ‘private’ crime where victims are forced to suffer in silence. Perpetrators must be identified.

Victims are encouraged to report stalking type behaviour and can be assisted by the team at Vic Rajah Family Lawyers given our experience in the area.

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