Knowledge gap hinders justice for stalking

·2-min read

Victoria's justice system workers do not always understand stalking laws and sometimes think it's too hard to investigate.

A review of the laws by the Victorian Law Reform Commission found the criminal justice system is not dealing effectively with stalking.

Under Victorian law, stalking is identified as a range of behaviours that are intended or likely to harm or frighten a person, such as following, contacting or threatening a person.

According to the report tabled in state parliament this week, some justice workers think the offence is hard to investigate and prove.

It's prompted the commission to call for the stalking offence to be drafted clearly so it is understood more easily.

The report found victims of stalking are often told to "stop using their devices" if they want to prevent cyberstalking.

Women and marginalised groups account for most stalking victims, while men make up the majority of perpetrators.

Approximately 17 per cent of women and seven per cent of men have experienced stalking since the age of 15, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

While Aboriginal people make up about one per cent of Victoria's population, they account for 2.2 per cent of people reported to have experienced stalking between 2016 and 2018.

About 3.1 per cent of people with disabilities or long-term health conditions experienced stalking over a 12-month period, compared with 2.1 per cent of people without disability or a long-term health condition.

Personal safety intervention orders were found to be the most common response by the justice system to stalking that's not connected to family violence.

However, many victims reported still feeling unsafe after they were granted an order, as some think of it as nothing more than a 'piece of paper'.

"The inquiry demonstrated that our knowledge of what causes people to engage in stalking behaviour and, hence, how it can be addressed, has significant gaps," noted the commission's chair and former Federal Court judge Tony North.

Among the 45 recommendations in the report, the commission recommends the Victorian government should resource and support public education about stalking and cyberstalking.

Additionally, Victoria Police must ensure that guidance and training are provided to officers.