“EIGHTEEN addresses since I met him. He kept moving close to me. I cannot even quantify the financial, social, professional impact on me. He also tried to take my lives and pastimes from me, I have literally changed my personality to try and stay safe from him.”
Going through the 90-plus pages of a new report on stalking and harassment – the first of its kind in Ireland - makes for very stark reading. Above is just one of the testimonies of what people have had to endure, at the hands of their perpetrator.
The report, titled Stalking and Harrassment; An Investigation of Experiences in Ireland, lays bare the social, financial, psychological impact on victims – including how some victims have even had to change their identity.
The UCC report was undertaken by Dr Catherine O’Sullivan and Dr Ciara Staunton in partnership with the Sexual Violence Centre Cork (SVCC) and involved more than 1,000 people: 789 of the participants were women, 78 were men, 25 identified as non-binary, transgender MTF, Trans Male, or genderfluid, and two were unknown.
Those taking part gave examples of the types of unwanted behaviours towards them - the threats, abuse, malicious communications, and reputational damage they suffered.
Behaviour ranged from unwanted approaches, to breaking into homes, threatening harm to them or someone they knew, physical attacks, sending unwanted gifts and making inappropriate calls/ sending messages and much more.
The majority of people surveyed knew their stalker – mostly current / former partners, as well as neighbours, friends, and co-workers; but 257 of the 1,000 surveyed reported the perpetrator as being a stranger.
The report goes on to look at the stark effects of stalking and harassment under four themes - Social, Financial, Psychological and Physical.
The academics and centre received high praise at the launch of the report last week, which provided quantitative data, but also an authentic voice to victims – it will help shape upcoming legislation and put pressure on the delivery of appropriate garda resources and training in these areas, as well as calling for a public awareness campaign around stalking and harassment.
Dr Catherine O’Sullivan said: “The main objective of the study was to focus on the process of stalking and harassment, the effects on those who have been stalked and harassed, and their responses to these behaviours.”
Dr Ciara Staunton added: “Our findings identify a range of avoidance behaviours used by victims to protect themselves and reveal the social, financial, physical, and psychological consequences of stalking and harassment.”
She added that she also hoped it would empower people to come forward and call behaviour out for what it really is.
“This is a serious issue that affects many people,” said Dr Staunton.
The researchers say the report was inspired by two brave women, Una Ring, from Youghal, and Eve McDowell, from Galway, who in recent years have spoken out about their own harrowing experiences of stalking and harassment and have been advocating for new legislation – which is set to be brought into law next month.
There is no stalking offence in Ireland – and the current legislation is not adequate to deal with it.
Hearing their story prompted Senator Lisa Chambers, who attended the report launch, to get involved.
“I was in a position to do something, so I contacted them (Una and Eve). The telling of their personal stories was so powerful.
“People were dumfounded that it was not legislated for. We needed to update our laws.”
The campaign gained momentum. A bill was drafted and put before the Seanad.
“There was never any pushback on the legislation. It passed all stages in the Seanad,” said Senator Chambers.
She said the campaign for legislation in the area of stalking was currently at a pivotal moment.
“I am happy to say we met Minister Simon Harris and he has committed to have it passed by the end of April. We are nearly there.”
Senator Chambers added: “I commend the report, it is a great body of work and will be really useful going forward.”
While the legislation is a key milestone, Senator Chambers added that passing it is one thing, and enforcement is another. She wants to see garda training on the issue, and a uniformity of service delivery across the entire country.
Extra demands on gardaí, requires additional resources, which need to be provided, she added.
The new legislation is likely to lead to more reporting and more people seeking help - so additional wrap-around services also need to be provided to support victims too, she urged. She pointed out refuge space was already in short supply across the country.
At the report launch, Una Ring praised Lisa Chambers for her work on the new law: “We gave her the words, she gave us a voice.”
Reflecting on the new research, Una pointed out the 1,000 respondents to this study were just the tip of the iceberg, and she’d argue there are thousands of people across Ireland who have been subjected to stalking and harassment, whose story is yet unheard.
The report found 57% of respondents did not report the stalking or harassment to the gardaí - for many different reasons. Many felt they would not be believed, or did not have enough evidence. Una told how she was lucky when reporting her case to the gardaí as they took it very seriously.
While Eve didn’t have the same experience. Una said hers was an ‘easy case’ in that there was lots of evidence there. Her advice to anyone being subjected to such behaviour is to keep a log – of all texts, WhatsApps, all missed calls – so you have evidence to show the gardaí – dates, times, even what the stalker is wearing, so they can be followed up later on CCTV.
At the launch, head of the Sexual Violence Centre, Cork, Mary Crilly (who also runs Stalking in Ireland) also spoke about the impact of stalking and harassment, describing it as ‘horrendous’ on individuals – and said many of them feel like they are “losing their minds.”
She called for more services to support victims, but also a big awareness campaign – nationwide – not just Dublin-centric. She said stalking is often “minimised or misunderstood”. People often doubt themselves too – so she urged people to contact Stalking in Ireland to seek help.
“We will do our best (to support people)”, she added.
She said that stalking is still something that is not spoken about, and is stigmatised.
Una Ring agreed that sometimes it is even romanticised and these attitudes towards it need to change. This will only happen through a big awareness campaign.
The report authors said: “This is an under- researched area in Ireland and we invite other researchers to build on this report and contribute to knowledge creation in this area.
"This will provide an evidence base from which we can draw, in order to improve the support and services made available to those who are stalked and harassed.”
“This research is unique and will inform public policy and debate around the introduction of anti-stalking legislation and raise public awareness of the dangers of stalking and harassing behaviours,” added Dr Ciara Staunton.
“The report includes the voice of those who have experienced stalking and harassment. This contributes not only to our understanding of the experience but also to our general knowledge of these behaviours” stated Dr Catherine O’Sullivan.
The report makes ten recommendations - see below for more information.
KEY FINDINGS IN THE REPORT:
Calls for a Public Awareness Campaign
The report calls for an information campaign by the Department of Justice for the public on stalking and harassment. It would help those experiencing the behaviours to recognise them and encourage them to seek help from support services or the gardaí.
“This campaign should also advise those experiencing stalking and/or harassment to document and record all incidents to establish evidence of a pattern of repeated behaviour should they decide to report to An Garda Síochána,” the report said.
They also want funding to be put in place to provide counselling and other services for those who experience stalking or harassment.
Wording of Stalking Offence
The report recommends the removal of the fear result from the proposed stalking offence. There are also proposals to change other wordings in the legislation.
Reporting to An Garda Síochana
The current law on harassment must be explained to members of the gardaí to ensure that it is being applied correctly by them, the report urges.
“When the new offences are introduced, training must be given on their definitional elements too.”
Gardaí need training on the process of stalking and harassment and also the effects of this behaviour and the harms it causes. This training should be repeated on a regular basis, the report urges.
Crime Victims Helpline https://www.crimevictimshelpline.ie/
Stalking in Ireland https://www.stalkinginireland.ie/stalking
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Dr Catherine O’Sullivan, is Vice Dean of Learning, Teaching Curriculum at the School of Law, UCC. Her main research interests lie in Criminal Law, Criminology, Gender and the Law, Children’s Rights and Law and Popular Culture.
Dr Ciara Staunton is the Academic Operations Manager at Adult Continuing Education. Her main research interests lie in the areas of Forensic Psychology, Criminal Behaviour, Gender-Based Violence, Sexual Offending, Sex Offenders, Victims of Crime, Stalking and Harassing Behaviours.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
WE share some quotes from victims, from the Stalking and Harrassment; An Investigation of Experiences in Ireland - which show the effects stalking and harassment had on women’s lives:
“You lose peace in your life. You’re always on edge. You never know if he’ll appear. I was terrified he’d throw acid or something at me. I didn’t know how dangerous he was.”
“I cried constantly, curled up on my bedroom floor just silently sobbing and I felt like I’d never experience happiness again. The memories feel like a blur, as if my brain blocked it out. I just felt completely depressed and worthless and ended up self-harming seriously.”
“I find it hard to make friends and trust people. I don’t like to share things about myself and I absolutely hate it when someone knows something about me that I didn’t tell. “
“It was like he was hunting us. I believe he would kill us. He completely took over my life and freedom. I didn’t feel harassed, I felt extreme fear. I don’t think the word harassed describes my experience.”
“Definitely a huge expense was becoming unemployed, I lost my income which was devastating. Then counselling, because I wasn’t in college at the time I didn’t receive any ‘free’ counselling.”
“Very financially draining to be moving house twice in one year and installing outside and inside CCTV.”
“If I could afford CCTV, I would have purchased it. Still remain nervous in the home, have felt that someone has been in the home on a number of occasions.”
“When I was younger, I assumed this type of behaviour, although unwanted and distressing, was to be expected from men. Additionally, lack of confidence in the police, in general, made me believe that something like intimidating and unwanted attention from a man would in no way be taken seriously. If anything, I would’ve thought it could’ve caused me more problems if the police were informed.
“I don’t trust the gardaí when it comes to gendered violence. They suck at prosecuting rape, domestic violence and stalking, why would they be better at dealing with a lesser versions of these crimes with minimal evidence? I also doubted I’d be believed or my concerns would be taken seriously.”