Are Stalking Laws enough alleviate the scourge in SocietyKeisha Tannis
College of Science, Technology and Applied Arts of Trinidad and Tobago
This paper will look at the issue of Stalking focusing specifically on incidents involving intimate partners and ex intimate partners. Although, the issue of Stalking can be seen in every relationship, it is most prevalent in intimate partner relationships. Stalking is a complex issue faced by both men and woman around the world. This paper will look at laws implemented to assist victims of stalking and whether the advancements made to those laws has made an impact on the prevalence stalking.
Stalking is an old problem that individuals have faced throughout history. The practice of stalking was utilized in various forms however, a name was not yet identified. During the 1980’s the term Stalking was identified for this old problem and introduced into the minds of the population and included punishments for the act. “The criminalization of stalking occurred only after several high-profile cases, including the 1989 murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer, gained national attention. Prior to its common usage and designation as a crime, stalking was referred to as harassment, obsession, or in some cases, domestic violence.” CITATION Nat07 l 1033 (National Center for Victims of Crime, 2007)The CITATION Nat07 l 1033 (National Center for Victims of Crime, 2007) also stated, “Stalking is a crime of intimidation and psychological terror that often escalates into violence against its victims. Stalkers can destroy the lives of victims, terrorizing them through a course of conduct that may include monitoring, following, threatening, or harassing victims in a variety of ways. Stalking often has devastating consequences for victims.”
In 2010 then United States President Barack Obama made the following comments on the issue of stalking “Stalking is a serious and pervasive crime that affects millions of Americans each year … This dangerous and criminal behavior is still often mischaracterized as harmless … Persistent stalking and harassment can lead to serious consequences for victims, whose lives may be upended by fear. Some victims may be forced to take extreme measures to protect themselves, such as changing jobs, relocating to a new home, or even assuming a new identity.” CITATION And13 l 1033 (Karmen, 2013)Stalking is defined as “repeated behaviors that are harassing or threatening and cause reasonable fear in the victim. Stalking often includes harassing or threatening phone calls, leaving written messages/objects/gifts), as well as following or watching the victim.” CITATION Huf13 l 1033 (Huffman ; Overton, 2013) The act of stalking comes in many forms, most of which can be categorised. However, the topic of stalking is ever evolving and with each year that passes, new forms of stalking continue to emerge.
Five categories of stalkers have been identified and grouped according to behaviour; these types are: (1) The Rejected Stalker – “Rejected stalking arises in the context of the breakdown of a close relationship. Victims are usually former sexual intimates; however, family members, close friends, or others with a very close relationship to the stalker can also become targets of Rejected stalking. The initial motivation of a Rejected stalker is either attempting to reconcile the relationship, or to exacting revenge for a perceived rejection. In some cases of protracted stalking, the behaviour is maintained because becomes a substitute for the past relationship as it allows the stalker to continue to feel close to the victim. In other cases, the behaviour is maintained because it allows the stalker to salvage their damaged self-esteem and feel better about themselves.
(2) The Resentful Stalker- Resentful stalking arises when the stalker feels as though they have been mistreated or that they are the victim of some form of injustice or humiliation. Victims are strangers or acquaintances who are seen to have mistreated the stalker. Resentful stalking can arise out of a severe mental illness when the perpetrator develops paranoid beliefs about the victim and uses stalking as a way of ‘getting back’ at the victim. The initial motivation for stalking is the desire for revenge or to ‘even the score’ and the stalking is maintained by the sense of power and control that the stalker derives from inducing fear in the victim. Often Resentful stalkers present themselves as a victim who is justified in using stalking to fight back against an oppressing person or organisation.
(3) The Intimacy Seeking Stalking Intimacy Seeking stalking arises out of a context of loneliness and a lack of a close confidante. Victims are usually strangers or acquaintances who become the target of the stalker’s desire for a relationship. Frequently Intimacy Seeking stalkers’ behaviour is fuelled by a severe mental illness involving delusional beliefs about the victim, such as the belief that they are already in a relationship, even though none exists (erotomanic delusions). The initial motivation is to establish an emotional connection and an intimate relationship. The stalking is maintained by the gratification that comes from the belief that they are closely linked to another person.
(4) The Incompetent Suitor The Incompetent Suitor stalks in the context of loneliness or lust and targets strangers or acquaintances. Unlike the Intimacy Seeker, however, their initial motivation is not to establish a loving relationship, but to get a date or a short-term sexual relationship. Incompetent Suitors usually stalk for brief periods, but when they do persist; their behaviour is usually maintained by the fact that they are blind or indifferent to the distress of the victim. Sometimes this insensitivity is associated with cognitive limitations or poor social skills consequent to autism spectrum disorders or intellectual disability.
(5) The Predatory Stalker – Predatory stalking arises in the context of deviant sexual practices and interests. Perpetrators are usually male and victims are usually female strangers in whom the stalker develops a sexual interest. The stalking behaviour is usually initiated as a way of obtaining sexual gratification (e.g., voyeurism targeting a single victim over time), but can also be used as a way of obtaining information about the victim as a precursor to a sexual assault. In this sense the stalking is both instrumental and also gratifying for those stalkers who enjoy the sense of power and control that comes from targeting the usually unsuspecting victim.” CITATION Mac11 l 1033 (MacKenzie, et al., 2011).
The groupings outline various degrees and threat levels of the stalking involved as evidenced by the increased intensity of the name of the category.
Stalking and the effects in some cases are so severe the victims are forced to relocate and also change identities. In larger countries relocation is possible as it is sometimes easy to get lost in the crowd. Also, with a change of name it is much easier to “start fresh” without being faced by one’s old troubles. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, relocation is often an impossibliity unless it involves migrating to another country. With a population size of merely 1.3 million citizens and employment offices being centralized to Port of Spain, Arima, Chaguanas and Point Fortin it is often difficult not to meet someone who knows you. That coupled with the fact that a lot of the population is employed in the public sector changing residences will not guarantee protection from would be stalkers since the location of one’s employment office is permanent.
In 2004, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago amended the Offences Against the Person Act to include the act of Harassment. In its explanatory note it was said “The Bill would seek to amend the Offences Against the Person Act, Chap. 11:08 (the Act) by creating two new offences—the offence of harassment and, relatedly, the offence of putting a person in fear of violence. The proposed amendment aims at addressing the phenomenon of stalking.”CITATION The04 l 1033 (Trinidad and Tobago Parliament, 2004) The Act went on to outline the parameters of harassment and the punishment involved, same is outlined under Section 30 (A) of the Act and it states “harassment of a person includes alarming the person or causing the person distress by engaging in a course of conduct such as— (i) following, making visual recordings of, stopping or accosting the person; (ii) watching, loitering near or hindering or preventing access to or from the person’s place of residence, workplace or any other place frequented by the person; (iii) entering property or interfering with property in the possession of the person; (iv) making contact with the person, whether by gesture, directly verbally, by telephone, computer, post or in any other way; (v) giving offensive material to the person, or leaving it where it will be found by, given to, or brought to the attention of, the person; (vi) acting in any manner described in subparagraphs (i) to (v) towards someone with a familial or close personal relationship to the person; or (vii) acting in any other way that could reasonably be expected to alarm or cause the person distress. CITATION The04 l 1033 (Trinidad and Tobago Parliament, 2004) The Act is Trinidad and Tobago’s only source of protection for victims of Stalking. The Act lists the punishment for persons found guilty of engaging in acts of harassment as “a fine of two thousand dollars and to imprisonment for six months.” CITATION The041 l 1033 (The Offences Against the Person (Amendment) (Harassment) Bill, 2004)The Act in an attempt to treat severely with the problem of harassment lists ” A person who is accused of conduct which would constitute an offence under section 30A and which causes the other person to fear that violence will be used against him, and the person whose Putting a person in fear of violence 7 course of conduct is in question knows or ought to know that his conduct will cause the other person so to fear, commits an offence and is liable on conviction on indictment to a fine of ten thousand dollars and to imprisonment for five years or, on summary conviction, to a fine of five thousand dollars and to imprisonment for six months.” CITATION The041 l 1033 (The Offences Against the Person (Amendment) (Harassment) Bill, 2004)To obtain an understanding of various stalking law, a review of the laws instituted by Bermuda was conducted, the Act states “(1) A person who stalks another person is guilty of an offence and, subject to subsection (2), liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine not exceeding $2,500 or to both.” CITATION Law97 l 1033 (Laws of Bermuda, 1997)
The following section of the Act highlights the punishment should the offender at the time of engaging in the act of Stalking “was in possession of an offensive weapon when he did an act forming part of the conduct constituting the stalking; or (b) that an act forming part of that conduct was a breach of— (i) a protection order made in respect of him under this Act; or ii) an order made in respect of him under section 9A of the Matrimonial Proceedings (Magistrates’ Courts) Act 1974 title 27 item 5; or (iii) a protection order made in respect of him under the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act 1997 title 27 item 10, the court may, instead of sentencing him under subsection (1), sentence him to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or to both.” CITATION Law97 l 1033 (Laws of Bermuda, 1997)
The United States of America is a country with high prevalence of stalking ranging from intimate partners, strangers and celebrities. Some levels of stalking are allowed as those offenders are called “paparazzi” media personnel engaged in documenting the lives of celebrities or persons of influence in the society. Federal, State and Local stalking laws, governs those offenders not deemed paparazzi. The guiding law governing stalking states “Whoever (1) travels in interstate or foreign commerce or is present within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or enters or leaves Indian country, with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person, and in the course of, or as a result of, such travel or presence engages in conduct that— (A)places that person in reasonable fear of the death of, or serious bodily injury to— (i) that person; (ii) an immediate family member (as defined in section 115) of that person; or (iii) a spouse or intimate partner of that person; or (B) causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to a person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of subparagraph (A); or (2)with the intent to kill, injure, harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person, uses the mail, any interactive computer service or electronic communication service or electronic communication system of interstate commerce, or any other facility of interstate or foreign commerce to engage in a course of conduct that— (A) places that person in reasonable fear of the death of or serious bodily injury to a person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of paragraph (1)(A); or (B) causes, attempts to cause, or would be reasonably expected to cause substantial emotional distress to a person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of paragraph (1)(A),” CITATION Cor l 1033 (Cornell Law School – Legal Information Institute , n.d.) As the leading country with legislation regarding tha act of Stalking, the punishments outlined are drastically harsher than those of Trinidad and Tobago and Bermuda. The punishments range from one (1) year for breaches of restraining orders, no contact orders or other orders to life imprisonment if death occurs CITATION Cor1 l 1033 (Cornell Law School – Legal Information Institute , n.d.)
Stalking is a serious problem around the world and causes severe emotional and mental distress to its victims. In comparison to the harsh laws implemented in the United States of America it can be seen the harassment laws of Trinidad and Tobago is woefully inadequate. Although reports of the incidences of Stalking is not at the forefront in Trinidad and Tobago in recent times there has been occurences of reports in the media of women pleading for assistance from the Police regarding stalking from former lovers and in some severe cases women were murdered by those former lovers after being followed to a location. The Harassment laws of Trinidad and Tobago is in need revamping to encompass the seriousness of the problem.
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