Over the past few years, the international community has started paying attention to the dangers women face from stalking. Stalking is extremely distressing for people it affects. On occasion, it can lead to fatal consequences, as in the case of Chang Yen-wen (張彥文), who stabbed his former girlfriend to death. Stalking has four main characteristics: It is widespread, dangerous, traumatic and likely to lead to harm. Nevertheless, there is no legislation that effectively prevents or punishes this crime.
Last year, the Modern Women’s Foundation carried out a survey in which 12.4 percent of young female student respondents said that they had been stalked, most in the form of telecommunications harassment, followed by physical harassment such as the stalker standing in wait, following, or watching from afar. These behaviors put women in a vulnerable position, feeling they need to protect themselves, which puts them under considerable psychological pressure.
In the majority of cases men are doing the stalking and more than 30 percent of the female students who had been stalked expressed concern and disorientation, in some cases feeling helpless and that they were in danger. Although women could can try to communicate with the person involved, to elicit assistance from others or to otherwise make arrangements to prevent the person from contacting them again — such as by moving house, changing their phone number or finding another job — only 10 percent of respondents reported the situation to the police or involved the courts. The low numbers of people turning to the law for help demonstrates how difficult it is to control long-term repeated stalking behavior that can lead to physical and mental breakdown.
There have been few attempts to legislate on this issue. One is found in Article 89 of the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法), which defines behavior that can lead to fines or reprimands: “Stalking another person without justifiable reasons despite having been dissuaded.” Not only is this definition inadequate, but the fine of not more than NT$3,000 cannot be expected to deter or effectively punish this criminal behavior.
The second legislative attempt is the provision for a protection order in the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (家庭暴力防治法), but the narrow definition of the intended target of this order means that it does not cover close partners, suitors or even unknown stalkers not living with a person. The media recently reported on a woman, surnamed Huang (黃), who was stalked for five years by her sister’s ex-boyfriend. This is an example of a case the Domestic Violence Prevention Act would not cover.
In addition, provisions in legislation regard stalking as isolated incidents, making it impossible to demonstrate the seriousness of a situation in which the victim has come to the verge of collapse as a result of long-term and sustained stalking. This type of behavior falls outside of the scope of current legislation.
The foundation says that stalking behavior requires prompt intervention and the perpetrator needs to be made aware that their behavior is criminal. This would not only promptly curtail the perpetrator’s behavior, it would also avoid any more deaths and harm as a result of such behavior. To this end, it has developed proposals to help people affected by stalking and from last year it has been trying to promote anti-stalking legislation that has taken a year to draft. The draft has the following four aspects:
First, it clearly identifies harassment by stalking as criminal behavior. The stalking prevention legislation proposed by the foundation will clearly define stalking as behavior that is sustained and has already had an impact on the victim’s life. “Stalking” includes the direct or indirect surveillance or following of a person, or ascertaining the whereabouts or activities of the stalked person or a person related to them, irrespective of whether this is in the person’s place of residence, school, workplace or another location frequented by that person. The definition of “harassment” entails interference, warnings, intimidation and threats, taunting or abuse of the person being harassed or somebody known to them, or even sending, leaving, displaying, or broadcasting text, images, sounds, videos or objects, or loitering in the proximity of the person being harassed or another person known to them.
Second, the police can, in their own capacity or at the request of the harassed person, issue an injunction, at which point the stalking harassment by the person concerned is to cease forthwith. Any recipient violating the injunction can be jailed for no longer than a year, be detained, or be fined.
Third, to prevent people being placed at risk to being subjected to sustained stalking by the individual concerned, this draft proposes a restraining order system, similar to a civil protection order system. This order can be issued by a court and can require the recipient to desist from engaging in the stalking harassment, to keep away from specific places and to stop collecting or possessing information [about the petitioner] not in the public domain.
The draft also proposes a dual-track penalty system including administrative penalties and criminal penalties. As part of these proposals, people stalking or harassing others without justifiable reason can be asked to pay an administrative fine of no more than NT$30,000. In the event that the stalking behavior or harassment endangers another person’s health or freedom, the perpetrator can be imprisoned for a duration of no more than two years. Also, in line with the legal model in the Criminal Code for the aggravated result of an offense, the punishment for perpetrators in cases where the stalking leads to death or serious injury can be increased to an extent such that it would provide an effective deterrent.
In 1990, California passed the world’s first anti-stalking law. In 2000, Japan announced its “Stalker Regulation Law.” Both of these pieces of legislation followed high-profile, fatal stalking cases. Taiwan is already 20 years behind the rest of the world on this issue. The nation can no longer put it off with excuses such as “the Social Order Maintenance Act is our anti-stalker law,” or “we already have the Domestic Violence Prevention Act,” and neither should the public wait for another fatal stalking case before it acts, closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. The draft anti-stalking law proposed by the foundation is in the process of having its first reading in the legislature.
The foundation hopes that people call their local legislators and ask them to support the swift passage of the legislation, so that we can stop this criminal behavior.
Gill Wu is director of the Modern Women’s Foundation.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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