Sat, Jun 20, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Stalking law needs swift passage

By Gill Wu 吳姿瑩

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:

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