Wed, May 09, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: More remains to be done on stalking

While it is encouraging that the government is finally addressing a huge hole in harassment prevention — namely the lack of anti-stalking legislation — women’s rights groups last week brought up several valid points regarding how the draft act can be made more effective.

The Domestic Violence Prevention Act (家庭暴力防治法) and the Criminal Code treat stalking as an “incident” rather than repetitive and continuous behavior, punishable only by small fines. Restraining orders are only allowed when the victim has some kind of familial or romantic relationship with the stalker, denying that option to victims of anonymous stalkers.

In December last year, a male university student stabbed a female student he had been stalking for five years. Prior to this, groups had called for anti-stalking legislation for years, with the government never living up to its promises. Minister of the Interior Yeh Jiunn-rong (葉俊榮) in 2016 pledged at a Modern Women’s Foundation conference to come up with legislation, but nothing happened until the stabbing sparked outrage. Two weeks after the stabbing, then-deputy minister of the interior Hua Ching-chun (花敬群) promised that a draft act would be finalized in two months — and the government has finally delivered, with a bill that cleared the Executive Yuan last month.

The legislation seems to comprehensively define stalking as all actions toward a specific individual, whether out of “admiration, affection or resentment,” that “cause the focus of the attention to feel disgusted or fearful.” However, the women’s groups said that the terms are too abstract, and that victims often do not know why they are being stalked, especially in the case of a complete stranger.

Another problem the groups highlighted is that once a complaint is filed, police have three months to investigate — far too long to provide sufficient protection. Usually, by the time a victim is compelled to seek legal action, they have likely been dealing with the situation for a while and have exhausted their options. Society cannot afford another stabbing before this is again brought to attention.

Furthermore, a stalker might revert to more extreme behavior if they learn that their target has sought police assistance and should not be given that much time to come up with a more extreme or deadly plan. Additionally, a stalker would first receive only a warning and a fine, while a protection order can only be issued if they were found pestering their victim within two years. This puts a lot of pressure on the victim to repeatedly gather evidence and follow procedure while already facing a very stressful and traumatic situation. If a stalker has already exhibited such obsessive behavior, a warning and fine might not be sufficient to scare them off — and who knows what would happen if they grow desperate or are angered.

Finally, while legal protection is a good step, just creating legislation will not solve the problem — people must be educated that the incessant pursuit of an unrequited love often portrayed in movies is not a blueprint for romantic success, and must be shown the psychological damage it causes victims.

There should be more resources to explain to perpetrators and victims that such behavior is serious and should not be treated as a minor annoyance. For example, the stabbing victim’s family was aware of the behavior for five years, but did not realize the seriousness of the situation and even protected the perpetrator when he followed the victim into a police station by declining to press charges. Meanwhile, could the school have done something about it earlier, as they were both students?

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