Cheng Yi-shin (鄭意馨), 26, curates a Facebook page that has garnered fans from all over Taiwan, including a young admirer who tracked her down in real life last November while she was vacationing in Greater Tainan.
The young man, surnamed Wang, located her homestay using a photograph she had posted on the Internet. In addition to stalking her on vacation, he sent thousands of explicit public and private messages via Facebook. On the strength of these messages, the Keelung District Prosecutors Office last month approved her motion to file for Offense Against Reputation and Credit (妨害名譽及信用罪) on summary judgment, a procedural device used to move a case without a trial when all the facts are undisputed.
But in the majority of stalking cases in Taiwan, proof of grievance is notoriously difficult to compile.
“Currently, it is very rare for stalking behavior to become actionable cases,” said Wu Tzu-ying (吳姿瑩), a director at the Modern Women’s Foundation (現代婦女基金會), a non-governmental organization that provides legal and material assistance to battered women.
In one case Wu handled, a man had taken to harassing his ex-wife after she ended an abusive marriage. He phoned constantly, driving her to change her number. In the mornings, he left a hot breakfast in a bag on the handlebar of her motorcycle, and kept it up even after she quietly moved twice to avoid him. Frightened, she looked for help from social workers to help her relocate and to find a new job.
But she would not report the case to the police.
“She didn’t want to report it,” said Wu. “She didn’t think the police could help her.”
Under current laws, they probably couldn’t. When there is proof of character defamation, for instance, in the form of saved messages, the police can help the victim file a case for Offense Against Reputation and Credit. If there is a documented sexual nature to the act, it’s covered under the Sexual Harassment Prevention Act (性騷擾防治法). If the perpetrator is physically following the subject around “for no reason,” the perpetrator can be fined NT$3,000 under the Social Order Maintenance Act (社會秩序維護法).
But many actions designed to instill fear are non-sexual, non-defamatory and do not entail physical stalking. “Getting breakfast isn’t grounds for a lawsuit, so what could she do?” Wu said.
“If you wanted to sue, your lawyer could go through all the laws and still come up empty.”
The Modern Women’s Foundation is drafting a dedicated anti-stalking bill that they aim to propose in the Legislature by year’s end.
If passed, the bill would establish a definition for stalking — prolonged and sustained behavior designed to instill fear in a reasonable person — that could make it easier for victims to seek legal remedies.
But there are many hurdles ahead. One challenge is building a social consensus that stalking is serious.
“A lot of people think stalking is a small thing. Even police,” Wu said.
So far, it’s a behavior that has remained poorly understood. Neither local governments or the central government has surveyed its prevalence in the general population. (The National Center for Victims of Crime in the US considers it relatively common, affecting 1 in 4 women and 1 in 13 men in the US.)
But stalking, left uncurbed, can quickly escalate and is often the precursor to worse violations. According to the US’ National Center for the Victims of Crime, 89 percent of women who were murdered were also stalked in the year leading up to their death.