Report Finds Most Stalking Is Family Violence (Vic)
A Sentencing Advisory Council report released this week has revealed that contrary to public perceptions, the majority of stalking offences in Victoria are committed by a family member of the victim. The report aimed to assist the Victorian Law Reform Commission enquiry into improving responses to stalking and determining whether sentencing practices need to be reformed. This article summarises the findings of the report.
What is stalking?
In Victoria, the offence is contained in section 21A of the Crimes Act 1958 and encompasses a wide range of behaviours. Some of these behaviours may give rise to other charges, such as making threats or breaching an intervention order.
Section 21A defines stalking as a course of conduct that may include:
- Following the victim;
- Contacting the victim;
- Publishing electronic communications relating to the victim or purporting to relate to or originate from the victim;
- Causing an unauthorised computer function;
- Tracing the victim’s use of electronic communications;
- Entering or loitering outside a residence or place of business frequented by the victim;
- Interfering with property in the victim’s possession;
- Making threats to the victim;
- Using abusive or offensive words to the victim;
- Performing abusive or offensive acts in the victim’s presence;
- Giving offensive material to the victim;
- Keeping the victim of another person under surveillance;
- Acting in any other way that could reasonably be expected to cause the victim physical or mental harm or to arouse apprehension or fear in the victim.
The offence is punishable by up to ten years imprisonment.
Who commits these offences?
According to the Sentencing Advisory Council report, 68% of sentenced stalking offences and 52% of stalking offences reported to police in Victoria between 2011 and 2020 involved family violence.
It found that 87% of offenders were male and 80 of the victims were female. 56% of the defendants sentenced for stalking reoffended within four years, often with a violent offence or a breach of an intervention order.
Stalking was rarely the only offence a person was sentenced for, with the charge often accompanied by a charge of breaching an intervention order or family violence safety notice.
Challenges in dealing with stalking
The report identified that the most effective way to address stalking behaviour is to prioritise the treatment of stalkers in targeted treatment programs such as Forensicare’s Problem Behaviour program. This is particularly important in cases where there are underlying mental health issues.
Given the broad definition of the offence of stalking in Victoria, there is a lot of potential for offenders to either not be charged at all or to be charged with an offence other than stalking. Even where a charge of stalking is laid, it will often be withdrawn during negotiations between defence and prosecution where the accused agrees to plead guilty to another charge. This makes it difficult to ensure consistency in sentencing across similar cases. Stalkers are less likely to be referred for suitable targeted treatment programs where they are sentenced for an offence other than stalking.
The report recommended that the government prioritise improving access to targeted treatment programs for stalkers, both in family violence and non-family violence contexts and particularly in geographic areas where charges of stalking are especially common. It also recommended raising awareness of the importance of these programs among pre-sentence report writers, correctional case managers and judicial officers. It also stressed the need for such programs to be available in prison.
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