The new stalking law takes a zero-tolerance approach to domestic and sexual violence


New laws mean a single incident of oppression could be seen by the courts as stalking, potentially earning the perpetrator a 10-year prison sentence.

Economy Minister Helen McEntee hopes to have new legislation in place by the summer that would allow for a no-repeat stalking conviction.

Killing or harming pets would also be a stalking offense under the law. Attacks on animals used to be treated as damaging a person’s property, but the new law would treat it as an emotional assault.

The new stalking regulations cover any behavior that causes someone to fear or cause serious concern and distress.

Meanwhile, non-fatal strangulation, a common occurrence in domestic violence cases and sometimes a precursor to murder, carries a life sentence.

Una Ring, founder of support group Stalking Ireland, said as a dog owner she was afraid her abuser would give her pets poisoned meat. “I know it happens and I’ve heard of pets being stabbed or run over on purpose,” she said inside government buildings, where she welcomed the steps.

Last year, Ms Ring’s former work colleague James Steele, 52, was sentenced to five years in prison for stalking and molestation. When he was arrested during a special surveillance operation at Ms Ring’s home, he was found to be carrying a crowbar, duct tape and a rope.

Under the new legislation, courts can more easily issue injunctions against stalking. Victims will have a lighter burden of proof, backed by evidence for the Garda report. This allows faster access to the courts.

The minister said it would allow victims of stalking to “feel safe”.

Violation of an order would be punished with imprisonment for a maximum of one year. It could also be the basis of a stalking prosecution, covering any persistent behavior — not just stalking, observing, or approaching.

Non-fatal strangulation will be prosecuted as a new and serious offense even in the absence of obvious signs of injury. If serious harm is caused by strangulation, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.

“We know that non-fatal strangulation can be an indicator of future fatal violence,” Ms McEntee said.

“It’s a risk factor for homicides against women at home. It is common in domestic violence and is often accompanied by death threats. We hope this new crime will encourage victims to come forward and report what happened.”

Research suggests that non-fatal strangulation increases the ultimate risk of death by a factor of seven. Internationally, strangulation is the second most common method of killing women after stabbing.

Studies report that even with little or no visible injury, longer-term physical effects include internal bleeding, dizziness, and memory loss. Psychological consequences include depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In several countries, undercharging of asphyxia cases was found.

“The government’s overall goal is to achieve zero tolerance when it comes to domestic sexual and gender-based violence,” Ms McEntee said. “What’s really important is that we have clear and strong laws and make sure victims know they can come forward and are supported.

“We see the devastating impact stalking can have on people in our communities. The evidence shows that people are more likely to report cases when it is a distinct crime.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers worked closely with the Minister on the new legislation, which was drafted in conjunction with victims and the Stalking Ireland group. The new stalking law takes a zero-tolerance approach to domestic and sexual violence

Fry Electronics Team

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