Calls for better protection for women being stalked by an ex-partner

Research undertaken by Women's Refuge has been able to paint a clearer picture of New Zealand's problem with intimate partner stalking and the charity believes our current laws need to change. 

The agency spoke to 700 victims of stalking, many of whom say they've been let down by the system. 

One of them was Emily who was relentlessly stalked for two-and-a-half years by her ex-partner. 

"Text, email a lot of phone calls," Emily says. 

Emily still has two large ring binders full of the printed text messages he sent her over a 15-month period. 

"These folders have got over 5000 A4 pages of texts" 

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Emily says her ex-partner would refuse to leave her house when he visited their child, he'd rifle through her bins and often turn up unannounced. 

"I had phone calls at three in the morning from him crying down the phone outside the house."

"On one occasion I turned my Bluetooth speaker on, and the Bluetooth speaker at one point during the evening connected to his phone. So I knew that he'd been around the house, so that was really frightening"

The problem


After surveying 700 victims of intimate partner stalking Women's Refuge identified over 70 different tactics used to terrorise them. 

The most common after a relationship ended were: 

  • Relentless texting (75 percent)
  • Sitting outside the home or office (70 percent)
  • Phoning often  (69 percent) 
  • Following by car or on foot (62 percent).

Those surveyed said ex-partner stalking impacted on almost every aspect of their lives including work, friends and family. Many were forced to withdraw and fundamentally change their behaviour out of fear.

A former detective and now private investigator says technology makes it easier to stalk, and evidence can be hard to gather. 

Darren Morton believes victims should avoid cutting off contact altogether and instead limit it to one channel like texting. 

"That gives them two things. One it gives them an idea of the mental state of the offender, it will also give them evidence to present to the police."

But Women's Refuge CEO Dr Ang Jury says if victims do go to police, they often struggle. 

She says that's because they're viewed as 'overly paranoid' and it's seen as 'normal' to chase someone after a break-up. 

"If those myths are commonplace within our society as we believe they are, then police hold them as well."

But Morton says as a former detective he can understand how that happens. 

"Because stalking consumes the victim so much it has a huge psychological impact on that person. So what I tell all of our victims is when you go to the police you need to be rational." 

"You need to have everything written out - keep a diary. You need to be able to present facts, have your text messages, have your emails. You're not just making a complaint. You're actually presenting a case."

But when 'Emily' finally plucked up the courage to go to police she was referred to the Family Court instead. 

"I wished so many times that I hadn't been in a relationship with him, and that this was a stranger." 

"Because I knew that if I went in and said this man that I don't know is following me and stalking me and harassing me, that they would've done something immediately."

The shortfalls


The keyword here is stranger.

Right now victims of 'stranger stalking' can access restraining orders through the Harassment Act, but Women's Refuge says the law doesn't provide scope for ex-partner stalking. 

Dr Ang Jury says instead it's mostly dealt with under Family Violence Laws, where victims are told to access a 'protection order' for which the threshold of harm is much higher. 

"The protection order is really very difficult to get unless you've had an incident or episode of physical violence. Harassment Act you don't need physical violence." 

Dr Jury says the system is failing because in 39 percent of cases stalking is a precursor to violence.

"Victims told us about failing to get protection orders on the basis of stalking, and then having to reapply once it has actually escalated to physical or sexual assault." 

"[However] a restraining order would allow women to apply for an order of protection before they'd been beaten."

Woman being stalked.
Woman being stalked. Photo credit: Getty

Women's Refuge now wants a review of the Harassment Act, to make an explicit pathway for victims of intimate partner stalking and domestic violence to use. 

"[Right now] we tend to take stranger stalking more seriously - it's [seen as] scarier than intimate partner stalking which is crazy because actually you're far more likely to be hurt or even killed as a result of intimate partner stalking."

'Emily' was able to get a protection order through Family Violence Laws. 

But she says the family court process was harrowing.

"The court seems to have this culture of not believing us, making it sound like you've caused a scene. I was astounded because it couldn't have gotten much worse for me." 

"At no point did anyone say what happened to you was not ok, no one said it."

After just a few months she was told there was no need for the protection order to continue. 

"I remember saying how much worse does it need to be? I mean he didn't murder me, but it felt like he was going to."

Government response


Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice Jan Logie has welcomed the research from Women's Refuge, but says right now there's no plans to review the Harassment Act.

Logie says recent changes to family violence laws will be able to cater to victims of intimate partner stalking. 

"[Those changes] have made it clear that family violence can be psychological as well as physical, it can manifest as a pattern of behaviour over time, and coercive control is a component of family violence."

"Given this, we should expect that the seriousness of this behaviour is reflected in decision-making on the issuing and enforcement of protection orders."

Logie says they'll continue to monitor and evaluate the impacts of that new legislation. 

"Police, courts, judiciary and communities all around the country are stepping up their understanding and response to family violence." 

"This report will help ensure they understand the seriousness of stalking." 

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