Calls to make stalking illegal in New Zealand

The pressure is on the Government to make stalking a criminal offence, with some of New Zealand's most powerful lobby groups signing an 8000-strong petition.

Stalking victim 'Molly', from Auckland, is one of those who've joined 80 high-powered lobby groups in signing an open letter to Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith urging him to make stalking a crime to prevent fear, harm and murder.

"It was exhausting and frightening and for a while there I thought I was going to die. The setting fire to my house, the turning up to my house with a weapon..." she told Newshub.

She endured five years of psychological abuse, in which her stalker hacked her phone and emails and sent photos to her bosses, before things escalated when he set her home alight.

"I was diagnosed with severe PTSD because it is like being in a combat zone, it is like being at war. Your life is compromised, you change what you do, you change your behaviour, who you hang out with because of the psychological impacts and the fear of what might come next."

Police could do little except charge her stalker with breaching a protection order and wilful damage.

He served four months home detention and has since moved to Australia but she says "from time to time" he continues to taunt her.

On Sunday an open letter was signed by over 80 groups and individuals in an open letter addressed to Minister of Justice Paul Goldsmith, urging him to make stalking a crime to prevent fear, harm and murder.  

In the letter, Coalition for the Safety of Women and Children chair Leonie Morris described stalking as "terrifying and predatory behaviour".    

AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green asked Wilkinson if the calls were prompted by anything specific.   

"We have given the Coalition time to make good on their promise, to make stalking illegal. So, now it's time to give them a bit of a nudge," she responded.   

Wilkinson believes the laws around stalking must change to ensure Kiwis feel safer.   

"In New Zealand we don't have specific anti-stalking laws. We've got a couple of different laws that look at the behaviour, but they are quite complicated and clunky to use. They require victims to gather evidence over an extended period of time where they might not feel safe and they might be in danger," she explained.   

She said once victims of stalking go to the police, they have to "navigate the justice system across a couple of different fronts."  Wilkinson described the process as "time consuming" and "not very easy for the police."   

"We want specific anti-stalking laws that are easy for victims to use and the police to use." 

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith told Newshub things like youth offending and gangs remain the Government's priority for now but "probably next year, but certainly this term" a stalking law would be addressed.

"We're moving as quickly as we can to get through a busy legislative agenda," he said.

The open letter follows the death of AUT law student Farzana Yaqubi, 21, who made online complaints regarding safety fears eight weeks before she was murdered in December 2022.   

A report by the Independent Police Conduct Authority, following her death, found the law student could have been saved if police had acted sooner. 

Yaqubi had told police she was "extremely fearful the man may pose a threat to her life". 

Chan-Green said following media coverage of her death, she was shocked to receive so many emails from people who had been through similar situations. 

"Do you have any idea of the scale of the issue and how many people are being stalked?" she asked Wilkinson.   

"When it came to my attention that stalking wasn't illegal, I was shocked at that point," she replied.  

However, she admitted she wasn't shocked at the extent of stalking in New Zealand. 

"I think without laws labelling stalking specifically, it's really hard to know exactly the extent of the problem. We can't gather those statistics."   

AM spoke with Goldsmith earlier this year who admitted stalking was a problem and it would be reviewed this term. 

Chan-Green asked Wilkinson if she believes it's the best he can do. 

"Look, the Coalition is pushing through a whole pile of laws under urgency, and they did campaign on a platform of being tougher on crime," she responded. "They have had plenty of time to think about this... They did say prior to the election that they were going to act on it."   

She stressed leaving a review until the end of the term isn't acceptable.   

When asked by Chan-Green whether she thinks one sort of crime should be prioritised over the other, Wilkinson replied: "I think if they had to pick one, then they need to think about what's going on. Is gang violence a bigger problem? Or is stalking a bigger problem?"   

"I don't have the statistics surrounding those things, but I would hazard a guess and say more people are being stalked and are living in constant fear and threat of danger, and constant stress. I don't think we can wait until we have other problems sorted out, we need to look at it soon. "