New Zealand women demand stalking laws changed

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A New Zealand woman has shared her horrifying experience with stalking in a bid to get the “terrifying” act criminalised.

Aotearoa New Zealand is currently experiencing a dramatic increase in the amount of online stalking and harassment, which has sparked a national call for it to be “immediately made a crime by adding it to the Crimes Act”, led by the Te Wāhi Wāhine o Tāmaki Makaurau, also known as the Auckland Women’s Centre.

The female advocacy group recently shared an open letter, written to New Zealand’s Minister of Justice Paul Goldsmith, to promote its #SafetyNotStalking petition, which describes the situation as “dangerous” and “urgent”.

“This dangerous, harmful behaviour is illegal in Australia, the United States, the UK, and Europe, but not in Aotearoa New Zealand,” it states.

“Our current laws are piecemeal and inadequate. They often make it impossible for victims/survivors to be safe.”

In response, women have been sharing their own experiences with stalking, including mental health advocate Jazz Thornton who revealed a man had been messaging her about his “obsessions” before flying to New Zealand to find her.

“He located me within two days. It was terrifying,” she said.

“When the police ended up coming to our house they were like ‘oh my gosh, our hands are literally tied’.”

In New Zealand, stalking isn’t considered a criminal act. In fact, Ms Thornton said it took the man escalating his behaviour to be arrested. Everyone in her house lived in fear until that happened.

“He was served a criminal harassment letter [after the escalation] and then only if he broke the rules of this was he able to be charged and prosecuted,” she said.

“It’s absolutely insane to me that despite a high risk to safety of people being stalked it takes an escalation for anything to get done.”

The open letter also addressed how many “many New Zealanders, mostly women” feel unsafe doing simple things, such as walking to work or caring for their children.

“This is because they are targeted by stalkers: people making unwanted, repetitive, and persistent intrusions into their lives,” the letter read.

It detailed how stalking could lead to physical violence and murder, claiming there has been a “dramatic increase” in online stalking are harassment.

“This has to change for the peace of mind of all New Zealanders. Making stalking illegal will enable co-ordinated responses so that victims receive prompt and effective support and protection. It would give the police the tools they need to keep people safe.”

It detailed how the AWC was pleased that a pre-election promise was creating this legislation but now the National Party has left the group “concerned no anti-stalking bill will be passed within this term”.

Mr Goldsmith appeared on Radio NZ to defend his office’s actions, claiming that his office did say they would create this legislation but there was also a “full slate” of commitments for 2024.

“We recognise that there is an issue here … we think the people in this petition have made a very good case,” he said.

“The good news is they’ve helped enormously by coming up with some pretty good draft legislation that can advance things quicker.

“But we recognise this year we have a very full slate of justice commitments that we’re working our way through, that we want to deal with first, then we move onto this.”

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