More than half of stalking victims do not notify gardaí of harassment – here’s why

Stalking victims Una Ring and Eve McDowell. Photo: Gareth Chaney

Ralph Riegel

More than half of victims who have been subjected to stalking or harassment in Ireland never report such threatening behaviour to gardaí.

The shock revelation was contained in the first Irish study conducted into stalking and harassment, as well as its consequences for victims.

Conducted by University College Cork (UCC) researchers Catherine O’Sullivan and Ciara Staunton, in conjunction with the Sexual Violence Centre Cork, the report makes 10 key recommendations on how such worrying behaviour can be better dealt with.

The study was conducted among more than 1,000 participants and was launched in response to the bravery shown by stalking victims Una Ring and Eve McDowell.

One key recommendation is that stalking be made a new criminal offence.

This would act as a complement to the existing charge of harassment on the statute books.

Other recommendations include enhanced training for gardaí about dealing with stalking and harassment issues, as well as a national information campaign to highlight such unacceptable behaviour.

“The main objective of the study was to focus on the process of stalking and harassment, the effects on those who have been stalked and harassed, and their responses to these behaviours,” Dr O’Sullivan said.

Dr Staunton said stalking and harassment took a serious toll on those targeted.

“Our findings identify a range of avoidance behaviours used by victims to protect themselves and reveal the social, financial, physical and psychological consequences of stalking and harassment.”

The study found that, in the majority of cases, those who are stalking or harassing a person are known to them.

However, in a considerable portion of cases, the perpetrator can be categorised as a stranger or someone who saw the victim by chance.

An alarming 44pc of people who said they had been subjected to stalking or harassment confirmed that the perpetrator threatened to harm them or their families.

In more than one in four cases, complainants said that photographs or recordings were taken without their permission. In almost one in five cases, images of a personal nature were shared by the perpetrator.

Of the 1,000 people who responded to the study, 367 said the perpetrator threatened to harm themselves in front of the victim.

Text messages, WhatsApps or emails were the most common forms of malicious communications identified by respondents.

Almost one in four said they had been the subject of malicious social media posts aimed at damaging their reputation.

Many of those in the study said they felt compelled to quit clubs, change their personal behaviour and even alter travel routes to work or school because of concerns about stalking and harassment.

Some 45pc of those in the study said they required professional help to deal with the psychological trauma of having been targeted.

Around 42pc of respondents said they had contacted gardaí over the harassment, but more than 50pc said they had never contacted gardaí.