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Long-awaited anti-stalking legislation needed, says women’s rights advocate

11 July 2024

Interview by Sofia Roger Williams, adapted by James Russell

Chairperson of the Coalition for the Safety of Women and Children, Leonie Morris, says the impending introduction of Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith’s bill to criminalise stalking could be “a great circuit breaker to stop the ongoing abuse of power over women”.

In late June, Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith announced he would officially introduce a bill criminalising stalking by the end of the year.

The announcement was made after a petition, organised by ActionStation and the Coalition for the Safety of Women and Children (CSWC), garnered over 21,000 signatures urging the government to make stalking illegal. 

While certain behaviours that constitute stalking are prosecuted under the 1961 Crimes Act, stalking in itself is not officially recognised as a criminal offence.

A policy briefing by the Auckland Women’s Centre in 2022 detailed how stalking disproportionately impacted women, particularly women who are young, disabled, queer, or Maori. The briefing also explained that ex-partners of women were among the most dangerous and persistent stalkers. 

Chairperson for the CSWC, Leonie Morris, told 95bFM’s The Wire that she thinks “it’s very significant because over half of people that are stalked are in a domestic violence relationship”.

Calls to officially criminalise stalking gained traction after the murder of 21-year-old Farzana Yaqubi in 2022, who was stalked and threatened for several weeks before her murder.

An inquiry into her murder uncovered multiple failures in the handling of her case, with police reportedly dismissing her complaints and effectively relegating them to their backlog. 

Morris hopes Goldsmith’s bill will include stalking in the Crimes Act because “while the police do enforce other laws…it really is the Crimes Act that they take the most seriously".

“The main prevention measure that we’re interested in [is for] the police to be trained in stalking. That would make a huge difference because at the moment… the complaint of stalking is not taken seriously.”

Morris added that the CSWC recommended prevention measures, such as a public education campaign specifically focused on stalking and the consequences of failing to address it.

Labour spokesperson for the prevention of sexual violence, Ginny Andersen, currently has a Member’s Bill that would add stalking to the Crimes Act and include a five-year prison sentence for the offence. However, Goldsmith said that the government would create its own bill instead of adopting Andersen’s.

Having helped write the bill, Morris said the CSWC fully supports Andersen’s Bill as it stands.

“[It] was excellent… We would have preferred it if [Goldsmith] had just picked up that”.

“Our focus now is making sure that the bill works well for victims, survivors of stalking, and also that they look at preventative measures”.

Listen to the full interview with Leonie Morris