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Pearce, Amanda; Easteal, Patricia --- "The 'Domestic' in Stalking" [1999] AltLawJl 30; (1999) 24(4) Alternative Law Journal 165

A DVO is easier because it’s there in black and white and it’s a court order made by a magistrate and tends to be taken more seriously.[15]

Other charges are more appropriate due to the domestic nature of the actions.

Sixty-six per cent would use a DVO if a man threatened his wife through their children; half if a complainant had been persistently threatened over the telephone by an ex partner; 70% if a man appeared where his estranged partner shopped; and 45% would follow that option if a woman had been sent newspaper clippings of gun violence by a former de facto. When the scenario specified that a protection order was in place prohibiting the behaviour described, not surprisingly, respondents overwhelmingly chose to use ‘breach of the order’.

In addition to DVOs, many of the police respondents mentioned non-legal courses of action. These included relocating the woman to a ‘safe house’, removing either party, having a third party intervene, advising the woman to get an answering machine to screen her telephone calls or to get a silent telephone number, telling her to do her shopping elsewhere, referring her to the Domestic Violence Crisis Service or another counselling agency, or speaking to or cautioning the suspect. Additionally, some stated that they would take no action.

We must also note that DVO-based actions usually translate into police advising the woman to take out an order.[16] And, a woman who has been the victim of her partner’s violence may be in such ‘terror’ of this party that she lacks the empowerment necessary to undertake legal action of any sort.

Reasons for in(action)

Police were asked to nominate whether any of the four reasons shown in Table 2 explained their non-usage of the stalking law over the past year. The survey also inquired why they did not select this option in the hypothetical scenarios provided.

Table 2: Reasons stalking law not used by AFP in occasions identified in Table 1, and frequency of this being the reason


Was not aware of the legislation (n=16)**
Lack of evidence of intent as required by the legislation (n=24)
Lack of other evidence for a stalking charge (n=22)
The ‘n’ in each case refers to the total number of respondents who answered that specific question. In addition to these responses, three officers nominated a course of action under ‘other’.

Almost 33% of the police respondents claimed that at least ‘sometimes’ they had been unaware of the law, while 91% who responded to the question of evidentiary adequacy thought that this requirement did play some role in the decision not to charge under the legislation, with a number identifying a general difficulty in proving the elements of this offence. As the following stated:

Other offences are more ‘simple’ to prove, therefore more likely to succeed.

Stalking section is a PR exercise by people who do not have to prove the ingredients of this charge.

Another 33% of the officers stated the reason that they did not use the stalking legislation always derived from the intent element. Consequently, it is not surprising that in response to a question about whether the intent provision in the ACT stalking law was too narrowly defined, 78% felt that it was. Clarifying comments included:

Fear/apprehension of serious harm is too high a level and too narrowly defined.

Apprehension of fear of serious harm should not be necessary.

It [the legislation] does not allow for recklessness or foresight of consequences.

The need to prove intent was identified as a factor that would stop them in future contexts by a majority in all but two of the specific scenarios.

Making the law more user friendly

The police

Police in the ACT have confronted stalking behaviour in the course of their duty with 67.5% of respondents having encountered it in the past 12 months. Yet, the Crimes (Amendment ) Act (No 2) 1996 that was intended to deal with such activities has not been widely utilised. Many officers chose the civil legislation option instead.

For some, this was the result of not even knowing that the law existed. This may be explained by a flaw in police practices as, when it was introduced, the AFP did not undertake an awareness or education program to inform staff. For others, the stalking legislation was not regarded as an option due to their perception of the incident as ‘domestic’. Coupled with a lack of understanding about the dynamics of violence in the home and the psychology of the ‘former intimate’ stalker, this contributed to a tendency for some officers to treat stalking within the domestic context as warranting less serious intervention.

A system of informing and educating police in changes to the law would go some way to providing that a lack of awareness of a law does not impede the policing of any law in the future. The most effective means of improving the policing of stalking in the ACT, however, would be to introduce a specialised unit into the AFP based on the Los Angeles Police Department’s Threat Management Unit.[17] Set up in 1989, this Unit assesses the threat imposed by individual stalkers and tries to prevent an escalation in their behaviour. The focus, then, is on preventive policing through stopping violence before it occurs.

In carrying out this role, an important tool used by the Unit is the ‘intervention’. An intervention lets the stalker know that the Unit is aware of, and is suspicious of, the stalker’s behaviour. The Unit also works with victims, advising them on matters such as security, helping in obtaining a restraining order, and encouraging the victim to manage the threat. Advice is given on how to obtain evidence to prosecute the stalker. This educative process is intended to empower the victim.

The AFP respondents in the current study were overwhelmingly positive about setting up such a specialised unit. More than 82% stated that this method of policing would be a useful way to deal with the problem of stalking in the ACT. Comments like ‘a good idea’ and ‘a very effective measure/program’ were typical. It should be noted, however, that some officers, while agreeing in principle with the idea, expressed reservations about the resources needed for such a scheme citing its labour intensive nature and the ‘already too busy’ workload of general duties officers. One officer believed the AFP were already using similar techniques in ‘99%’ of cases by speaking to the alleged offender ‘where there is insufficient evidence or the victim does not wish the matter to proceed to court’.

The law

A threat management unit would need to work in conjunction with effective legislation. A specialised policing unit would be of little use when the substantive law is flawed. Changes would need to be made to the Crimes (Amendment ) Act (No 2) 1996. In particular, the requirement that the intent must be to cause serious fear, harm or apprehension needs to be addressed.

The law does not define the term ‘serious’. When introducing this term into the original Bill, ACT Attorney General Gary Humphries stated:

A stalking offence should be a serious offence covering serious cases ... Non-serious harm and some other behaviour would be properly covered by other legislation, which may include the offensive behaviour offence in the Crimes Act, and the provisions in the Magistrates Court Act which cover harassment and offensive behaviour. Mental health legislation may be appropriate in some cases.[18]

It seems from this passage that the government intended that the ACT stalking law should be confined to situations when something more ‘serious’ than harassment or offensive behaviour was occurring. What is then required to establish the intent element for the criminal standard of proof might be some physical violence inflicted on the victim during the stalking. If this is so, the law would neither be working to prevent violence before it occurs nor filling the ‘gap’ in the criminal law identified in the ACT Community Law Reform Committee Report. And, with this ‘gap’ left wide open, victims are left unprotected.

The most effective means to ensure such protection is to introduce a standard of reasonableness on behalf of the alleged offender into the legislation. That is, an objective test of intent should be a part of the legislation and include the idea that such intent will be present if the offender knows, or in all the particular circumstances that person ought to have known, that the other person or a third person was likely to be harmed, or placed in apprehension or fear of harm.[19] Further, in determining whether a person intends to cause apprehension or fear of harm, the law should be amended to include that a court may have regard to any pattern of violence, especially violence constituting a domestic violence offence, as constituted by the offences contained in the definition of the same term in the Domestic Violence Act 1986 (ACT), s.3). This is derived from a similar provision in the New South Wales stalking legislation (see Crimes (Domestic Violence) Amendment Act 1993 (NSW), s.562A(1)). The NSW law provides that, for the purposes of determining whether conduct amounts to ‘intimidation’, a court may have regard to these matters.

Through introducing a broader concept of mens rea, the narrowness of the current ACT law would be eliminated. First, by removing the requirement of an intent to cause serious fear, harm or apprehension, the provision lowers the standard of intent needed. By requiring that less onerous mental elements be established by the prosecution, these changes to the current law would function more proactively in protecting the victims. Second, by allowing for an objective standard of intent, these changes remove the difficulty in establishing the mens rea of the offence which arise from the nature of the crime itself; that is, stalking is a behaviour which gains its criminality from the context in which it occurs and the activities typifying these obsessions may appear as innocent commonplace human interaction when taken out of context. By introducing a standard that would ground liability in what the stalker ought to have known given the ‘particular circumstances’ or context of his conduct, this intent provision facilitates a recognition of this unique aspect of stalking.

However, the legislation should require that the victim or third party is actually placed in apprehension or fear by the stalker’s conduct. The fear should not have to be ‘reasonable’ since notions of ‘reasonableness’ exist as patriarchal constructs, tending to reflect and reinforce a male standard of behaviour and feelings. Currently, in s.34A(3), the ACT legislation explicitly states that proof of the victim’s or third party’s fear is not necessary. Such a provision is necessary to ensure that the model law does not serve to target behaviour undeserving of criminal sanction. Grounding liability where someone ought to know another was in fear is neither appropriate nor fair if no such fear was felt.

In addition, by providing that a pattern of violence on the part of the accused may be considered by the court in determining intent, the proposed changes specifically provide protection for victims of stalking within the domestic violence context. Recognising the need to view stalking within the domestic violence context to properly determine intent grounds liability in what the offender ought to have known given this history.

Arguments that may be raised against an objective intent element focus on a purported unfairness to the accused. For instance, the MCCOC Committee stated that the objective intent element which is contained in the stalking legislation in Victoria[20] would likely work to stretch the ambit of the offence ‘well beyond the stalking mischief’ which prompted such an offence.[21] General common law principles provide the ideological justification for these perceptions, the presumption being that ‘an evil intention’ is a necessary ingredient in every criminal offence.[22] Hence, where most crimes require subjective intent, to employ an objective mens rea test for stalking would mean that this offence is treated differently from other crimes. However, critics of the criminal law’s insistence on subjective intent have questioned the need for consistency in the criminal law, arguing that the law should not always seek to remove the context from its decision making.[23] We would argue that this is particularly true in the context of domestic violence, for so long misunderstood and minimised by the courts.


In the same way that people should be held to reasonable standards of behaviour in negotiating sexual relations, they should be held to these same standards in relationships generally. By making a person guilty of stalking if they ought to have known of another’s feelings, the individual will be forced to take reasonable care to ascertain whether their behaviour is welcomed by another or whether this behaviour is actually working to harm or arouse fear or apprehension of harm. It is through these standards that the victim, particularly the domestic violence victim, will be protected.


[1] The research instrument consisted of a series of questions, some needing only a ‘yes or no’ response, and some requiring answers on a Likert type scale. Most questions had space for elaboration and respondents were advised at the end of the survey to add any additional comments on the back page of the instrument. 125 surveys were distributed with 42 completed. Of these, two were dropped from the sample for incompleteness. The survey focused on interventions police used in dealing with stalking in the past 12 months, what interventions they would use in dealing with this behaviour in the future and why the stalking laws were or were not used by police when confronted with stalking activities.
[2] These included individuals from the ACT Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the ACT Attorney Generals Department, the AFP and other jurisdictions’ police, and the Women’s Legal Service.
[3] See for example, Wicken, J., ‘Michigan’s New Anti-Stalking Laws: Good Intentions Gone Awry’, (1994) Detroit College of Law Review, Spring, 157 at 160; Jordan, T., ‘The Efficacy of the California Stalking Law: Surveying its Evolution, Extracting Insights from Domestic Violence Cases’, (1995) 2 Hastings Women’s Law Journal; Sohn, E., ‘Anti-stalking Statutes: Do they Actually Protect Victims?’, (1993) 30(3) Criminal Law Review, 203 at 203.
[4] Zona, M., Sharma, K. and Lane, J., ‘A Comparative Study of Erotomaniac and Obsessional Subjects in a Forensic Sample’ (1993) 38(4) Jounal of Forensic Science 894 at 902. The study found that 47% of stalkers fell into this category, as opposed to 43% ‘love obsessionals’ and 9.5% erotomaniacs.
[5] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Women’s Safety Australia, Canberra, AGPS, 1996, p63.
[6] Bernstein, S., ‘Living Under Siege: Do Stalking Laws Protect Domestic Violence Victims?’ (1993) 15 Cardozo Law Review 525 at 525 citing observations of Nina Hull, Chair of Commission on the Status of Women; Easteal, P., Killing the Beloved, Canberra, Australian Institute of Criminology, 1993, shows the high proportion of male perpetrator intimate homicides that take place after separation.
[7] Mugford, J., Easteal, P. and Edwards, A., ACT Community Law Reform Committee, Domestic Violence, Research Paper No 1, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory Government, 1993; Wearing, R., Monitoring the Impact of the Crimes (Family Violence) Act 1987, A Study of Those who Do not Proceed, La Trobe University, 1996; Wearing, Egger and Stubbs, The Effectiveness of Protection Orders in Australian Jurisdictions, Canberra: National Committee on Violence Against Women, 1994.
[8] Mugford, Easteal, and Edwards, ref. 7, above, p.92, found that 94% of members thought this.
[9] Matheson, A., ‘Stalking’, New Woman, July 1997, 81 at 82. In addition, cases such as Andrea Patrick in NSW and the Gillespie family in the ACT dramatically illustrated magistrates’ leniency when breachers were released and went on to kill the applicant (and children in the latter).
[10] Criminal Law Amendment Act 1993 (Qld) ss.359A and B.
[11] Northern Territory: Criminal Code Amendment Act 1994, s.189; Western Australia: Criminal Code Amendment Act 1994, ss.338D and 338E; Tasmania: Criminal Code Act 1924, s.192; Victoria: Crimes Act 1958, s.21A; South Australia: Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935, s.19aa; New South Wales: Crimes (Domestic Violence) Amendment Act 1993, ss.562A, 562AB and 562B; Australian Capital Territory: Crimes (Amendment ) Act (No 2) 1996, s.34A.
[12] Legislative Assembly, ACT, Tabling Statement, Government Response to ACT Community Law Reform Committee Report No 9, 1996.
[13] Crimes (Amendment) Act (No 2) 1996, s.34A(1)(a) and (b), s.34A(2)(a)(b)(c)(d)(e)(f)(g) and (h).
[14] While this information was obtained from the ACT Office of the DPP on 19 September 1997, we were advised that it could not be categorically confirmed since the AFP advised that there was no code for the offence of stalking in the COPS system they use. Consequently, there is no data to indicate the frequency of police attendance on ‘stalking’ incidents nor in how many incidents they charged under the 1996 legislation. The number prosecuted appears to have remained very low. The ACT Domestic Violence Coordinator, Melinda Tynan has collected DPP statistics on family violence for the period June-December 1998 and found three stalking cases that had been finalised in the court.
[15] This comment and others cited in this article were provided by the respondents on their survey forms.
[16] See Mugford, Easteal and Edwards, ref.7, above.
[17] It should be noted that the ACT Community Law Reform Committee, Domestic Violence, Report No 9, Canberra, AGPS, 1995 recommended that a proposed Police Domestic Violence Unit be trained to ‘assess the threat and risk imposed by stalking behaviour and to make recommendations for the protection of victims’. See p80 of the Report. The Unit is discussed by Goode, M., ‘Stalking: Crime of the Nineties?’, (1995) 19 Criminal Law Journal 30; and Perez, C., ‘Stalking: When Does Obsession Become a Crime?’ American Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 20, 263 at 272.
[18] Legislative Assembly, ACT, Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), ACT Legislative Assembly, 26 June 1996, pp.2140–1.
[19] Similar to definition of intent in Victoria, Crimes Act 1958 (Vic), s.21A(2) and (3).
[20] Crimes Act 1958 (Vic), s.21A(3).
[21] Model Criminal Code Officers Committee of the Standing Committee of Attorneys General, Discussion Paper, Model Criminal Code Chapter 5, Non Fatal Offences Against the Person, Canberra, AGPS, August 1996, 43. See also Goode, ref. 17, above, who stated it appeared the ‘best way’ to limit the ‘scope of the offence to the target group was to require proof of an intention to cause serious fear, harm or apprehension’, p.28.
[22] He Kaw Teh v The Queen [1985] HCA 43; (1985) 157 CLR 523.
[23] Pickard, T., ‘Culpable Mistakes and Rape: Relating Mens Rea to the Crime’, (1980) 30 University of Toronto Law Journal 75.

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