Stalking can be deadly and must be recognised as a crime

Anti-stalking laws can protect women and ensure that stalking does not escalate to a more violent crime, which is a common outcome. Photo: AZMAN GHANI/ The Star

HE would lurk outside her classroom all afternoon, waiting for her to step into the deserted corridor once all her students had left, saying that he wanted to talk. He’d follow her around campus, and send her inappropriate messages complimenting how she looked, inviting her out for meals and even professing his love for her.

The stalking that Aida*, a lecturer at a private college in Kuala Lumpur, suffered at the hands of a student went on for more than a year and it took an immense toll on her.

“When he began messaging me, I cut him off and told him it was inappropriate behaviour because I was his lecturer. But that didn’t stop him, so I reported him to the college administration and he was warned to stay away from me.

“After that, things got worse because, I suppose, he was angry that I’d reported him. He would attack me on social media and then, soon after, he would beg me to give him another chance. I’d block him but he would open another account – he opened seven different Instagram accounts in total.

“He knew I was married and had a child but he pleaded with me to ‘give him time’ to find a job so he could support me. It was clear that he had mental health issues and needed help, ” shares Aida.

The constant harassment was extremely traumatic and though she didn’t feel that she was in immediate physical danger, Aida was constantly on edge, always looking over her shoulder for the student who had become her tormentor both online and offline.

“It was very unnerving. I tried not to let it affect me or disrupt my life but I did change my routine. I stopped going for lunch in the cafeteria and would eat my packed lunch in the office pantry because I didn’t want to bump into him. I was always looking over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t around and would always find a colleague to walk with me. I wasn’t sleeping well and was stressed at home too.

“When I told my husband, he implied that I must have done something to encourage the student and that made me very angry and annoyed because I really didn’t. And so I stopped talking about this with my husband and, eventually, this had a negative impact on our relationship, ” recalls Aida.

A very common problem

Just like Aida, thousands of Malaysian women experience stalking and, far too often, victims suffer harm or are even killed by their stalkers.

In February 2017, a young divorcee was shot dead by her husband in front of her law firm in Kuala Lumpur before he took his own life. He’d stalked her prior to the fatal shooting.

In June 2017, a spurned lover stabbed a 23-year-old woman in Alor Setar, Kedah for wanting to break up their relationship. He’d stalked her for days before attacking her.

In 2013, Nurhidayah A. Ghani was battered to death by her abusive ex-husband after he’d harassed and stalked her and her family for months.

Data on the prevalence of stalking in Malaysia is, at best, anecdotal – largely compiled by NGOs that work with women who suffer abuse and harassment. And, because stalking is not recognised as a crime, most victims do not go to the police if they are being stalked as their reports would be in vain.

The Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), a women’s rights NGO, reports that about 26% of the domestic violence victims that they support are stalked by their intimate partners.

“This figure is consistent with statistics in other countries.

In the United States, 30% of domestic violence survivors experience stalking.

In Canada and the US, 90% of women who were murdered by their partners had been stalked.

“If we go by a study done by the Centre for Research on Women and Gender at Universiti Sains Malaysia, 9% of ever-partnered women in Malaysia experience domestic violence – that’s roughly 900,000 women. Based on these figures, it is possible that at least 250,000 women in abusive relationships experience stalking. And these figures doesn’t include women who are not in relationships, ” says WAO’s advocacy officer, Tan Heang-Lee.

Despite its prevalence, stalking still isn’t recognised as a crime in Malaysia.

What this means is that if someone were to repeatedly contact or harass you or show up at the places you frequent or even in front of your house, the authorities can’t do much.

Renuka, 26, was stalked by a stranger who obtained her personal details from a marketing survey that was conducted by his company.

“It started with phone calls, where he would just breathe heavily. I stopped answering his calls – this was years before we could block callers on cell phones. He then called me from different numbers. He told me he was in love with me, how much he missed me and that he wanted to marry me and he made personal references to me and my family which was very creepy. This went on for several months, ” says Renuka.

When she asked one of her male friends to intercept the call, her harasser threatened violence.

“At this point, I became afraid. Who was this person and how did he get my number? I googled what I could do about this and realised that there really was nothing to do. I felt defeated, like there was no way out of this, ” shares Renuka.

The next time her stalker called, Renuka decided to play along and ask him how he got her number. That’s when she found out that he had all her details – her home address included.

“I was freaked out but I was also angry and so I called his company and lodged a complaint. That was the last time I heard from him but at the back of my mind, I worry that he will just turn up at my home. I still get anxious when I get calls from numbers I don’t recognise. It’s about time we have laws against stalking, ” says Renuka.

Make stalking a crime

Stalking is a pattern of obsessive behaviour that is repeated, persistent, intrusive and causes fear of violence or alarm and distress in victims.

Stalking behaviours can range from seemingly innocuous acts like making repeated phone calls, sending unwanted emails and unwanted presents to following or spying on victims, showing up where their victims are for no legitimate reason or posting information or spreading rumours about the victim online. It also includes intimidating and threatening victims.

The absence of a law that criminalises stalking allows perpetrators to go on tormenting their victims with impunity. It also prevents society – and law enforcement – from recognising how harmful and dangerous stalking is, says Tan.

“Also, we need anti-stalking laws to protect women and to ensure that stalking does not escalate to a more violent crime, which is a common outcome of stalking, ” says Tan.

When her stalker started behaving erratically, Aida tried to lodge a police report.

“The police told me that I should be flattered at the attention because it meant the student thought I was pretty. I couldn’t believe it, ” recalls Aida.

The officer also told her, point blank, that there was nothing much they could do. They did, however, offer to warn her stalker to stay away.

“How crazy is it that I have to wait until something happens to me before the police can offer me protection. I declined their offer to talk to the student.

“Since stalking isn’t against the law, I was afraid that it might just antagonise him and aggravate the situation more and then what? I still would not have protection, ” shares Aida.

In February last year, minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Liew Vui Keong announced the government’s commitment to formulate anti-stalking laws that would criminalise stalking.

Liew says that plans are on track. The proposed law has been drafted and he hopes to present it to Cabinet and table it in Parliament this March.

“We have been working closely with WAO and other women’s rights groups and NGOs on this and have prepared a cabinet policy paper and draft text of the anti-stalking legislation after taking into consideration all the proposals and views from the various stakeholders. We expect to table the bill in Parliament in the 2020 session, ” says Liew.

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