Embargoed until 00:01 a.m. (AEDT) Friday 4 March 2022
A report released today reveals over 25,000 stalking offences were recorded by police and nearly 7,000 were sentenced by courts in Victoria in the 10 years to 2020.
The Sentencing Advisory Council’s report aims to assist the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry on how to improve responses to stalking, including whether there is a need to reform current sentencing practices.
Research suggests a widespread belief in the community that most stalking occurs between strangers. Contrary to that perception, the report finds that, from 2016 to 2020, more than two-thirds of sentenced stalking offences (68%) involved family violence. So did more than half of all stalking offences recorded by police (52%): a growing number of those incidents involved stalking by former partners, usually by repeatedly contacting the victim.
Other key findings include the following:
- Between 2011 and 2020, police recorded 25,130 stalking offences (about 2,500 per year), and courts sentenced offenders for 6,832 stalking offences (about 680 per year).
- Most recorded offenders were male (87%), and most victims were female (80%).
- Imprisonment was more common in family violence cases than in non-family violence cases, but gender was a stronger predictor of imprisonment: male offenders were more likely than female offenders to receive a prison sentence regardless of whether the case involved family violence.
- There were regional differences in the prevalence of stalking charges and sentencing outcomes: Gippsland, in particular, accounts for 4% of Victoria’s population but 12% of sentenced stalking charges. This may be linked to limited support services and socioeconomic disadvantage.
- Stalking was rarely the only offence in the case (20% of cases): the most common co-sentenced offence was a breach of a family violence safety notice or intervention order (39% of stalking cases).
- More than half of people sentenced for stalking reoffended within four years (56%), often with a violent offence (18%) or a breach of a family violence safety notice or intervention order (25%).
The most common sentence imposed in the Magistrates’ Court for stalking was imprisonment (32%), followed by a community correction order (CCO) (31%). The imprisonment rate was especially high in 2020 (59% of stalking offences) because courts prioritised the most serious cases amid COVID-19 restrictions. Almost all offenders who received imprisonment in the Magistrates’ Court for stalking had spent at least some time on remand (92%).
Stalkers who received a CCO were more likely than other offenders to have conditions requiring treatment, judicial monitoring and supervision. Stalkers were also less likely than other offenders to have community work conditions attached to their CCO.
Research shows high rates of mental illness among stalkers. Courts appear to be prioritising CCO conditions that increase offenders’ chances of rehabilitation and reduce their risk of reoffending, rather than adding a more punitive component, particularly for offenders who have already spent time on remand.
In Victoria, the offence of stalking covers a wide range of behaviours, which are sometimes charged as offences other than stalking, such as threats or breaches of intervention orders. The report finds that when this happens, it can affect the chance that a stalker will receive effective treatment. Stalking charges are also often withdrawn as a result of plea negotiations.
Forensicare’s Problem Behaviour Program specifically addresses stalkers’ rehabilitative needs and has been shown to reduce reoffending. But people sentenced for stalking behaviours will only be referred to the program under a CCO if the magistrate or corrections officer recognises the behaviour as stalking. This is much less likely if there is no stalking charge in the case.
Quotes Attributable to Council Chair Emeritus Professor Arie Freiberg AM
‘The term stalking covers a broad range of behaviours, and it is capable of causing serious harm. In some instances, it can progress to physical violence, sometimes with tragic results. But for many victims, it is often the other aspects of stalking that are the most damaging: repeated intrusions that remove their sense of security, force them to rearrange their lives, and cause psychological harm such as post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.’
‘The research tells us that stalking is most high risk when it is ongoing, when it is intense in nature and when it is linked to a violent relationship, and this report shows that courts take those factors seriously at sentencing. The research also tells us that there are often complicated psychological issues that contribute to stalking, whether it is a psychotic illness, a personality disorder or a cognitive disability. It is important that we respond to those aspects of stalking too.’
The report, Sentencing Stalking in Victoria, will be available on the Council’s website on the morning of Friday 4 March 2022.