‘Digital stalking laws need updating’

Young women need to better recognise controlling and coercive behaviour in their boyfriends, according to Women’s Aid.

And the laws around harassment and stalking need to be updated to provide sufficient protection against the growing problem of cyber-harassment and cyber-stalking.

As it launched a new campaign warning women under 25 that “if it feels wrong, it probably is”, Women’s Aid once again called for legal reform to address digital stalking.

It also called for safety orders to be made available to women who are not living with their boyfriends.

“We are very concerned for young women facing the threat of internet shaming to control them, and the use of the internet to stalk them. Women tell us how they are harassed continuously by phone, text message, and social network, have internet access curtailed or monitored, have personal details or lies spread about them, and are impersonated by their abuser online,” said Women’s Aid director Margaret Martin.

Over half of 18-25-year-old women killed in Ireland since 1996 were murdered by their partners or exes.

Ms Martin added: “We’re encouraging young women to take the 2in2u Relationship Health Check and to trust their gut instincts. The Relationship Health Check explores subtler forms of control, which can be warning signs of further abuse, and provides examples of healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviours, to start conversations about what is acceptable in a relationship”.

Women’s Aid welcomed the upcoming Law Reform Commission examination of cyber-stalking and other forms of online bullying. However, according to Ms Martin, the commission’s recent conclusion that the current law of harassment is sufficient to deal with stalking in domestic violence cases would leave women and children vulnerable.

Ms Martin explained: “Abusers use multiple methods to stalk and monitor women, often escalating after separation, when it can be more difficult to access current legal protection. In our experience, the definition of harassment in law is complex and hard to prove, and rarely used to protect women who are stalked by their partners or exes. Women’s Aid recommends that a specific stalking offence be introduced in Irish law, with a comprehensive but not exhaustive definition, including new forms of cyber-stalking, and that stalking be recognised as grounds for a safety order.”

According to Ms Martin, education is crucial to prevent the next generation of abuse. It welcomed the inclusion of personal safety lessons in the Department of Education & Skills lesson plans for Junior Cycle students.

The 2in2u campaign runs until February 23.

* Young women affected by dating abuse can call the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline on 1800 341 900 (10am to 10pm) or log on to www.2in2u.ie and www.womensaid.ie


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