This Sunday marks the start of the worldwide 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign. As we work to end gender-based violence, one form of violence that we need to pay attention to is stalking.
Stalking is currently not a crime in Malaysia, which means that if someone were to repeatedly contact you, follow you, or show up at places you frequent—classic forms of stalking—there is little that the authorities can do.
That was exactly what happened to stalking survivor Devi Sudarsani, whose ordeal was reported in the media.
While buying a drink at KK Mart, Devi realised that two strangers had been watching her. They continued to follow her to her next destination, keeping close tabs on her for nearly three hours. Terrified, she made a police report, but the police informed her that because there was no “touching”, they could not pursue a case against the stalkers. The issue was only resolved when her colleagues intervened.
Stalking is harmful
This is clearly a big gap in our law, as stalking is extremely harmful. Researchers at the University of Toronto found that stalking can lead to a host of mental health consequences, including anxiety, depression, and symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder.
Moreover, stalking often escalates to more severe forms of violence. In Canada and the United States, 90 per cent of women who were murdered by their partners had been stalked.
Stalking is a tactic that violent partners use to control and instil fear in their partners. According to the National Institute of Justice in the United States, abusers who stalk their partners are more likely to be controlling and violent, compared to abusers who do not stalk.
As a case in point, last year, the nation was shaken by the murder of a woman by her ex-husband. The ex-husband had repeatedly stalked and harassed her at her office, and she even had to change her workplace as she feared for her safety. One day, he showed up at her office in Kuala Lumpur, pulled out a pistol, and fired four to five shots at her. She did not survive.
Such cases show the importance of nipping stalking in the bud before it escalates to more severe forms of violence—including murder.
Stalking is prevalent in Malaysia
According to a 2014 study by Universiti Sains Malaysia, nine per cent of women in Peninsular Malaysia who have ever been in a relationship have experienced domestic violence. This is equivalent to over 900,000 women.
In a 2013 Women’s Aid Organisation report documenting 34 domestic violence cases, 26 per cent of these cases involved stalking. This figure is consistent with statistics in other countries: in the United States, a third of women domestic violence survivors experience stalking.
Based on these figures, it is possible that around 250,000 domestic violence survivors in Malaysia have been stalked by their abusers (26-33 per cent of 900,000 women).
Criminalise stalking now
Given the dangers and prevalence of stalking, we should include stalking as an offence in the Penal Code and introduce a restraining order against stalkers in the Criminal Procedure Code.
Law enforcers and lawmakers from both sides agree on the need for anti-stalking laws, but there needs to be the urgency to pass these laws.
It’s time we join the ranks of many countries around the world that have criminalised stalking. They include Singapore, the Philippines, Japan, India, South Africa, Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Many countries enacted stalking laws after a high profile stalking-murder shocks the country. Malaysians are already being stalked, with some eventually murdered or maimed. Do we need to wait for a high profile case to shock the nation before we act?