Proposed bill targets stalkers

Spurned lovers who shower women with unwanted gifts or emails are among those targeted by proposed new anti-stalking legislation. 

Cyber pests who harass people on the Internet and even over-zealous debt collectors are considered among the categories of stalkers contemplated by the Law Reform Commission in its examination of the issue. 

The commission has put forward a draft Stalking Bill which would empower courts to make protection orders against stalkers. It has also drafted an amendment to the Penal Code broadening the definition of stalking. 

The public is currently being invited to comment on the draft legislation, which is next step in a package of legal reforms aimed at reducing domestic-violence and giving legal protection to people in abusive or violent relationships. 

Much of the reform stems from a landmark report by the Young Business and Professional Women’s Club in 2005, which highlighted the prevalence of sexual harassment in the Cayman Islands and recommended legislative intervention. 

The consultation paper notes that stalking affects a wide variety of people, mostly women, and can cause genuine fear and psychological distress. 

“It is important to note that stalkers may exhibit behavior which is legal and socially acceptable when examined in isolation. However, innocent conduct such as following someone or sending gifts can be intimidating if done persistently and against the will of another person,” the paper states. 

The document defines stalking as behavior that causes a person to feel harassed.  

It warns that repeatedly following a victim, making silent phone calls or verbal abuse can easily lead to something more serious: “This type of behavior may escalate from what may initially be annoying, alarming, but lawful behavior to the level of dangerous, violent and potentially fatal conduct.”  

It says that legislative action against stalking is used in many jurisdictions in an effort to prevent violence before it takes place.  

“The enactment of specific stalking legislation would serve as a recognition that comprehensive protection is not available to people who fear they will become victims of violent activity in the near future …  

“Ultimately, the objective would be the reduction and prevention of violent interpersonal relationships by recognizing that violence, irrespective of its form, is unacceptable behavior and ensuring that there is effective legal protection for victims of stalking,” the report stated. The draft stalking law allows victims to apply for “protection orders” if they fear for their safety because of stalking. The orders would legally prohibit the stalker from engaging in behavior set out specifically in the order, potentially including following or contacting the victim. 

Andrea Williams, president of the Business and Professional Women’s Association, said she was pleased to see the issue getting attention. 

“The incidence of stalking in the Cayman Islands is difficult to track. So many of the cases go unreported. We do know, however, that the problem still persists.  

“The Cayman Islands have come a long way in recent years to put in place a legislative framework as well as law enforcement and governmental organizations to which stalking victims may turn for protection but there is always room for improvement,” Ms Williams said. 

She added that the association’s report on issues, including stalking, had been the product of an island-wide consultation, as well as analysis of legislation in other jurisdictions. The report also influenced aspects of the Protection from Domestic Violence Law, which passed in 2010, and the Gender Equality Law in 2011. 

The draft anti-stalking legislation can be viewed at www.lawreformcommission.gov.ky. Comments can be emailed to [email protected]