New legislation aims to make stalking a specific criminal offense in the Cayman Islands for the first time.
Amendments to the Penal Code combined with a new Stalking Bill go to the Legislative Assembly later this month.
The two bills allow people who are being stalked to seek a protection order from the courts, and create a new framework for police to bring criminal charges where necessary.
The lack of proper legislation on stalking was highlighted earlier this year, when a young woman complained she was being harassed by an ex-boyfriend. The man had followed her to the Cayman Islands from Canada, moved into the same apartment complex and started showing up at her work. But it was not until he began bombarding her with texts and messages from multiple phones and social media accounts that police began to assemble the evidence to prosecute him for harassment.
At the time, officers said the lack of specific stalking legislation made this type of crime more difficult to prosecute.
Now, changes to the legislation aim to address that gap.
The amendment to the Penal Code outlines patterns of behavior that can be defined as stalking when repeated over time. They include repeatedly watching someone, following them, engaging in unwanted written or verbal communication, intimidating, harassing or molesting the victim. The offense carries a penalty of four years in prison in the most extreme circumstances.
The separate Stalking (Civil Jurisdiction) Bill allows victims of stalking to seek a protection order from the courts.
This allows the courts to impose a ban on contacting or communicating with the victim. Breaching a protection order carries penalties of up to a year in prison. Inspector Kevin Ashworth, manager of the police Family Support Unit, said the legislation would enable police to better protect victims of stalking.
“This allows police to look at patterns of behavior. Often you see lots of activities that aren’t exactly criminal on their own, but taken together as a course of action can amount to stalking,” he said.
Passing sentence on Brett Moor, the defendant in the harassment case earlier this year, Magistrate Valdis Foldats said this was the “first case of stalking that we are aware of in the Cayman Islands.”
Inspector Ashworth said there were likely several more cases that had not been reported to police or other authorities. He hopes the new legislation will convince people to come forward.
“We will be looking to encourage victims to come forward,” he said. “We aren’t running out to arrest people over one text message, but we want to listen to victims’ concerns and investigate. Two incidents are sufficient to invoke an investigation.”
He said civil remedies, like protection orders, provided an early alternative to criminal prosecution. He said the laws also provided means for police to officially put people on notice that their behavior was unwanted and was considered stalking.
In some cases, he said, offenders were delusional and did not realize until the police became involved that their behavior was unwanted. Such intervention also provides an additional layer of evidence for the courts.
“If they persist after they have been told to stop, that is compelling evidence of intent,” he added.
Inspector Ashworth said work on the bills predated the Moor case. He said the Ministry of Community Affairs and the legislative drafting department, supported by advocacy from the Business and Professional Women’s Club, had been working on the legislation for some time.