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Stalking & Non-Fatal Strangulation Made Stand-Alone Offences.

Minister Helen McEntee to make stalking and non-fatal strangulation, stand-alone offences

  • Changes aim to create greater awareness and reporting of stalking offences.
  • Court orders restraining stalking behaviours without a criminal prosecution to be introduced.
  • Research shows non-fatal strangulation can be an indication of future, lethal violence.

The Minister for Justice Mrs Helen McEntee TD has secured Government approval to draft legislation to make stalking and non-fatal strangulation stand-alone offences.

The introduction of these new offences of stalking and non-fatal strangulation form part of the Government’s zero tolerance approach to domestic, sexual and gender based violence, and will be key actions in the Third National Strategy, latter which is currently being finalised by the Minister.

While both stalking and non-fatal strangulation are already crimes, the Minister is proposing a number of changes to make the law in this area clearer and stronger.

These new provisions, which will be included in the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, will:

  • Amend section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 to introduce a standalone stalking offence, and amend the existing harassment offence.
  • Empower the courts to issue orders restraining stalking behaviours without a criminal prosecution.
  • Strengthen procedural protections for alleged victims of stalking during the court process.
  • Introduce a standalone offence of non-fatal strangulation

Stalking

On the creation of a standalone offence of stalking, Minister McEntee stated, “Stalking is an extremely serious and intrusive crime that can cause devastating psychological distress.

It may also be a precursor to acts of physical violence. Evidence suggests that having a specific offence leads to greater public awareness and to an increase in the number of cases being reported and prosecuted.

I have been struck by the bravery of campaigners sharing their experiences publicly. I have met and worked with Eve McDowell and Una Ring, the founders of Stalking Ireland, whose bravery in both recounting their personal stories and campaigning tirelessly for action to be taken on stalking has been extraordinary.

I also want to acknowledge the work of my colleague, Senator Lisa Chambers in advocating on behalf of victims of these crimes and bringing forward her own Private Member’s Bill. We are all united in our desire to tackle these serious and sinister crimes, to reduce their prevalence and prevent more serious acts of violence, for which stalking and non-fatal strangulation can be precursors of, from happening.

It is important to say that while these changes will improve the law, stalking is already a crime under the existing harassment offence. I encourage victims of stalking to report it. It can be, and it is prosecuted. Offences carry a potential sentence of up to 10 years. Perpetrators should not imagine they can act with impunity.”

The new stalking offence covers any conduct that either puts the victim in fear of violence or causes the victim serious alarm and distress that has a substantial adverse impact on their usual day-to-day activities.
A wide list of possible acts is included – such as following, communicating, impersonating, interfering with property or pets etc. However, this list is not exhaustive.

The offence can be committed by a single act – it does not need to be persistent or repeated. It also covers situations where the person finds out about some or all of the stalking acts afterwards.

In sentencing, a court must consider as an aggravating factor and increase the sentence if the person has previously been convicted of offences against the victim, such as making threats to kill.

In addition, it is proposed that a court may make an order restraining stalking behaviours separately from a criminal prosecution.

These orders would require a lower burden of proof, and can be applied for by the affected person themselves, or by the Gardaí on their behalf. They can be made against any person. This will allow victims faster access to the courts to ensure they are safe and they feel safe.

Breach of an order would be, in itself, a criminal offence carrying a maximum of one year imprisonment. It may also be a basis for a criminal prosecution for a stalking or harassment offence.

The revised harassment offence is expanded to cover any persistent conduct – not just following, watching etc – causing a serious interference with peace and privacy, or alarm, distress or harm.

Non-fatal strangulation

The proposals on non-fatal strangulation will ensure assaults involving strangulation or choking can be prosecuted as a serious offence, even if there are no observable injuries.

Two new offences will be created.

The first provides that where an assault involves strangulation it has, without any other harm being shown, the same penalties as an assault causing harm offence – which currently carries a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.

The second offence provides that where the strangulation caused serious harm, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment. This is similar to the existing offence of causing serious harm.

Minister McEntee added, “We know that non-fatal strangulation can be an indication of future, lethal violence and is a risk factor for homicides against women in the home.
“Strangulation is highly prevalent in domestic abuse and frequently used as a tool of coercion, often accompanied by threats to kill.


While choking and strangling are already illegal, it is hoped that creating this new offence will encourage victims to come forward and report what has happened to them.”

Research suggests that a history of strangulation presents a seven fold increase in the risk of death. Internationally, strangulation is the second-most common method of killing in adult female homicides, after stabbing.

Research also highlights that non-fatal strangulation is frequently used as a tool of coercion, often accompanied by threats to kill.

The long-term physical and mental health effects of strangulation are also serious. Studies report that even where there is little to no visible injury, longer-term physical effects have been identified including internal bleeding, dizziness, loss of memory and other neurological effects. There is also an increased risk of miscarriage. Psychological outcomes identified include depression, anxiety, suicidality, PTSD and dissociation.

The under-charging of strangulation and asphyxiation has been identified in several jurisdictions, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

The lack of observable injuries means that the offender’s conduct may be minimised, and may be charged as a less serious form of assault.

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