Lax stalking laws give victims little recourse (2021/09/19)
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    Lax stalking laws give victims little recourse (2021/09/19)

    Every year in Taiwan, about 8,000 reports of stalking and harassment are filed to police. But in most cases, victims get little help from the law. Under the Social Order Maintenance Act, victims must prove that they tried to dissuade their stalkers. And even if victims ARE able to prove their case, perpetrators can only be punished with a fine of up to NT$3,000. In the current legislative session, lawmakers will vote on a bill that creates prison terms for stalkers and spells out specifically what constitutes stalking. Proponents say the bill will confer real protections to victims, helping to put an end to their living nightmare. Our Sunday special report.

    Dabbing watercolors on the paper, Wang Chiao-chiao pours despair and fear into her artwork. Her living nightmare began in 2016, when she became the target of stalking and harassment.

    Wang Chiao-chiao
    He had a forged ID card when we were dating. In reality, he was already married. So I wanted to leave him. But then he kept sending me messages harassing me. He'd say, "Are you antagonizing me? Are you antagonizing me?" He'd send me the same message thousands and hundreds of times. Stalkers may also send you photos of your house's entrance, or of your street, and say "I've been waiting here but I don't see you."

    Wang's ex-boyfriend refused to let her call it quits, and he became a shadow that followed her around. After almost a year of this, he turned his attention to her friends and parents.

    Wang Chiao-chiao
    I actually threatened to call the police. But actually, I wouldn't have been able to report him, as there were no legal grounds for it.

    Ms. Chang is in a similar plight. She was stalked by her former landlord for 10 years.

    Ms. Chang
    Lingerie store shopkeeper
    He kept saying he liked me. I said, "Sorry sir, you have a wife and kids." I even told him that I was into women and not men. He didn't care. And so the intense harassment continued. I moved out, but in 2018, he ambushed me on my street.

    Ms. Chang relocated her shop twice and began carrying pepper spray, just in case. But her stalker refused to leave her alone, and the situation only got worse.

    Ms. Chang
    Lingerie store shopkeeper
    It was raining that evening. And there he came again. He came to my shop, yelling. I shouted at him to keep out. But he tried to force his way in. He was very aggressive, and I was furious. I said, "All right, just wait here, I'm going to call the police." He went, "Fine, go call them then."

    After Ms. Chang threatened to call the police, her former landlord went away, but only for a short while. When he returned, Ms. Chang rushed to pull down the metal shutters to her shop. Realizing what was happening, he became enraged.

    Ms. Chang
    Lingerie store shopkeeper
    Look. He took a metal hammer from his pocket, smashed the glass, and left. If I hadn't checked before going out, instead of hitting the glass, he'd have hit my head. He would've attacked me, absolutely. Now I dread rainy days, because it was raining on the day he shattered the glass. I feel a sense of danger when it rains.

    According to police data, every year there are more than 8,000 incidents of stalking and harassment in Taiwan. A survey by a women's association says one out of every eight female students has experienced some form of harassment.

    In July 1989, Hollywood star Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered by an obsessed fan who had been stalking her. Her death prompted the state of California to pass the world's first anti-stalking law.

    Chin Chi-fang
    Women in Digital Initiative
    That happened in 1989. And in 1990, the law was passed. Three years later, a lot of other states in the U.S. had followed suit. So laws like this started in the year 1990. In 1997, the U.K. also passed a law of its own.

    Wang Chiu-lan
    Modern Women's Foundation researcher
    Over in Japan, they got their first law in the year 2000. Perhaps you already know. A university student was murdered in Okegawa after being stalked. Only after that happened did Japan enact its anti-stalking law.

    Taiwan does not yet have a dedicated anti-stalking law. Stalking and harassment can only be prosecuted in accordance to the Social Order Maintenance Act.

    Lin Tzu-hsiang
    New Taipei Police Department
    The Social Order Maintenance Act uses the phrase, "stalking another person without justifiable reasons." But that sentence ends with, "despite having been dissuaded." So the bar is set quite high. We often get reports from people saying that they are being stalked. So we ask them, "Have you told them to stop following you?" If they haven't done that and we take the perpetrator to court for a summary trial, the judge would rule that the case doesn't violate the law. Violators are fined NT$3,000.

    With fines capped at NT$3,000, current laws do not provide a significant deterrent for stalkers. Ms. Chang, who was stalked for 10 years, says that after trying to sue her stalker via the Social Order Maintenance Act, she tried to do so using the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. That, too, went nowhere.

    Ms. Chang
    Lingerie store shopkeeper
    We were not related, and we weren't in a relationship. I was just his former tenant. So the police told me they couldn't do anything. They said that I was in a legal loophole, and they didn't have any grounds for taking him in.

    In 2014, the Modern Women's Foundation attempted to tie off this legal loophole, by drafting a bill for the Legislative Yuan. Progress on the bill stalled for years. But then, in April 2021, another death preceded by stalking and harassment shook Taiwan.

    The victim of the incident was Mrs. Tseng, a 29-year-old telecom worker in Pingtung, who had been married for just over one year. In February 2021, she was groped and harassed by a man surnamed Huang. In March, she filed a police report against him, saying that he was following her. But with no grounds for requesting a restraining order, the incident came to a tragic end in April, when Huang killed Mrs. Tseng.

    Chou Chun-mi
    Law enforcement did intervene. They tried got both parties to settle the issue. But the perpetrator persisted. There weren't any legal tools that police could use. The victim's husband was stricken with grief. He asked me when the bill against stalking and harassment would pass.

    The day of Mrs. Tseng's funeral on April 22, the Executive Yuan finalized its own draft bill to bolster anti-stalking protections. The draft was sent to the Legislative Yuan for review.

    The draft broadens the definition of stalking to eight kinds of behaviors. They include surveillance, inappropriate romantic pursuit, unwanted gift giving, and online harassment.

    If the draft is passed, violations would be punishable by up to three years in prison. If the perpetrator is also carrying a weapon, the maximum sentence would go up to five years. Depending on the circumstances, a court would be able to order the preemptive detention of a suspect.

    The draft was scheduled for review before the end of the legislative session in May. But the COVID pandemic threw a spanner in the works.

    Chou Chun-mi
    At the time, the epidemic was the top priority. We had no other option. That's why this bill was not passed in the last legislative session. Enacting something is better than enacting nothing. We should try to put at least some protections in place quickly, because that way, if there is a dangerous situation, we can get the police to intervene. In Japan, once law enforcement is involved, the behavior stops completely in more than 85% of cases.

    Lawmaker Chou Chun-mi says that the new anti-stalking bill may not provide comprehensive protections, but that revisions can come after it's passed. She says Taiwan can look to Japan as an example to follow. There, the first anti-stalking law was passed in the year 2000, and was expanded a few years later. Chou hopes the bill will be passed in the current legislative session, to help victims of stalking bring their nightmares to an end.
    中文 Chinese  



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