Stalking is a crime in Northern Ireland and it will not be tolerated.
That was the message from Naomi Long as she launched a campaign to raise awareness of the new stalking offence, which was introduced by the Justice Minister through the Protection from Stalking Act (Northern Ireland) 2022.
The new specific offence of stalking is focused on recognising stalking behaviour that can be fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated. It carries greater penalties and protections than those available under harassment legislation.
Naomi Long said: "Since becoming Justice Minister, I have met many victims of this horrendous crime and listened to the torture, fear, and distress they have had to deal with on a daily basis. I fully appreciate the devastating effect that stalking can have on its victims, and how manipulative and persistent a stalker can be. That is why I made it a priority to bring legislation to the Assembly which would create a specific stalking offence.
"The campaign being launched today seeks to raise awareness of the new offence; as well as how to recognise and report stalking behaviour. I want to encourage anyone who experiences stalking to report it, and for those who may engage in stalking behaviour or underestimate the devastation that it causes, let me be clear: stalking is a crime."
The Protection from Stalking Act also provides that all victims of stalking will have automatic eligibility for special measures assistance, such as the use of live links or screens at court, when giving evidence in proceedings. The Act also includes the offence of threatening or abusive behaviour which can be triggered by a single incident.
It is anticipated that Stalking Protection Orders, which were also legislated for within the Act, will be introduced in 2023.
The Justice Minister continued: "While the legislation is hugely significant, legislation on its own is not enough. Training and awareness raising is critical and I wish to pay tribute to the extensive work and training undertaken by partners in the Police Service and the Public Prosecution Service, as well as across the wider criminal justice system."
Police Service of Northern Ireland's Chief Constable, Simon Byrne said: "Stalking is a sinister crime that takes over and destroys lives. It is vital that those affected feel confident in reporting, knowing that action will be taken and that the law is on their side.
"I think many people when they hear the word 'stalking' will think of someone lurking in the shadows. Stalking can actually take many forms and can be online as well as in person. It is a pattern of behaviours that is fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated.
"We are now empowered in Northern Ireland to confront the issue, challenge perceptions and raise awareness. Stalking is a crime, which will not be tolerated or accepted within our communities and we will use every tool at our disposal to bring offenders to justice and keep victims safe from harm."
Anyone experiencing stalking should contact the PSNI on 101. In an emergency always dial 999.
Further information is available on the nidirect website