Justice Minister must act now on legislation to combat stalking - Overend

Ulster Unionist MLA Sandra Overend has called on the Justice Minister to act now to introduce legislation in Northern Ireland to tackle the specific offence of stalking.

Sandra Overend said:

"This is a pressing issue and one that will only grow in the future so we simply cannot sit idly by with legislation that is long past its use-by date. Action is needed now and I call on the Justice Minister to take the necessary steps to bring forward legislation as soon as possible.

"Everyone has the right to be protected from stalking, and to have access to support should it occur. The reality is that, for many, stalking remains a hidden issue. This is because the available statistics do not reflect the full scale of stalking which often goes unseen and unreported. In the absence of a sound definition and understanding, stalking has sometimes been downplayed as banter or as something that is just in the victim's imagination. This is totally unacceptable.

"Nowhere are these two issues around the hidden nature of stalking more true than in the online world. It is important to talk about stalking not only in the physical sense but, importantly, in the digital sense. I have consistently campaigned and advocated for greater internet safety, especially for our children and young people, in the form of a comprehensive, cross-departmental internet strategy. Young people in particular, who are most clued-in to technology, are not always aware of the risks of engaging in online activity.

"From my experience as a mother, it seems that parents are always having to play catch-up when it comes to understanding the new programmes and applications that our children have access to daily. This means that any debate on stalking must give considerable focus to stalking that takes place online.

"Crucially, stalking - particularly online stalking - is not a specific offence under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Given the advances in social media and technology over the last two decades since the Act was introduced, it is clear to me that the current legislation - which is different from that in GB - is no longer fit for purpose to protect and safeguard victims in Northern Ireland. The Justice Minister needs to act now.”

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