Two women, who survived similar stalking experiences and called for new legislation to make stalking a distinct offence, have have helped shape legislation that will be debated in Seanad Éireann next week.
Una Ring (43) from Youghal in Co Cork and Eve McDowell (21), who lives in Galway, were both subjected to terrifying campaigns of stalking. The two men who stalked them received similar jail sentences, of seven years with the final two years suspended, after they had each been convicted of harassment.
The women, who made contact with each other after they had both spoken separately on The Ryan Tubridy Show on RTÉ Radio One, teamed up and with support from campaigners against sexual violence began lobbying for stalking to be made a separate criminal offence with significant penalties.
Ms McDowell explained how she and Ms Ring have been working with Fianna Fáil Senator Lisa Chambers and Dr Catherine O'Sullivan from the UCC School of Law for the past five months to prepare the legislation that will move to second stage debate in the Seanad on September 23rd.
"Una and myself did an online course with St Mary's University in Twickenham in London on stalking campaigning and we met people from the Alice Ruggles Trust and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service who were all very helpful to us," she said.
“Alice Ruggles was just 24 when she was murdered by her ex-boyfriend when he broke into her flat and Suzy Lamplugh disappeared when she was just 25 back in 1986 ... All three organisations were very helpful to us.
"We were able to get advice from legal experts in England that specialise in stalking cases on what to look out for and what to incorporate into the legislation, including addressing the fact that some stalkers pretend to be their victims online to get information on them from their family and friends.
“That just shows how obsessed stalkers can get and it’s not uncommon but we studied a number of cases and got in contact with as many people as possible and with the help and advice we got were able to bring it all to a draft state – we were so passionate that we just put all our time into it.”
Ms Ring paid tribute to Ms Chambers for all she had done in getting the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person (Amendment) (Stalking) Bill 2021 past first stage in the Seanad and up for debate next week and she remained cautiously optimistic that it would get cross-party support.
“There are an awful lot of people in favour of it – stalking is a much more serious than harassment with a lot more sinister end result – the goal of harassment is to maybe just freak somebody out whereas the end result of stalking is generally rape or murder,” she said.
Although the proposed stalking legislation carries a maximum penalty of 10 years, Ms Ring is of the view that significant sentences need to be imposed to deter would be stalkers, as to date, those convicted of harassment offences often end up serving just a fraction of the sentence on the statute.
"The headline sentence for James Steele, who turned up outside my house with a crow bar, was nine years but there was two years taken off because he pleaded guilty and so that went down to seven and then there were two suspended and that went down to five," she said.
“But his release date from the five years that he has been jailed for is 2024 so he will serve three years – what started out as a nine-year sentence is realistically a three-year sentence so we need stronger sentences because [they] generally serve one third to a half of that they get.”
The Bill proposed by Ms Chambers provides for a specific offence of stalking, which is characterised by repeated, unwanted behaviour that occurs as a result of fixation or obsession and causes alarm, distress or harm to the victim and recommends a maximum sentence of 10 years.
Ms Chambers paid tribute to Ms McDowell and Ms Ring for their courage and tenacity in campaigning for the new law and she tweeted how satisfied she was to be able to help them.
“[I am] very happy to be moving the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person (Amendment) (Stalking) Bill to 2nd stage in the Seanad next Wednesday which seeks to create a stand-alone stalking offence. Thanks to Eve McDowell and Una Ring,” she tweeted.