‘He was halfway across the sitting room and he had a hammer in his hand’: Two women call on government to make stalking an offence
Two Irish women detail their experiences of harassment and stalking in the hopes of defining stalking as a standalone crime.
Pushing for longer, more stringent jail times, two women detailed each of their respective experiences on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland earlier this week and why they feel stalking is much more sinister than harassment, where it falls under current legislation, and needs to be a separate offence.
Both from different parts of the country, Eve McDowell and Úna Ring were harassed and stalked by two different men at different times. However, while each of their attackers has been prosecuted and are in jail, the sustained trauma that their experiences had on them – and continues to have on them – keeps the women focused on their campaign’s end goal of completely overhauling the country’s current legislation.
Eve first noticed that her attacker was taking an unhealthy interest in her life while she was a student in NUI Galway in May 2019. Continuously appearing outside her workplace at different points throughout the day, he later followed her to the pub where she met her friends. Unsure as to whether it was just coincidence or not, she approached him with a friend later that same day asking him why he was following her – to which he simply responded by laughing and running away.
Describing the man as a mutual friend of a mutual friend, Eve said that she had never really had a one-on-one conversation with him other than polite chit chat at the till in her place of work on occasion. Spotting him hiding in the bushes outside her house, Eve alerted the Gardaí and her attacker was apprehended after he gained entry to her apartment.
“My housemate was sleeping on the couch,” Eve explained on Morning Ireland, “she heard the floorboards creaking and she looked up and he was halfway across the sitting room and he had a hammer in his hand.” After she and her housemate barricaded themselves into a room, he was arrested by Gardaí nearby. He is currently serving a seven-year sentence for harassment and aggravated burglary.
Úna experienced sustained harassment from a former colleague last year, spanning almost six months and included unwanted text messages, phone calls and in-person advances. Waking up to find her car wheels had been spray-painted pink with the words “I win” emblazoned across the window sill, Úna also received several letters threatening both her and her daughter.
Gardaí set up a surveillance operation outside Úna’s home. As Úna explains, the man was subsequently arrested outside her home “with a crowbar, duct tape, unlocking equipment in his car and he had an 11-inch dildo strapped to himself.”
He will serve a three-year sentence, which she feels is not enough. “I had decided that if it was going to continue I was going to get a tattoo with my name, my town name, and my date of birth in preparation so that if my body was found they would be able to identify me pretty quickly,” she told Morning Ireland.
Describing the whole situation as “very, very, very traumatic”, both women said that they were in a constant state of high alert, always waiting for something to happen. While both of the women’s attackers are in jail – sentenced for harassment, attempted burglary with intent to rape, aggravated burglary and assault – the women are calling on the government to make stalking a separate offence in and of itself.
Speaking yesterday, Eve said that stalking “needs to be recognised as a crime”.
“The word stalking isn’t in the Non-Fatal Offences To The Person Act, it’s just not there, it’s not recognised. It is far more sinister than harassment. It’s a pattern of fixated, obsessive behaviour and it’s repeated, it’s persistent. It’s completely intrusive”, Eve continued.
Saying that Scotland has made stalking an offence, Eve noted that the results there have really helped a lot of women and men. Adding that she believes “it’s really important that the Guards have the tools to intervene in the early stages”, she thinks that legislating for this would help to prevent others from going through what she and Úna went through.
Responding to a statement from Minister for Justice Helen McEntee on the matter, Úna agreed with Eve in saying that stalking needs to be a distinct offence as “it goes well beyond harassment”, finishing by saying “obviously, what’s there at the moment isn’t working”.
A serious incident of stalking or harassment should be reported to the Gardaí immediately. If you are a victim of harassment or stalking, you can freephone Crime Victims Helpline on 116006 for information and support.