Review into stalking and harassment: an Alannah & Madeline Foundation response (part 2)

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The Alannah & Madeline Foundation welcomes the recent announcement of a review into Victoria's legal responses to stalking, harassment and similar conduct by the Victorian Law Reform Commission, with a focus on the safety and wellbeing of victim survivors.

Stalking takes many forms, often in the context of family violence. But being stalked by a peer can also be deeply distressing for children and teens. Under-18s who have been stalked by other children or young people can experience harm to their physical and mental health, school disengagement and/or even suicidal ideation.

At the same time, too many teens have been taught to see controlling and harassing behaviours as ‘normal’, including online.

Far more research is needed into the prevalence, nature and impacts of stalking between children and teens, the rates of male and female perpetration and victimisation, and effective approaches to address these behaviours.

However, the existing scholarship provides some key insights

  • Among teens, there is a very strong overlap between cyber stalking of an intimate partner and face-to-face relationship abuse.
  • Teens are at much higher risk of being stalked online if they have also had other risky or harmful online experiences, such as ‘sexting’, being cyber bullied, being hacked, and looking at porn or violent material.
  • Teens are much more likely to stalk an intimate partner online if they have also cyberbullied others.
  • There is a strong overlap between teen stalking perpetration and victimisation and other high-risk behaviours, such as binge drinking.
  • Teen stalking has many different motivations and takes different forms. Some stalking is a severe extension of school bullying; some occurs following a fight between peers; some is sexually predatory; and some involves chaotic anti-social behaviour directed at many people.

Considering this, we stress the need for:

  • comprehensive, evidence-based, well evaluated education for children and teens about respectful relationships (including online) and digital intelligence.
  • expert, targeted support for teens who have experienced relationship violence, and teens who show high-risk or anti-social behaviours. These supports should fully integrate and address the issue of abusive behaviours online as well as offline.
  • building the skills and capacity of educators, parents, carers and support workers to effectively support teens who have experienced harm online. It’s important to recognise that where there is one online vulnerability (for example, being cyber stalked) there are often others (for example, cyber bullying, sexting).
  • strengthening the skill and capacity of police and legal professionals to respond appropriately, promptly and effectively to stalking behaviour by under-18s, with a focus on keeping all children safe.

Getting help

If you or someone you know has been affected by this issue, you can access free, confidential counselling from services including:

Want to learn more? We value the work of the Cyberbullying Research Centre on 'Digital Dating Abuse Among Teens,' the research of Internet Matters into vulnerable teens online, the work of scholars like Yolanda Rodríguez-Castro and Emily Waterman on the relationships between cyberstalking and other problem teen behaviours, and the pioneering Australian work of Purcell, Flower and Mullen into stalking behaviours by young people.  

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