Getting serious about stalking

Last week’s release of the summary report of an Independent Police Conduct Authority investigation has prompted new calls for a specific law about stalking.

It has also raised questions about police responses to reports of threatening stalking behaviour and whether all staff properly comprehend the risk and take it seriously enough.

Farzana Yaqubi. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Farzana Yaqubi. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Anyone, male or female, who understands the frightening intrusion of a stalker’s obsessive, unwanted and threatening attention will be unsettled by police inaction in the case of murdered Auckland law student Farzana Yaqubi.

Despite Ms Yaqubi raising repeated concerns over almost two months in late 2022 that a man was threatening, stalking and harassing her, police did nothing.

In October, she made an online report providing screenshots of messages sent to her, including one where he threatened to throw acid on her face.

She also gave police enough information to identify the stalker, but police took no action while they waited for her to come in to a police station to provide a formal statement.

Early in December, she updated her online report, saying the situation had escalated and she feared for her life.

According to the IPCA summary, three days later she went to a police station and gave her formal statement outlining further significant matters.

She was told the file would be forwarded to another station near to where she had told police the man might be living.

The IPCA says at the time Ms Yaqubi was stabbed to death by her stalker, 13 days later the matter had not been progressed any further.

The brief information in the summary does not make it clear whether the information had even reached the second police station.

The summary also says the police failed to link Ms Yaqubi’s file with that of another young girl threatened by the same man.

In an RNZ interview, police said this was partly due to police systems and the way files were assessed, and partly due to human error.

Given the seriousness of this case and the wider issues involved, it is difficult to understand why the summary from the IPCA contains so little information.

It decided not to release the full report to respect the family’s privacy, but we have no way of knowing how such a decision was arrived at or whether there might have been ways around any privacy concerns.

The paucity of information in the summary makes it difficult for anyone reading it to establish the thoroughness or otherwise of the IPCA investigation.

The authority is not subject to the Official Information Act so there is not that opportunity to seek release of more information.

Is it time to consider whether there should be more transparency around this organisation, since, as its website proudly says, it is the only New Zealand police oversight body?

It is also hard to tell from the police’s statement when improvements to its assessment system might be put into practice.

Labour’s Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence spokeswoman, Ginny Andersen, is keen to introduce a member’s Bill proposing a law to make stalking a specific offence.

If she gets backing from her own caucus, she will seek cross-party support for it.

In a television interview, she referred to National’s support for such a law on the campaign trail last year, but the response from Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith is more lukewarm now.

In a tin-eared statement, he said the government would review stalking and harassment laws in due course, but now he was focused on restoring law and order and legislation giving police new tools to crack down on violent offenders and criminal gangs.

Even if Ms Andersen’s idea gains traction, any law change would not be instant.

In the meantime, people who are being subjected to stalking must be able to easily report concerns to police, be confident they will be taken seriously, and that necessary action will be taken to prevent further harm.