By Indira Stewart of RNZ
A coalition of agencies advocating for the safety of women and children is calling on the Government to urgently introduce stalker legislation, saying this year's lockdowns have heightened concerns for victims.
Advocates say it's unacceptable that New Zealand's justice system and regulations provide no protection for people being stalked in public or in private.
When a 23-year-old woman who caught a man stalking her and taking inappropriate photos of her as she shopped in an Auckland pharmacy shared her story with First Up in July, others came forward sharing similar experiences.
They include a man with Treacher Collins syndrome being followed and filmed, and a woman whose neighbours have security cameras trained on the lounge and bedroom of her house.
They too said they had reported the incidents to police, only to be told nothing could be done about it.
The Coalition for the Safety of Women and Children says women who had escaped domestic violence situations and were being stalked by ex-partners are more vulnerable during lockdowns and many agencies are now seriously concerned.
It is calling for stalker legislation it wants established to include unconsented photographing and filming of others.
Clinical psychologist Alison Towns said with Auckland now in another lockdown, the need for protection for victims of stalking was urgent.
"There is an association between stalking and homicide, particularly for women who experience stalking from an ex-partner," Towns said.
"One of the women in the 2019 Women's Refuge study on stalking was stalked for a long period of time and then eventually strangled and it was the strangulation that got the police to act.
"It shouldn't come to the point where somebody's life is threatened for the police to be able to act.
"We need good strong legislation when it comes to stalking, and New Zealand doesn't have any."
Towns said while New Zealand has the Harassment Act, the Family Violence Act and the Harmful Digital Communications Act, there was still no protection for victims of stalking in New Zealand.
She said the Coalition approached Minister of Justice Andrew Little last year with a proposal for stalker legislation and a list of recommendations, backed by the Women's Refuge 2019 study, but was told at the time there were no immediate plans to look at the issue.
This year's Covid-19 lockdowns have heightened their concerns even further.
Victims can get harassment orders but would have to pay for it themselves and go through the long civil court process - which is money and time that many victims don't have.
"There's just no stalking law in New Zealand that other countries have and it's not good enough. We just don't have adequate protection," said Towns.
The Coalition contacted First Up after a victim of stalking shared her story.
'I'm still angry to this day'
In a video posted online that went viral, the young woman, who we are calling Sarah, can be seen confronting a man who had been stalking her and taking photos of her while shopping in an Auckland pharmacy.
That video, which has been viewed over 100,000 times, shows her scrolling through the man's phone gallery while he apologises to Sarah and tells her he's married with children.
There were almost 60 photos of Sarah on his phone and many zoomed in on different parts of her body and face.
After reporting the man to police, Sarah was told they would speak to him but couldn't take any further action because the photos were taken in a public place.
"I'm still angry to this day. I still think back and I feel like, 'Did they want the situation to escalate? Did the cops want him to follow me home and do something and then maybe they would charge him?'," explained Sarah.
"I felt like there was nothing more I could do but spread awareness because no one wanted to help me."
'I'm definitely more anxious'
She is not alone.
Others, also frustrated by similar experiences, came forward after hearing her story.
One man, who we will call Paul, said he was walking to work in Dunedin when he was followed by a couple of teenagers in a car.
The teenagers began mocking him and filming him with their phones.
Paul was born with Treacher Collins syndrome - a genetic condition which causes facial deformities.
"The two teenage girls were laughing at me. They followed me for a few seconds and then they drove forward, turned around into the carpark in front of me, and they were just taking photos with their phone and laughing at me," explained Paul.
Paul said he felt intimidated so he crossed the road but the teenagers continued to film him.
He said he took out his phone to take photos of the teenagers and their car registration for identification purposes and then reported the incident to police.
"They said they would look for the owners of the car and they would get back to me," said Paul.
"About a couple of weeks later I contacted them to follow it up and they said they went to the house where the car was registered but they couldn't find the owners of the car."
Paul said similar incidents have happened to him many times over the past 12 years and this last incident left him shaken.
He said he never heard back from police after that and he believes they didn't take the matter seriously.
Now he is too anxious to walk alone in public and he fears that the photos that have been taken of him by others may have ended up online.
"I'm definitely more anxious about who is around me, especially if there is someone who has a phone on them. So usually I just grab a friend along just to help me out," he said.
"I definitely feel scared, especially when I'm not on social media myself so I have no idea about what's circulating online."
'I can't get over that somebody's allowed to be so intrusive'
Nikki's circumstances are strikingly different but have ended in a similar result with police unable to help.
She and her family have been filmed daily over the past 18 months without their consent - on their own property.
Nikki's neighbours have security cameras pointed at her house and police say they can't do anything about them because they are on private property.
She said she's asked her neighbours to point the cameras away from her house, but they haven't listened.
"Cameras went up pointed at our second level which happened to be bedrooms of a couple of teenage girls at the time, my niece and an international student we had living with us. That was uncomfortable. Also the bathroom is on that side with quite a big window," Nikki said
"And we involved the police and they made some inquiries but they said they couldn't do anything about the cameras even though we'd seen in their house that there was a monitor with four squares, each one belonging to a different camera at that time.
"There have been up to about 12 cameras that have been visible from our house at different times."
Nikki said her family feels uncomfortable in the privacy of their own home and in the backyard.
"I think about how I arrange my dressing gown in the morning at breakfast because there's a camera looking down through the window. I think about where I might do my yoga in the lounge because there's another full length window down there.
"But it's when we're outdoors that you feel it more because you've got a camera pointed directly at you as you go to bend over to pick a carrot in the vegetable garden and have to think about the rear view in case it's not good because you know it's being recorded."
Nikki said she feels helpless and frustrated and struggles to believe that what her neighbour is doing is not illegal.
"I can't get over that somebody's allowed to be so intrusive and this is our private property. I'm in disbelief and I feel dismayed because it feels wrong that somebody can do that."
Alison Towns said the system is failing to protect people.
She said privacy laws stop organisations from releasing people's personal information but do not address stalking.
"It shows a failure to understand the impact of stalking actions on people," said Towns.
"It can really close off people's lives and it's just soul destroying."