Stalking: "You don't have to shoot someone to destroy someone"

Portretfoto Irma Cleven

In the complex dynamics of stalking, where victims often experience ongoing fear and insecurity, innovative approaches and technologies are crucial to provide protection and increase the sense of safety. A recent development that seems promising in this respect is the victim-device. Irma Cleven, PhD researcher at Erasmus School of Law, talks about the possibilities and limitations of this device in an interview with EenVandaag.

"The impact of stalking is often underestimated", explains Cleven. "People who are being stalked often feel isolated because other people do not understand the impact it has on them. But you don't have to shoot someone to destroy someone. Stalking really does destroy lives."

The fear of living outside the area with an imposed restraining order

"Victims who report to the police and are at high risk of repeated violence can be protected by a restraining order”, Cleven states. "This often occurs after reported stalking, threats or violence and in cases of violence by (ex-)partners." Earlier, Tamar Fischer, Sanne Struijk and Irma Cleven conducted research commissioned by the Ministry of Justice and Security on compliance and enforcement of these bans and their contribution to victims' sense of safety. This showed that 46 % of victims feel safer because of a restraining order. 

According to Cleven, victims feel a lot safer inside an area with an imposed restraining order because they know their stalker is not allowed in that area. "But as soon as they go outside that area, there is a chance that they will encounter that stalker; because they don't know where that person is. Especially outside the area with the restraining order, a victim-device adds value."

The victim-device

The victim device works by using GPS to track the location of both the victim and the offender, who has an ankle bracelet. The probation service receives a signal when the distance between victim and offender is less than one kilometre. There, they check how likely it is that the two will actually meet. If there is a possibility an employee of the probation service calls the victim and provides an escape route for the victim. Meanwhile, the police can be called in to remove the stalker from the area.

According to Cleven, the device can bring peace of mind to people who are being stalked. "Victims are constantly thinking about how to avoid their stalker. That's exhausting. They always live with the fear of coming face to face with their stalker. This tool ensures that they can move freely and safely even outside of areas with a restraining order." The participants who tested the device indicated that it gives them peace and space Cleven talks about: "You always remain cautious and alert, but it provides space to reshape life outside the scope of an area with a restraining order."

Limited implementation

Despite the promising aspects of the victim-device, there are still limitations to its optimal deployment. One is the limited implementation of the device, as its use is currently linked to the ankle bracelet of the suspect or offender. Research by Cleven, Tamar Fischer and Sanne Struijk shows that ankle bracelets were imposed in only 5 per cent of cases with area bans between July 2015 and December 2017.

A coordinated approach is the only solution

Thus, the victim-device cannot be deployed in all cases. In addition, Cleven stresses that more than merely deploying a device is needed to tackle this urgent problem. The case of Hümeyra, where poor communication and lack of police coordination led to tragic consequences, highlights the importance of a coordinated approach to stalking.

Hümeyra case
On 18 December 2018, Hümeyra was murdered by her ex in the bicycle storage of her high school. For months, he had stalked and threatened her. Hümeyra reported the crime several times, but not enough was done about it. After the murder, the inspectorate came out with a report that stated that the authorities had failed to assess the situation correctly and protect Hümeyra.

There is often not one police officer who acts as coordinating contact regarding stalking. "That was not the case with Hümeyra either”, Cleven stresses. "She kept getting stuck with individual police officers who were not well informed about the case and therefore did not know how to assess that urgency and proportionality." Meanwhile, a big improvement has been made in Rotterdam and for stalking cases, there is now a police officer who acts as a coordinating contact person. "These measures have a lot of added value and will increase security. I don't think we should rely solely on a victim-device when it comes to improving the coordinated approach to stalking”, according to Cleven.

PhD student
More information

Watch the entire video from EenVandaag here (in Dutch).
Read the full research report Enforcement and safety in criminal contact, location and area bans to protect victims here.

Compare @count study programme

  • @title

    • Duration: @duration
Compare study programmes