Una Ring has welcomed the introduction of regulations that will allow victims to obtain a civil restraining order against their stalker without the need for a criminal prosecution.
The Cork woman said it was critical Ireland used every possible legislative reform to help “nip such incidents in the bud”.
“This wasn’t available to me when I was being stalked and harassed,” she said.
“Who knows that if it had been available, the incident I was subjected to might have been nipped in the bud and a lot of fear and heartache might have been avoided – not just for me, but for everyone else involved.
“If these things are dealt with at a very early stage it will, in many cases, help prevent them from escalating into something far more serious and sinister.”
Ms Ring’s stalker, a former colleague, who said he had become obsessed with her, was arrested by gardaí outside her home after threatening to break into her house and rape her. He was found with a rope and had a sex toy strapped to his body.
Under the legislation, victims of stalkers will be able to apply for civil restraining orders against them without a criminal prosecution being taken.
The move, which has been welcomed by campaign groups and stalking victims, will make it easier for victims to seek protection and at an earlier stage.
It is one of a number of measures set to become law in the autumn.
Others include making stalking and non-fatal strangulation standalone offences, increasing the maximum sentence for assault causing harm – one of the most common charges in cases of domestic violence – from five to 10 years and expanding the existing harassment offence.
By using civil restraining orders, the Government hopes it will enable stalkers to be tackled at an earlier stage before the stalking worsens, as has been seen in some criminal cases.
The new standlone offence of stalking covers any conduct that either puts the victim in fear of violence or causes them serious alarm and distress and has a substantial impact of their day-to-day life.
It will cover a wide range of acts, from following a victim, communicating with them or impersonating them and interfering with their property or pets.
Stalking can be committed by a single act and does not have to be persistent or repeated. It will also cover situations where the victim only finds out about the stalking acts afterwards.
The maximum penalty on conviction will be 10 years.
Announcing the new measures, Justice Minister Helen McEntee said the civil restraining orders will allow for earlier intervention to protect victims.
“Stalking is an extremely serious and intrusive crime that can cause devastating psychological distress,” she said.
“The evidence from other countries is that when a specific stalking offence is introduced, it leads to a greater awareness of the crime and an increase in the number of crimes reported and ultimately prosecuted. So we are doing that.”
The new Criminal Justice Bill 2022 will be brought before the Oireachtas as a priority on the resumption of the Dáil and is expected to become law in the autumn.
Ms Ring said she believed the legislation will also help save the State money through fewer court appearances and a reduced demand for garda manpower.
Since her ordeal, Ms Ring has become a vocal campaigner for greater protection for the victims of stalking and harassment.
She said removing the criminal element of securing a civil restraining order was a vital step – but she said other measures also need to be pursued by the Government.
Ms Ring said that while she was delighted the new legislation was being introduced, she was heartbroken it was against the background of multiple tragic and disturbing attacks on women over recent years.
She was subjected to a terrifying ordeal where a former work colleague suddenly became obsessed with her and threatened to break into her house and rape her.
Her stalker, James Steele (54), was jailed for five years in February 2021 at Cork Circuit Criminal Court after he was caught outside her home in a special surveillance operation mounted by Youghal-based gardaí.
“Only for the gardaí, there is a very, very high probability that I would not be here today. I am convinced of that,” Ms Ring said.
“The gardaí were incredible – they were outside my home waiting for my stalker for hours.
“If they weren’t there, God only knows what might have happened.
“It (stalking) is such an invasive crime – it is absolutely terrifying.
“Unless you go through it, it is very hard to comprehend just how invasive, exhausting and frightening it can be.”
When Steele was confronted by gardaí, he was found to be in possession of duct tape and rope and had a large plastic sex toy strapped to his body.
Steele, of Reavilleen, Rosscarbery, Co Cork, told detectives the only explanation he could offer was that he had become totally obsessed with his former work colleague – and he refused to heed her pleas to be left alone.
Ms Ring was so terrified she considered getting her identification details tattooed on to her body so that if she was kidnapped and killed, gardaí could identify her.
Steele pleaded guilty to charges of harassment, attempted burglary with intent to rape, possession of articles to cause a crime and two counts of criminal damage.
Steele, an Australian, had an indecent assault conviction in his native country.