Stalking and harassment: ‘Gardaí said they couldn’t do anything until he did something to me or my children’

Most victims know their stalker with a majority describing their experience with gardaí as negative

The first Irish study of people who were stalked or harassed found that over half did not report incidents to An Garda Síochána, with only 42 per cent going to the gardaí. For those who did report stalking or harassment, their experiences were more likely to be negative than positive.

A fear of not being believed because of awareness of deficiencies regarding garda responses to gender-based violence or a general lack of trust in An Garda Síochána regarding gender-based violence were the main reasons why respondents did not report their incidents.

One respondent who reported their experience to gardaí said that they were “rubbish” and another said that “they said they couldn’t do anything until he did something to me or one of my children”.

According to the report, undertaken by Dr Catherine O’Sullivan and Dr Ciara Staunton of University College Cork (UCC) in partnership with the Sexual Violence Centre Cork (SVCC), a number of respondents described being “victim blamed”, with one saying that “I saw [the garda’s] face change when I said I’d slept with the person harassing me. He started making excuses on the harasser’s behalf. He did not do enough and made me feel like I was just being hysterical.”


Several respondents spoke negatively about their first reporting experience, but spoke highly of subsequent members of the force with whom they interacted.

One respondent said the first garda was “a disaster”.

“Basically took the view that he fancied me and I should take the compliment and block him. Then told me three times that I was putting him in an awful position.

“Made contact a few weeks later with a friend of a garda and asked to be put in contact with someone who would take it seriously. Totally different experience as this woman garda had been through the stalking experience with a friend. She was thorough, caring and professional from the start.”

Perpetrators identified by the victims were mostly known to them, according to the report. These consisted of partners or ex-partners, acquaintances, friends or work colleagues. However, the perpetrator was categorised as a stranger in a considerable proportion of cases.

Respondents reported being threatened, physically attacked and sexually assaulted.

Over 1,000 participants responded to the survey, with 892 responses analysed. Some 88 per cent of respondents, or 789, identified themselves as woman, and nine per cent, or 78 people, identified as male.

The remaining three per cent declared themselves as non-binary, transgender or genderfluid.

The average age of respondents was 35, with an age range between 18 and 75 years old.

There were 367 reports of a perpetrator threatening to harm themselves around the respondent. Having pictures or recordings taken without consent was mentioned 270 times, with 170 reports of private images of a very personal nature being shared.

Over two fifths of respondents indicated that the perpetrators threatened to harm them or those close to them, directly or indirectly.

Inappropriate texts, WhatsApps or emails were the most common forms of communications identified by respondents.

Being the target of inappropriate or malicious social media contacts, such as Twitter or Facebook, was the second highest form of reputational damage, mentioned 268 times.

The most common social impacts mentioned were changing routes from home or school and giving up social activities.

Long-term psychological distress was widely reported by respondents, with anxiety being the most frequently reported psychological consequence of stalking and/or harassment. 750 respondents reported this.

Fear, distrust and sleep disturbances were the next most frequently reported consequences, with 584, 558, and 511 respondents respectively reporting these.

One respondent said: “You lose peace in your life. You’re always on edge. You never know if he’ll appear. I was terrified he’d throw acid or something at me, I didn’t know how dangerous he was.”

Another said that they find it hard to make friends and trust people, and do not like sharing things about themselves.

Depression was mentioned 437 times while panic attacks were identified 383 times. One respondent said that they “cried constantly, curled up on my bedroom floor just silently sobbing, and I felt like I’d never experience happiness again.

“The memories feel like a blur, as if my brain blocked it out.”

Significant financial impact was also highlighted, with 401, or 45 per cent of respondents, indicating they had sought counselling or other therapies, legal advice, or the installation of security systems.

One respondent said they had “18 addresses” since meeting their stalker. “He kept moving close to me. I cannot even quantify the financial, social, professional impact on me. He also tried to take my lives and pastimes from me, I have literally changed my personality to try and stay safe from him,” they said.

The report outlines ten recommendations, including the need for an information campaign on stalking and harassment, improvements in training in An Garda Síochána and changes to the proposed new wording of stalking offences.

“This research is unique and will inform public policy and debate around the introduction of anti-stalking legislation and raise public awareness of the dangers of stalking and harassing behaviours,” Dr Ciara Staunton said.

The research was prompted by “the bravery of Una Ring and Eve McDowell who spoke out about their experiences of stalking and who advocated for the introduction of a new stalking offence in addition to the existing harassment offence in Ireland”, according to the report’s executive summary.

  • If you are affected by anything in this article there are support services available from several agencies including Women’s Aid (24-hour freephone helpline: 1800 341 900), Safe Ireland (090 6479078, and An Garda Síochána (999/112).
Ellen O'Donoghue

Ellen O'Donoghue

Ellen O'Donoghue is an Irish Times journalist.