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Repeatedly calling, texting or following someone who you’ve got a crush on might seem relatively harmless – but crossing the line can result in serious consequences under the law.
The rise of social media has made it easier to find and communicate with others online, even when they do not wish to be contacted.
Celebrities are particularly vulnerable to unwanted communications from fanatical fans. Most communications are harmless – but every now and then celebrities find themselves the subject of violent and abusive threats.
In one recent case, a Tasmanian man found himself before the courts after he stalked Aussie singer, actress and model Sophie Monk for three years between 2010 and 2013.
James Scott McCabe was 15 when he first became aware of Sophie Monk after she appeared on the TV program Popstars.
But what started off as an innocent teenage interest quickly spiralled out of control, with McCabe becoming increasingly obsessed; sending Monk sexually explicit messages and making violent threats towards her.
Between 2010 and 2013, McCabe sent several messages to Monk using social networking site Twitter, some of which described sexual fantasies involving the singer. He also sent ‘rambling’ messages about God, Hitler, and war.
Initially, Monk was sympathetic towards McCabe as it was evident that he was mentally unwell. On several occasions, she even responded in an attempt to subdue him.
But she became concerned when he started to threaten her family, and she ultimately reported the matter to police, saying that she found the messages ‘creepy and alarming.’
Mr McCabe pleaded guilty to stalking Monk and sending the disturbing messages, and was this week sentenced to an eight month suspended prison sentence, with the Magistrate remarking that he was too mentally unwell to go to prison.
In NSW, a suspended sentence can be imposed if a person is convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to imprisonment for a period of two years or less. It allows that person to avoid going to prison provided that they enter into a good behaviour bond for the period of their prison term. If the good behaviour bond is breached, however, it will normally be revoked and the person will end up serving the whole sentence in prison.
So, for example, if someone is given a six month suspended sentence and they breach it after five months, they will be required to serve the entire six months in prison if they breach the conditions of their bond and the bond is revoked.
Mr McCabe was also ordered not to go within 200 metres of Monk, not to leave Tasmania, and serve a probation order, which will require him to undergo psychiatric evaluation and drug testing.
Mr McCabe’s case illustrates the serious consequences of being convicted of harassing or stalking a person.
If you’re someone with an infatuation with another person – be it a celebrity, friend or former partner, it’s important to know where to draw the line.
In NSW, you could be convicted of the offence of ‘stalking or intimidation’ under Section 13 of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 if it is proved beyond a reasonable doubt that you stalked or intimidated another person with the intention of causing them to fear physical or mental harm – in other words, where you knew that your conduct was likely to cause the other person fear.
Significantly, the prosecution does not have to prove that the other person actually feared physical or mental harm. The maximum penalty for the offence is 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $5,500.
There’s no list of conduct which constitutes stalking or intimidation. Rather, the law defines intimidation as:
‘Stalking’ refers to following a person about, watching, frequenting the vicinity of, or approaching, a person’s place or residence, business or work, or any place that a person frequents for the purposes of social or leisure activity.
An application can be made for an apprehended violence order (AVO) if it is alleged that you have harassed, intimidated or stalked another person, known as a ‘person in need of protection’ (PINOP).
The AVO case will normally accompany the criminal case eg the criminal charge of ‘stalk or intimidate’. However, AVO cases are civil in nature and cannot lead to a criminal conviction by themselves.
Individuals do not necessarily need to apply for AVOs themselves – police will often apply for AVOs on a person’s behalf if police believe that the person is ‘in need of protection’.
Even though it is not a criminal offence, having an AVO imposed upon you can have a detrimental impact on your life – it can prevent you from living with the ‘person in need of protection’, can make it harder to access your children, and many prevent you from holding certain licences such as security and firearms licences.
Contravening an AVO is a serious criminal offence which can lead to harsh penalties, especially if the breach involves violence.
If you’re fighting an AVO or a charge of contravening an AVO, it’s in your best interests to get advice and representation from an experienced criminal defence lawyer who can assist you to get the best result.