Is stalking or cyber-stalking punishable with imprisonment?

Is stalking or cyber-stalking punishable with imprisonment?

The Anti-Violence Against Women and Children (Anti-VAWC) Act of 2004 punishes stalking with prision mayor (6 years and 1 day, to 12 years imprisonment), with a fine of at least P100,000.00. Cyber-stalking raises this penalty a degree higher – reclusion temporal (12 years and 1 day to 20 years imprisonment).

But the Anti-VAWC Act ONLY punishes stalkers and cyber-stalkers who violate its provisions. The other law that can be used to prosecute stalking is unjust vexation (or cyber-unjust vexation) under the Revised Penal Code. There is no punishment for the usual harmless stalking that most people do using social media sites like Facebook or Instagram. Let me run through the difference.

What is stalking?

Stalking is defined in law this way.

Stalking” refers to an intentional act committed by a person who, knowingly and without lawful justification follows the woman or her child or places the woman or her child under surveillance directly or indirectly or a combination thereof. – Republic Act No. 9262, also known as The Anti-VAWC Act

A person commits stalking by following a woman or child around, or placing them under surveillance. Cyber-stalking is doing the same, either with GPS or by following the posts or pictures of the person.

Stalking is committed only against women and children, and not men.

But doesn’t this describe what potential suitors and admirers do before they court a woman? Does the law discourage courtship? Can a woman use this law to punish any suitor who isn’t her crush? No.

When is stalking punished?

The law punishes stalking and cyber-stalking only in a few disturbing instances. The law punishes stalking and cyber-stalking if it is done with the intent to cause “substantial emotional or psychological distress to the woman or her child.” That means that if one’s intent is different, then the stalking is legal. And if you are later found out, you’ll just be labeled “creepy” if the girl does not have a crush on you.

Covertly stalking a person is legal. There is obviously no intent there to cause any form of distress. In fact, the person there is actually hiding from the woman and keeping her from finding out his presence to avoid disturbing her in any way.

Criminally punishable stalking

The kind of stalking which the law punishes is the hurtful kind. It is the one where the woman feels helpless, frustrated, or afraid.

There, the person very clearly shows himself to the woman or child. He makes it known to her that he is watching her and keeping tabs on her every move. The person makes his presence felt in as many ways as he can. He can do this also in cyber-space when he comments on photos or posts pictures of the woman. If banned from her social media network, he makes an effort to reach out to her or her friends just to make his presence felt.

He does this this dominate a woman and control her actions through the fear or anguish because of his presence in her life.

Under the Anti-VAWC Law, it is punished if it is committed by a person against his wife, former wife, or against a woman with whom he has or had a sexual or dating relationship with, or with whom he has a child with.

If there is no present or previous relationship between them, then stalking and cyber-stalking can still be punished, but this time with unjust vexation or cyber-unjust vexation (which is is punished a degree higher).

Many women and men are not aware of the difference. Let’s have some examples.

Scenarios

Charles courted Ivy, but did not succeed. Busted. But he has an undying love for her and wants to keep courting her. He gets her schedule and follows her looking for the things she likes, her hobbies, volunteer work, etc., and tried to position himself in ways to see her and interact more with her. He goes online and “LIKES” her pictures and posts and makes witty remarks in an attempt to make her smile and remember him in a favorable way.

Is the stalking here criminally punishable even if she does not like him and is only responding out of politeness or friendship? No, this is not punishable. There is no dating relationship and no “substantial emotional or psychological distress to the woman.” For distress to be substantial, a person should distinctly feel fear, frustration, emotional pain, or anguish because of contact with that person.

Another example.

Roy likes Ana. They had drunk sex one time and he courted her after. She didn’t like him though. Busted. He did not like the outcome, so he forces his presence on her all the time. He walls her in, and prevents other people from courting her, intimidating her friends so they won’t go near her as much, and isolates her as much as he could.  Ana feels his presence all the time. It is imposing because he has shut down her social life by being present all the time like a great wall (guys call this “binabakod“).

The stalking here can be criminally punishable if she feels so isolated that it becomes a source of great emotional distress for her. If they never had sex though, then the stalking here is not punishable under the Anti-VAWC law. It can be punished with unjust vexation under the Revised Penal Code.

There are many other examples we can talk about, but we should remember the basic rules for stalking or cyber-stalking to be considered criminally punishable under the Anti-VAWC Act:

  1. Stalking can only be committed by any person against his wife, former wife, or against a woman he has or had a sexual or dating relationship with, or with whom he has a common child.
  2. Stalking and cyber-stalking if it is done with the intent to cause “substantial emotional or psychological distress to the woman or her child. For there to be intent, the stalking must be openly done and felt by the woman.

Lastly, if only the last of these elements are present, stalking can still be punishable in a lesser way under a different law, like unjust vexation under the Revised Penal Code.

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