Back in 2017, Lithuania was one of the few EU countries that had not yet criminalized stalking, but this all changed on 14 October 2021, when the Lithuanian Parliament voted in favor of criminalization. The amendments to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania provide that stalking is punishable by public works, a fine, a restriction of liberty or detention.
The provision reads as follows: “Anyone who systematically stalks a person against the latter’s express will without legitimate grounds, leading to the victim being forced to change their place of residence or work or educational institution, or leading to any other negative impact on their social life or emotional state, commits a criminal offense”.Individuals will be prosecuted if there is a complaint from the victim, a request from a prosecutor, or a pre-trial investigation has been launched following signs of domestic violence. The criminalization of stalking was initiated by Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, the Speaker of Parliament, and the Liberal Union group, who claim that the initiative aims to prevent more serious crimes and to ensure the safety and right to privacy of victims of abusive partners.
What is stalking?
Stalking is defined as a person’s repeated acts trying to establish contact with another by any means available. The majority of stalker victims are women, their stalkers often being ex-spouses or partners after an abusive relationship. The victim experiences anxiety, stress, fear, and feelings of insecurity. Motivated by these negative emotions, victims change their jobs, place of residence, contact details, even their children’s educational institutions (if they had a child or children with their former partner).
Everyday stalking covers a wide range of activities, including calls, messages, emails, appearances at work or other places frequented by the victim (such as shops), listening to personal conversations, seeking unsolicited contact, gathering information on the person, property damage, and more. It should be noted that stalkers do not shy away from acting through third parties, such as family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbors. If the stalker has children with their victim, they may try to influence the latter by implying threats to the child’s safety, manipulating them, or trying to contact the child’s educational institution. The purpose of all these actions is to make the victim feel insecure, to apply psychological pressure, and to regain control of the relationship.
How was stalking regulated previously?
Prior to the criminalization of stalking, it was possible to involve law enforcement if the conduct of the stalker fit the criteria prescribed by the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania. This included threats to kill or harm health, bullying, causing physical pain, unlawful entry in a person's home, unlawful collection of information, and unlawful disclosure of confidential correspondence or other communications.
What’s notable is that under the previous legislation, despite the fact that the above acts were often an integral part of stalking, no real sanctions would be applied until there was a certain level of danger. Consequently, as long as the stalker only used calls, messages, or attempted to communicate through third parties without posing any real danger, it was difficult to prove their guilt and protect the victim's safety and right to privacy.
While specialists urge stalker victims to actively gather evidence themselves in order to make it easier for law enforcement to prosecute, without waiting for it to lead to more serious crimes, the Parliament's amendments will allow former or current victims to feel safer now that their rights are protected.