There's a stalking 'epidemic', but it's taken Celeste Manno's murder for people to listen.

This post discusses violence against women. 

For more than three years, I was incessantly stalked online by a woman I’d never met. Throughout that time, I told a small handful of people, and for the most part, significantly played down both the experience and its impact. 

I made two meagre attempts to reach out to police in the first 12 months; both times they dismissed me with a figurative pat on the head, and instructions to keep a diary. The longer the stalking went on, the more I kept quiet. The more I kept quiet, the more isolated and alone I felt. That isolation left me trapped, facing an ever-growing toll on my mental health. 

What I know now, is that this is a common response by victims of stalking. In fact, less than 50 per cent of stalking incidents are reported to police. In around 77 per cent of those cases, victim-survivors endure up to 100 incidents before they make the initial report. 

The barriers are multifaceted and complex. Some people fear retaliation, many aren’t even sure that what’s taking place is stalking. Research shows some victims simply don’t believe filing a report will lead to a positive outcome or even prompt an investigation.

Watch: Lover Stalker Killer Official Trailer. Post continues after the video. 

Video via Netflix.

Unlike most victims of stalking, Celeste Manno did report her experience to police. Like many victims, she tried to deal with Luay Sako (the man who became obsessed with her after a brief stint as colleagues) herself first though, pleading with him to leave her alone. 

But her pleas fell on deaf ears. Sako created multiple social media accounts and continued to harass her, sending her derogatory, vulgar and sexually explicit messages - more than 140 in total. 

So Celeste turned to police. An intervention order was granted, and quickly breached by Sako, who was arrested but ultimately set free. He bought a kitchen knife the following day. Three months later, Celeste was dead, murdered by Sako as she slept in her bed in her mother’s home, with that very knife. 

The court heard the murder took just two minutes and 39 seconds. He then went to the Mernda police station and confessed. "She's dead. She's dead … go have a look," Sako told officers. "You know what happened. It's your fault."

An 'epidemic'.

During the pre-sentence hearing, several witnesses and experts were heard. Among them was psychiatrist Rajan Darjee, who found Sako’s risk of re-offending was high. The case has thrust stalking into the spotlight, with experts dubbing the crime an 'epidemic', citing countless similar cases swamping the justice system. 

This comes as no surprise to me.

After three years, and increasing desperation, I was able to garner the support of one incredible female police officer, who ultimately charged the person who stalked me with unlawful stalking. The palpable relief and validation that came from this prompted my journalistic urge to kick in, driving my desire to know more, and share more. 


I spent six months investigating the phenomenon of stalking as part of the research for my memoir, Obsession. What surprised me the most, was just how common it actually is. This became clear via both academic and anecdotal evidence. 

Hundreds of people, mostly women, reached out to me to share their personal stories. Almost all felt alone or helpless throughout their experience. They felt scared and isolated. Many had been forced to make dramatic changes to their lives. They feared for their lives. But most didn’t tell anyone. Those who did, felt ignored, dismissed, laughed at. 

Because of this, quantifying just how common stalking is, is difficult. Modern technology has made stalking rates even harder to quantify. According to statistics though, around 20 per cent of people in English-speaking, industrialised nations will experience stalking at some time during their lives. The rate is higher for Australian women, at around 25 per cent, and around eight per cent for Australian men. These numbers have trended upwards since 2020. 

But making a police report is just the first of many hurdles for stalking victim-survivors, with prevailing attitudes to stalking incredibly blase.

'Stalking is romantic', 'victims are to blame', and 'stalking isn’t serious', are some of the underlying beliefs identified in an academic study that analysed community attitudes towards stalking.

Unfortunately, these attitudes are not limited to the public, but can be held by law enforcement too. Worse than that, experts say most Australian police officers don’t properly understand the nuances of stalking behaviour, meaning they often can’t recognise it, and when they do, may not know what to do. 


It’s this failure to act during the early stages of stalking that allows the stalker’s obsession to fester and grow. By the time police do take action, the damage is often already done.

It takes a murder.

As is often the case, it takes serious damage before anybody listens. In the casing of the stalking 'epidemic', it’s taken the murder of a 23-year-old woman in the prime of her life. 

In June 2021, following pressure from Celeste's family and friends, and the public, the Victorian Law Reform Commission called for submissions to gauge community beliefs about the current stalking system and what needed to change. A series of recommendations were established, but little real action has taken place.

Celeste's mother, Aggie Di Mauro has called for the electronic monitoring of stalking offenders, and believes Celeste's murder could have been prevented had Sako been monitored following the Intervention Order. 

Di Mauro believes the current system punishes victims, giving perpetrators the opportunity to not only defend themselves, but evade criminal responsibility altogether. 

"I've never agreed with our justice system, and now that my family and I are actually faced with it, I need to do everything humanly possible to change at the very least, the things we can change," Di Mauro says. 


It’s a similar story the world over. It took a couple of high-profile homicides—and some pressure from Australia-based stalking expert Professor Cleo Brandt before police in the Netherlands began to consider stalking as a serious crime. 

Thanks in part to Brandt’s expertise, the Netherlands has now developed a nationwide police protocol and dedicated approach to policing stalking–something we don’t have in Australia, where things are murky - for police, for the public, and most worryingly, for victims. 

Stalking laws differ between Australia’s states and territories. Even the definition of stalking isn’t consistent. In some states, behaviour is only considered to be stalking if two or more incidents have taken place. In other states, only one incident is required. While most states agree on the types of behaviours that constitute stalking, in Queensland it must also be shown that the actions instilled fear in the target. In New South Wales, intent to cause fear also needs to be proven.

Then there’s the police response to stalking and the apparent 'make-it-up-as-you-go-along' approach. The root cause appears to be a lack of understanding of both the crime and how to manage it, but there are also other factors – lack of training, limited resources, difficulty obtaining evidence, time constraints, prosecution challenges and attitudes. It’s undoubtedly complex, and stalking reports are often pushed to the side, sometimes with catastrophic consequences.

Stalking is real. And it’s no joke. 

Much like the false narrative of the rapist as a monstrous stranger, in reality, most stalkers are ordinary people. You run into them at the supermarket. You talk to them on the phone. They live an otherwise regular life.


As do their targets. Quietly suffering, often unable to put a label on what’s happening right under our noses, to extraordinary numbers of people.

We can only hope now, that Celeste's murder has not been in vain. As always, it's the families of victims who are driving change, with Di Mauro showing amazing courage and determination in the face of unimaginable grief. 

Victoria Police is currently running a pilot program focused on non-domestic violence related stalking. The Screening Assessment for Stalking and Harassment (SASH) tool requires police to consider 13 risk factors, designed to help officers prioritise cases and ensure victim safety. 

As we have done with coercive control over the past few years, we need to have a national conversation about stalking. But we can’t stop there; we need to educate and train law enforcement to properly respond to this growing global phenomenon.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. 

Mamamia is a charity partner of RizeUp Australia, a Queensland-based organisation that helps women and families move on after the devastation of domestic violence. If you would like to support their mission to deliver life-changing and practical support to these families when they need it most, you can donate here.

Feature image: supplied.