Legislation would increase penalties for stalkers who target children
U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) introduced bipartisan legislation to increase criminal penalties for stalkers, including cyberstalkers, who target minors under the age of 18.
The bill – known as the Combat Online Predators Act – would allow federal judges to add up to five additional years of imprisonment to a convicted stalker’s sentence if their victim is under the age of 18.
“We need to do everything we can to better protect our children from these online predators,” Nelson said, “and send a clear message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”
In addition to stiffening the criminal penalties for stalking a minor online, the legislation would also require the U.S. Department of Justice to evaluate federal, state and local efforts to enforce stalking laws and determine what can be done to improve the enforcement of those laws.
Cyberstalking, which often involves the sending of harassing emails, text messages, social media posts or even creating websites for the sole purpose of tormenting a victim, was first made a federal crime in 2000 when Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 18.3 million women and nearly 6.5 million men in the U.S. have been victims of stalking during their lifetime. Of those, more than 4.3 million were under the age of 18 when they were first stalked – including 16.3% of female stalking victims and 20.5% of male stalking victims.
The bill is supported by the National Center for Victims of Crime and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. An identical measure was introduced in the House last year by Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) and was approved by a vote of 409-2.
Text of Nelson’s legislation is available here.