U.S. Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.-01) introduced legislation to increase criminal penalties for the stalking of children and to ensure law enforcement officials evaluate and update practices to combat online harassment of children.
The bipartisan, bicameral Combat Online Predators Act provides enhanced criminal penalties for stalkers under Title 18 Section 2261 by up to five years if the victim is a minor. Furthermore, the legislation calls for the U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Department of Justice to produce an evaluation of federal, state, and local efforts to enforce laws relating to stalking and identify and describe elements of these enforcement efforts that constitute best practices.
“No family should have to go through what the Zezzos have,” said Senator Toomey. “Enacting this bipartisan measure to strongly punish deviants who exploit the internet to terrorize children is a necessary and common-sense step Congress should take. I appreciate the work of Congressman Fitzpatrick on this matter and look forward to working with Senator Casey to get this legislation passed in the Senate.”
“This bipartisan legislation would give law enforcement and judges additional tools to keep young victims safe from adults who have stalked them and targeted them online,” said Senator Casey. “Stalking and cyberstalking offenses are uniquely invasive and distressing for victims and their families, especially when the victim is a minor. I urge my colleagues to support and swiftly pass this measure so that we can continue to fight against predatory behavior, keep our kids safe and ensure that they and their families have peace of mind.”
“We have no higher responsibility than to protect our kids. We must do everything we can to forcefully respond to egregious instances of stalking and cyberstalking, especially when committed against minors – the most vulnerable among us,” said Representative Fitzpatrick, the only former FBI Supervisory Special Agent and federal prosecutor in Congress. “The Combat Online Predators Act ensures that, not only are we increasing penalties for these crimes, but we are also requiring federal law enforcement officials to constantly evaluate and update practices to combat this online harassment. I look forward to working with Senators Toomey and Casey and Congresswoman Murphy to get this measure signed into law.”
The Combat Online Predators Act was inspired by the story of the Zezzo family of Bucks County, Pa. whose teenaged daughter was cyber-stalked by a friend’s father on social media. Despite the stalking being sexual in nature, the then-51-year-old stalker pleaded guilty only to a misdemeanor stalking charge and was sentenced to probation and counseling. Three years later, in 2016, the same stalker began making contact again. This time, he was arrested in a sting by local police and sentenced to between 18 months and seven years in a state prison.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING:
- “Adults who stalk or harass children online or in our communities commit a serious crime, and our bill will ensure federal judges can give convicted defendants the prison sentence they deserve. It’s an honor to work with Congressman Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, and with Senators Toomey and Casey, and we will do everything within our power to get this bill over the finish line this Congress.” – U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), co-author of Combat Online Predators Act
- “One of the most important measures of an effective criminal justice system is how it responds to crimes against its most vulnerable victims. The Combat Online Predators Act will support prosecutors and create safer communities by enhancing the criminal penalties available against those convicted of stalking minors. We applaud Congressman Fitzpatrick’s commitment to this real and pressing criminal justice and community concern.” – David LaBahn, President and CEO, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys