U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced legislation that would strengthen and update federal anti-stalking laws to address the new technology predators are using to harass their victims. The Stalkers Act would improve federal anti-stalking laws to protect victims and provide prosecutors with the tools to combat the growing threat of cyberstalking. Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) cosponsored the bill.
"Our laws need to be as sophisticated as the predators who violate them are," Klobuchar said. "As a former prosecutor, I know how critical it is that law enforcement be able to keep pace with the technological advances that are presenting new challenges in the effort to curb stalking."
"I was proud to pass the original stalking bill that has helped protect countless Americans from being harassed by stalkers. With developing technologies, current stalking laws should be updated to address the new tactics being used to target innocent people,"Hutchison said. "Our new stalking bill expands current laws to include cyber stalking and would authorize police to intervene in situations where victims are unaware they are being targeted. In order to continue to protect Americans from stalking, our laws must keep pace with advancing technology."
Current federal anti-stalking laws are outdated and may not cover all acts of electronic surveillance, including spyware, bugging, video surveillance, and other new technology used by modern-day stalkers. The Stalkers Act empowers law enforcement to prosecute any act of stalking that would "reasonably be expected" to cause a person serious emotional distress. It requires the U.S. attorney general to evaluate federal, state, and local efforts to enforce anti-stalking laws and submit an annual report on best practices.
The bill also increases the punishment for stalking offenses to protect the most vulnerable victims of stalking. Offenders who are convicted for stalking minors, violating protection orders, or stalking the elderly may be sentenced up to an additional five years in prison.
Cyberstalking is a problem that has grown more severe as digital technology has improved and proliferated. The National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) estimates that one out of every four stalking victims report being stalked through some form of technology, such as e-mail or instant messaging. NCVC supports the Stalkers Act.
Senators Klobuchar, Hutchison, Kohl, and Chambliss also led a resolution designating January the National Stalking Awareness Month, which unanimously passed the Senate last night. The resolution aims to raise awareness on the issue to educate Americans about the dangers of stalking. Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) cosponsored the resolution.