Act will increase penalties for stalking minors

The legislation authored by U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee

The Times

Legislation authored by U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-8th dist.) to increase penalties related to the stalking of minors unanimously passed the House Judiciary Committee last week.

The Combat Online Predators Act [H.R. 4203] provides enhanced criminal penalty for cyber-stalking under Title 18 Section 2261 by up to five years if the victim is a minor. Furthermore, the legislation calls for the attorney general and 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.

The legislation was inspired by the story of teenager Madison Zezzo, of Doylestown, who 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.

“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 Fitzpatrick, a former FBI supervisory special agent and federal prosecutor. “The Combat Online Predators Act ensures that, not only are we increasing penalties for these crimes, but also requiring federal law enforcement officials to constantly evaluate and update practices to combat this digital harassment. There is still work to be done at the state level, but today’s passage shows we are serious about making these needed changes at the national level.”

“The National Center for Victims of Crime applauds Congressman Fitzpatrick’s introduction of the Combat Online Predators Act. Stalking is a crime that affects 7.5 million people annually, including children. In today’s age, where children can be stalked both in person and online, we must ensure that our laws provide real justice for our most vulnerable victims,” said Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.

House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, said, “The Combat Online Predators Act provides law enforcement new tools to protect our nation’s children from cyber-predators, and I thank Congressman Fitzpatrick for his work on this bill.” ••