In the 21st century, the familiar schoolyard bullying has moved to the digital realm where victims feel like they cannot escape. According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people. About 4,400 young people die by suicide each year and victims of cyberbullying are the most vulnerable.
The U.S. House Judiciary Committee approved a bipartisan bill introduced by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., to protect children by increasing federal criminal penalties for stalkers of minors, including those who engage in cyberstalking. The bill, H.R. 2403, called the Combat Online Predators Act, also directs the U.S. Department of Justice to evaluate current federal, state, and local enforcement of anti-stalking laws and to identify best practices that can be shared with all law enforcement agencies. Murphy has now authored or co-authored eight bills that have passed the U.S. House of Representatives, and two other bills that have been approved at the committee level, since she assumed office nine months ago.
“As parents, we would do anything to keep our children safe, whether they’re in the school yard or on the internet,” said Murphy. “This bill will send a clear message that we will not tolerate anyone who stalks or preys on minors. I’m proud that we’ve advanced bipartisan legislation to increase the maximum criminal penalty for this heinous crime and help provide some peace-of-mind to families across the country.”
“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.”