WASHINGTON— Last month, President Trump signed into law a bipartisan bill authored by U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., alongside Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Senators Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Bob Casey, D-Pa., to strengthen criminal penalties for adults who stalk or severely harass children, either online or in the community. The Combat Online Predators Act passed the Senate in October and the House passed it earlier this month.
“I’m proud to have worked with my colleagues to craft and pass legislation that will deter stalkers from harassing innocent children,” said Murphy. “As a mom, I know how important it is to protect our kids from dangerous criminals lurking online and in our communities. Now that the President has signed this bipartisan bill into law, those who commit this terrible crime should be prepared to face serious punishment for their actions.”
The Combat Online Predators Act was inspired by the story of the Zezzo family of Bucks County, Pennsylvania whose teenage 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 to only a misdemeanor stalking charge and was sentenced to probation and counseling. Three years later, the same stalker began making contact with the young girl 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.
Under current law, it is a federal crime for an individual to harass or intimidate another individual, in person or online, in a way that places them in fear of physical harm or causes them significant emotional distress. The maximum criminal penalty is 5 years in prison, and 10 years in prison if the defendant causes serious physical injury to the victim or uses a dangerous weapon. The Murphy-led bill will increase the maximum penalty by 5 years, to 10 years and 15 years respectively, when the defendant is an adult and the victim is under 18 years of age.