Washington, D.C.– U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) today introduced a resolution designating January as National Stalking Awareness Month, which aims to raise awareness on the issue and educate Americans about the dangers of stalking. The senators introduced legislation last year that would strengthen and update federal anti-stalking laws to better 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 better tools to combat the growing threat of stalking. Provisions from the legislation were recently included in the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and the bill was supported by ESPN reporter Erin Andrews after a predator used modern technology to stalk her.
“As a former prosecutor, I have seen firsthand the dangers of stalking and the serious emotional and physical toll it can take on victims,” Klobuchar said.“This resolution will help raise awareness and educate Americans about this important issue, and I will continue to work to pass our legislation that will help ensure our laws are as sophisticated as the predators who violate them.”
“I was proud to pass the original stalking bill, which has helped protect countless Americans from harassment by stalkers. And today, with technology developing so rapidly, current stalking laws need to be updated in order to address thenew tactics being used to target innocent people,”Hutchison said. “This resolution will help to bring attention to the need to expand current laws to include cyber stalking and authorize police to intervene in situations where victims are unaware they are being targeted.”
The resolution is cosponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Al Franken (D-MN), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
Current federal anti-stalking laws require that a victim actually suffer from substantial emotional distress in order for the perpetrator to be prosecuted. However, sometimes victims are not even aware they are being stalked, particularly if the stalker is using electronic surveillance, including spyware, bugging, video surveillance, and other technology. Therefore, a stalker can escape prosecution simply by using clandestine methods of stalking that do not incite fear in the victim. The Stalkers Act puts the focus on the stalker’s actions, not on the victim’s emotions, by empowering law enforcement to prosecute any act of stalking that would “reasonably be expected” to cause a person substantial emotional distress.
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 reports being stalked through some form of technology, such as e-mail or instant messaging. In 2010, ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, whose stalker posted unauthorized pictures of her on the internet, joined Klobuchar to call for stronger federal anti-stalking laws.