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Toomey, Casey Laud Senate Passage of Cyber-Stalking Legislation

October 29, 2019
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Washington D.C. - Last night, the Senate passed U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Bob Casey's (D-Pa.) bipartisan legislation to increase criminal penalties for the stalking of children and to ensure law enforcement officials evaluate and update practices to combat online harassment of children.

The bipartisan, bicameral Combat Online Predators Act enhances criminal penalties for stalkers under federal law by up to five years if the victim is a minor. The legislation also calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to evaluate federal, state, and local efforts to enforce stalking laws and identify enforcement efforts' best practices. A companion bill in the House was introduced by Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.-01) and Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy (Fla.-07).

"As a father, I cannot imagine the pain and anger the Zezzo family experienced," said Senator Toomey. "The passage of this bipartisan bill is a tribute to their perseverance to ensuring that we have strong penalties for monsters who use the internet as a tool to stalk children. I urge my colleagues in the House to pass this bill quickly so that the president can sign it into law."

"I am pleased that the Senate passed the Combat Online Predators Act today and I applaud the Zezzo family for their tireless advocacy of this important legislation," said Senator Casey. "This bipartisan bill will give judges additional tools to ensure that perpetrators who stalk or cyberstalk children are held accountable with serious penalties. I urge my colleagues in the House to swiftly pass this measure so that the president can sign Combat Online Predators into law and we can continue the fight to keep our children safe from predatory behavior."

"We have no higher responsibility than to protect our kids," said Congressman Fitzpatrick. "I'm pleased that the Senate has advanced the Combat Online Predators Act. We must do everything we can to forcefully respond to egregious instances of stalking and cyberstalking. This legislation, inspired by Erin and Madison Zezzo, ensures that, not only are we increasing penalties for cyberstalking crimes against minors, but we are also requiring federal law enforcement officials to evaluate and update practices to combat this dangerous harassment. I urge House leadership to immediately bring the Senate-passed bill up for a vote as soon as possible."

"As a parent, I believe legislators must take all reasonable steps to deter and appropriately punish those who stalk our children online or in our communities. This bipartisan bill will give prosecutors and police the tools they need to stop bad actors and to reassure parents that Congress is keeping the safety of their children as a top priority," said Congresswoman Murphy. "I commend Senators Toomey and Casey for getting this bill through the Senate, and Congressman Fitzpatrick and I will work with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure it is soon passed in the House and then signed into law."

"I am thankful for everyone who supported me during the passage of this bill," said Madison Zezzo. "It is important that victims, like myself, stand up to their stalkers and more importantly stand up to make changes to outdated laws so we can get the protection we deserve."

"We are thrilled that the Combat Online Predators Act has passed the Senate," said Erin and Tony Zezzo. "Technology and the onset of social media has far surpassed our current federal and state legislation and this bill is a critical first step in providing for the safety to those most precious to us, our children. Individuals who commit these heinous crimes, prey upon, and cyberstalk our children, need to know that the penalties are severe. Every state must now take a look at their current stalking laws, ensure that all gaps are closed, and that our children are protected at all cost. The fear a stalking victim feels is indescribable, debilitating, and humiliating and the scars left behind are there for life. The online evidence will also never go away. This is no way to live your life, especially for a child, and this bill is a first step in making the much-needed changes to our cyberstalking laws and prevention of such crimes."

Background

The Combat Online Predators Act was inspired by the story of the Zezzo family of Bucks County, Pa. 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 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.

Senators Toomey and Casey have traveled across Pennsylvania calling for passage of this important legislation.

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