Fitzpatrick and Murphy’s Combat Online Predators Act Becomes Law

Bipartisan legislation strengthens criminal penalties for adults who stalk or severely harass children online or in the community

December 23, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, December 23rd, 2020, Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), alongside Senators Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Bob Casey (D-PA), announced that their Combat Online Predators Act was signed into law.

“I am thrilled to see that our Combat Online Predators Act has been signed into law. Our legislation will protect the most vulnerable among us while online,” said Fitzpatrick. “The Zezzo family’s hard work has paid off, and will protect so many children and families. We must continue the great work that has been done so far, and continue the fight for justice for all victims and make the world a safer place for future generations.”

“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 state prison.

This legislation provides enhanced criminal penalties for stalkers 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. 

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