Stalking is repeated contact that makes you feel afraid or harassed - whether in person or online. It is a crime that affects 7.5 million people annually - including children. At any age, stalking and cyber-stalking are real issues – and crimes women are more than twice as likely to experience than men.
But what can be done?
In Congress, I’m fighting for enhanced criminal penalties for stalkers of minors and an evaluation of Federal, State, and local efforts to enforce laws relating to stalking and identify elements of these enforcement efforts that constitute best practices. The House Judiciary Committee passed my bipartisan Combat Online Predators Act [H.R. 4203] and it’s awaiting action on the House floor. Read more about it HERE
Equally as important is educating citizens about stalking and raising awareness of this heinous act. This online portal contains information on the actions taken by my office in response to this concern as well as tips and information for constituents:
What is stalking?
Stalking is any repeated and unwanted contact with you that makes you feel unsafe.3 You can be stalked by a stranger, but most stalkers are people you know — even an intimate partner. Stalking may get worse or become violent over time. Stalking may also be a sign of an abusive relationship.
Someone who is stalking you may threaten your safety by clearly saying they want to harm you. Some stalkers harass you with less threatening but still unwanted contact. The use of technology to stalk, sometimes called “cyberstalking,” involves using the Internet, email, or other electronic communications to stalk someone. Stalking is against the law.
Stalking and cyberstalking can lead to sleeping problems or problems at work or school.
What are some examples of stalking?
Examples of stalking may include:3
- Following you around or spying on you
- Sending you unwanted emails or letters
- Calling you often
- Showing up uninvited at your house, school, or work
- Leaving you unwanted gifts
- Damaging your home, car, or other property
- Threatening you, your family, or pets with violence
What are some examples of cyberstalking?
Examples of cyberstalking include:
- Sending unwanted, frightening, or obscene emails, text messages, or instant messages (IMs)
- Harassing or threatening you on social media
- Tracking your computer and internet use
- Using technology such as GPS to track where you are
Are there laws against stalking?
You can file a complaint with the police and get a restraining order (court order of protection) against the stalker. Federal law says that you can get a restraining order for free. Do not be afraid to take steps to stop your stalker.
What can I do if I think I’m being stalked?
If you are in immediate danger, call 911. Find a safe place to go if you are being followed or worry that you will be followed. Go to a police station, friend’s house, domestic violence shelter, fire station, or public area.
You can also take the following steps if you are being stalked:
- File a complaint with the police. Make sure to tell them about all threats and incidents.
- Get a restraining order. A restraining order requires the stalker to stay away from you and not contact you. You can learn how to get a restraining order from a domestic violence shelter, the police, or an attorney in your area.
- Write down every incident. Include the time, date, and other important information. If the incidents occurred online, take screenshots as records.
- Keep evidence such as videotapes, voicemail messages, photos of property damage, and letters.
- Get names of witnesses.
- Get help from domestic violence hotlines(link is external), domestic violence shelters, counseling services, and support groups. Put these numbers in your phone in case you need them.
- Tell people about the stalking, including the police, your employer, family, friends, and neighbors.
- Always have your phone with you so you can call for help.
- Consider changing your phone number (although some people leave their number active so they can collect evidence). You can also ask your service provider about call blocking and other safety features.
- Secure your home with alarms, locks, and motion-sensitive lights.
What can I do if someone is cyberstalking me?
If you are being cyberstalked:
- Send the person one clear, written warning not to contact you again.
- If they contact you again after you’ve told them not to, do not respond.
- Print out copies of evidence such as emails or screenshots of your phone. Keep a record of the stalking and any contact with police.
- Report the stalker to the authority in charge of the site or service where the stalker contacted you. For example, if someone is stalking you through Facebook, report them to Facebook.
- If the stalking continues, get help from the police. You also can contact a domestic violence shelter and the National Center for Victims of Crime Helpline(link is external) for support and suggestions.
- Consider blocking messages from the harasser.
- Change your email address or screen name.
- Never post online profiles or messages with details that someone could use to identify or locate you (such as your age, sex, address, workplace, phone number, school, or places you hang out).
For more information or emotional support, call the Stalking Resource Center National Center for Victims of Crime Helpline at 800-FYI-CALL (394-2255), Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.
About the Combat Online Predators Act
Authored by Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-08), the Combat Online Predators Act [H.R. 4203] increases penalties related to the stalking of minors. The legislation provides enhanced criminal penalty for stalkers of minors 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.
The legislation was inspired by the story of the Zezzo family of Bucks Co., PA whose teenaged 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.
“Sitting with the Zezzo family, I saw the pain in their eyes. After hearing of the disturbing story of cyberstalking endured by this young girl and her family for years, I knew something needed to be done. 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.”
What others are saying about the Combat Online Predators Act:
- “As parents, we would do anything to keep our children safe, whether they’re in the schoolyard or on the internet,” said Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), co-sponsor of the measure. “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.”
- “The National Center for Victims of Crime applauds Congressman Fitzpatrick’s introduction of the Combat Online Predators Act. Stalking is a crime that effects 7.5 million people annually including children. In today’s age where children can be stalked both in person and online, we must ensure that our laws provide real justice for our most vulnerable victims,” said Mai Fernandez, Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime.
- “The advent of the Internet and advancement in technology has improved all of our lives but it has also provided stalkers with new ways to prey upon innocent victims. Too many Americans have become victims of stalking and cyberstalking, especially minors whose lives are increasingly online and on social media,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). “TheCombat Online Predators Act provides law enforcement new tools to protect our nation’s children from cyber-predators and I thank Congressman Fitzpatrick for his work on this bill.”
The measure is supported by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.