Congress must act to protect children from cyber-stalking

On the shrinking list of things most people can agree upon these days is this: Crimes committed by adults against child victims are particularly heinous and should be punished more severely.

That’s why we join in supporting a bipartisan effort by both of Pennsylvania’s senators – Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Bob Casey – to stiffen penalties for those convicted or pleading guilty to harassing children online, otherwise known as cyber-stalking.

The two senators along with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Langhorne, recently introduced the Combat Online Predators Act, to both houses of Congress.

The proposed legislation provides enhanced criminal penalties for stalkers by up to five years if the victim is a minor and calls for the U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Department of Justice to evaluate how the laws are being enforced locally and provide recommendations for the best practices to use for future enforcement.

The proposed legislation was inspired by the story of the Zezzo family of Bucks County, 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, the same stalker began making contact again, but was arrested in a sting by local police and sentenced to between 18 months and seven years in a state prison.

“No family should have to go through what the Zezzos have,” Toomey said. “Enacting this bipartisan measure to strongly punish deviants who exploit the internet to terrorize children is a necessary and common-sense step Congress should take.”

“This bipartisan legislation would give law enforcement and judges additional tools to keep young victims safe from adults who have stalked them and targeted them online,” Casey said. “Stalking and cyber-stalking offenses are uniquely invasive and distressing for victims and their families, especially when the victim is a minor.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Anything that can be done to protect our children, who live in an increasingly-digital age, while online is certainly worth doing.

We hope the House and Senate will agree by passing this bill and that President Donald Trump will quickly sign it into law.

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