WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn, reintroduced a bipartisan bill to crack down on adults who stalk children online or in their communities. The Combat Online Predators Act increases the criminal penalty that a federal judge is authorized to impose on a defendant convicted of this crime. Last year, the House passed with broad bipartisan support the Murphy-Fitzpatrick bill. The Senate then unanimously passed the bill in a slightly modified form, but time ran out before the House could vote on this version before sending it to the President for his signature. This year, U.S. Senator Patrick Toomey, R-Penn, and U.S. Senator Bob Casey, D-Penn, have introduced an identical bill in the Senate.
“Adults who stalk or harass children online or in our communities commit a serious crime. Our bill will ensure federal judges can give convicted defendants the prison sentence they deserve,” said Murphy. “It’s an honor to work with Congressman Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent, and with Senators Toomey and Casey, and we will do everything within our power to get this bill over the finish line in this Congress.”
“We have no higher responsibility than to protect our kids. 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, the only former FBI Supervisory Special Agent and federal prosecutor in Congress. “The Combat Online Predators Act ensures that, not only are we increasing penalties for these crimes, but we are also requiring federal law enforcement officials to constantly evaluate and update practices to combat this online harassment. I look forward to working with Senators Toomey and Casey and Congresswoman Murphy to get this measure signed into law.”
Under current law, it is a federal crime for an individual to harass or intimidate another individual, in person or online, in a way that places them in fear of physical harm or causes them significant emotional distress. The maximum criminal penalty is 5 years in prison, and 10 years in prison if the defendant causes serious physical injury to the victim or uses a dangerous weapon. The Murphy-Fitzpatrick bill would increase the maximum penalty by 5 years, to 10 years and 15 years respectively, when the defendant is an adult and the victim is under 18 years of age. The purpose is to deter adults from harming kids in the first place and appropriately punish adults who engage in this criminal conduct.
Last Congress, 19 Murphy-led measures became law, and an additional 8 measures—including the Combat Online Predators Act—passed the House.