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Legislation now heads to the President for his signature

From the Office of U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy

This week the U.S. House of Representatives approved bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., alongside Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Senators Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Bob Casey, D-Pa.. This bill will strengthen criminal penalties for adults who stalk or severely harass children, either online or in the community. The Combat Online Predators Act had been passed by the Senate in October and now will head to the President’s desk for his signature.

“As the mother of two young children, I know we have no more important responsibility than protecting our kids from adults who seek to harm them,” said Murphy. “I’m proud our bipartisan bill will soon become law. It will help deter adults from stalking children and ensure those who do commit this terrible crime receive the punishment they deserve.”

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 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.

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-led 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.

“Our family is so glad the Combat Online Predators Act has made it through Congress,” said Erin and Tony Zezzo. “As families have navigated through the COVID-19 pandemic, children are spending more time online and in front of a webcam. Individuals who stalk and cyberstalk our children are taking advantage of these new tools and opportunities to exploit children. This legislation has never been more critical than it is today. Our hope is that this legislation is the first of more changes to our cyberstalking laws that will help prevent such heinous crimes. We appreciate the bipartisan work of Senators Toomey and Casey and Representatives Fitzpatrick and Murphy.”

U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy represents Florida’s Seventh Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she serves on the influential House Ways and Means Committee. The district includes all of Seminole County and much of northern Orange County, including downtown Orlando, Maitland, Winter Park, and the University of Central Florida. Previously, Murphy was a businesswoman and college instructor who also served as a national security specialist in the Office of the Secretary of Defense where she received numerous awards, including the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Civilian Service.

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