INFOBEAT | Profile | Feedback | About | Terms | Custom

Click on Ad -- Support InfoBeat's Free Services

05:23 PM ET 09/29/99

Anti-Cyberstalking Laws Mulled

 Anti-Cyberstalking Laws Mulled
 By CASSANDRA BURRELL=
 Associated Press Writer=
 	   WASHINGTON (AP) _ Complaining about an ad from a literary agency
 brought writer Jayne Hitchcock more than three years of harassment,
 phone calls from strange men wanting to share their sexual
 fantasies and regular trips to a psychotherapist.
 	   Hitchcock told a House subcommittee she was a victim of
 ``cyberstalkers'' who used the Internet to strike back at her after
 she complained to the New York state attorney general about a
 literary agency that appeared to be a fraud.
 	   She asked Congress to pass a bill that would strengthen federal
 laws designed to fight all types of stalking that involves crossing
 state lines.
 	   ``We can't let this kind of abuse continue,'' Hitchcock told the
 House Judiciary Committee's crime subcommittee. ``I felt like
 someone had broken into my house, touched all of my things, didn't
 take anything and left. I felt violated and scared for my life.''
 	   The bill, introduced by Rep. Sue Kelley, R-N.Y., would:
 	   _Broaden the current federal definition of stalking to include
 harassment by e-mail, telephone or any other form of interstate
 communications.
 	   _Allow authorities to prosecute stalkers for threatening
 behavior even if there has been no explicit threat.
 	   _Mark it harder for suspects to be released on bail.
 	   _Toughen sentences for defendants with a previous conviction for
 a violent crime against the same victim.
 	   ``Recent research has shown that more than 1 million women and
 more than 370,000 men are stalked every year,'' Kelly said. ``About
 59 percent of women victims are stalked by spouses, former spouses,
 live-in partners or dates.''
 	   Hitchcock said her harassment began after she became suspicious
 when the literary agency asked her for a $75 fee to read her work.
 Legitimate literary agents don't ask for such fees, she said.
 	   After the New York attorney general's office opened an
 investigation, Hitchcock said her cyberstalkers ``e-mail bombed''
 her, sending hundreds of e-mail messages. Next, they posted forged
 messages in Internet discussion groups over her name.
 	   One of them invited people worldwide to call or mail her their
 sexual fantasies to help her write a book. It included her real
 telephone number and home address in Crofton, Md.
 	   ``I began receiving 25 to 30 phone calls a day from as far away
 as Germany,'' she said. ``That's the point where I decided I had to
 call police and ask for help.''
 	   Law enforcement was either unable to unwilling to help, however,
 she said.
 	   Friends who knew how to track the origin of e-mail traced the
 messages back to three people who apparently were connected to the
 literary agency, Hitchcock said.
 	   After filing a $10 million civil suit against the three, her
 lawyer received a death threat, neighbors received phone calls from
 people asking for information on her and complaints accusing
 Hitchcock of stalking were filed with the Maryland attorney
 general's office, the FBI and Maryland state police.
 	   ``It got so bad I had to see a psychotherapist to deal with my
 fears and paranoia, and finally my husband and I moved to New
 England,'' she said.
 	   The suit is still pending, Hitchcock said, and less than a month
 ago, she received as many as a dozen hang-up calls at a day at her
 current home for two straight weeks.
 	   Earlier in the day, advocates for abused women asked Congress to
 renew the Violence Against Women Act, a 1994 law that set aside
 federal money to fight domestic violence.
 	   ``There is no question that (the law) is making a difference,''
 said Bonnie Campbell, director of the Justice Department's Violence
 Against Women Office.
 	   ``Communities across the country and all levels of government
 are creating coordinated, community-wide responses and are setting
 up the infrastructure needed to improve our response to violence
 against women,'' she said.