August 10, 2012
Guest Blog By: Dan Beckmann
New Stalking Bills Gets It Right:
HB1099 Offers a Huge Leap Forward and Improved Protection
Social media has made our lives easier. With the click of a button we can connect with people around the world instantly. And on our phones, endless bits of data flow into the palm of our hands, where millions of apps exist for everything from reading a song’s DNA to using our device as a flashlight.
Unfortunately, social media has also made life more difficult for many victims of domestic violence. Stalkers, for instance, have been using electronic technology to terrorize their victims at an alarming rate, misusing technology faster than lawmakers could strengthen existing laws.
Using GPS tracking devices, phone calls, texts and spyware—combined with a seriously outdated stalking law, which never specifically defined a “credible threat”—abusers had an unfair advantage over their victims.
The laws on the books dealing with the escalating crisis of domestic violence were written at a time when electronic harassment did not exist technologically. In addition, some vague language in the law did not take into account that harassment could be a very real crime without having to involve death or bodily injury. In addition, the law never adequately provided for an injunction specifically against stalking.
But now, thanks in part to Rep. David Simmons of Maitland, victims of domestic violence have won a major victory.
Florida House Bill 1099, signed into law this April, corrects the deficiencies of the existing statute by setting in motion a series of procedures and protections for filing temporary or final injunctions against stalking and cyberstalking.
Gone is the language that forced petitioners to sort through a myriad of red-tape for cases involving repeat violence. Trying to figure out where their situation fit into the various injunctions available took precious time and was often confusing. Stalkers will no longer be able to take full advantage of that for their benefit.
HB1099 also takes verbal and nonverbal threats into account including email, texts and any other form of electronic communication that place a targeted person in reasonable fear for their safety. It also clarifies, finally, that stalking does not require “threat of bodily injury or death” as an element of proof.
Lastly, the bill increases the penalties for aggravated stalking and for perpetrators who have been sentenced for sexual battery and continue to harass their victims. The court is now required to consider issuing an injunction restraining an offender from contacting the victim for up to 10 years.
Stalking is a crime of power and control. It can be done electronically, in person or veiled in shadows. HB1099 has stripped the abuser of that power and placed it in the hands of the victim, which is where our judicial system should have had it all along.
About Dan Beckmann
Dan Beckmann is a Director of Photography, journalist and storyteller. A former staff editor, producer and cameraman for the Today Show, Dan has traveled across the globe, covering some of the biggest news stories of the last twenty years. Currently, he contributes regular Op Ed and My Word articles for the Orlando Sentinel, and writes a monthly column for the Homeless Coalition of Central Florida.