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As the use of computers for communication has increased, so have cases of "cyberstalking." A 1999 report by the U.S. Attorney General called cyberstalking a growing problem. After noting the number of people with access to the Internet, the report states, "Assuming the proportion of cyberstalking victims is even a fraction of the proportion of persons who have been the victims of offline stalking within the preceding 12 months, there may be potentially tens or even hundreds of thousands of victims of recent cyberstalking incidents in the United States."53

Many stalking laws are broad enough to encompass stalking via e-mail or other electronic communication, defining the prohibited conduct in terms of "communication," "harassment," or "threats" without specifying the means of such behavior. Others have specifically defined stalking via e-mail within their stalking or harassment statute.

For example, California recently amended its stalking law to expressly include stalking via the Internet.54 Under California law, a person commits stalking if he or she "willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows or harasses another person and . . . makes a credible threat with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her immediate family." The term "credible threat" includes "that performed through the use of an electronic communication device, or a threat implied by a pattern of conduct or a combination of verbal, written, or electronically communicated statements." "Electronic communication device" includes "telephones, cellular phones, computers, video recorders, fax machines, or pagers."

Bail Restrictions

States are grappling with the matter of pretrial release of people charged with stalking. Because stalkers often remain dangerous after being charged with a crime, states have sought means to protect victims at the pretrial stage. Many states permit the court to enter a no-contact order as a condition of pretrial release. 55 A few give the court discretion to deny bail. For example, Illinois allows a court to deny bail when the court, after a hearing, "determines that the release of the defendant would pose a real and present threat to the physical safety of the alleged victim of the offense and denial of . . . bail . . . is necessary to prevent fulfillment of the threat upon which the charge is based."56

Lifetime Protection Orders

Stalkers frequently remain obsessed with their targets for years. Requiring victims to file for a new protective order every few years can be unduly burdensome. Because victims may have attempted to conceal their whereabouts from the stalkers, reapplying for a protective order may inadvertently reconnect stalkers with their victims. In New Jersey, this problem has been alleviated. A conviction for stalking in that state operates as an application for a permanent restraining order. The order may be dissolved on application of the victim.57

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Strengthening Antistalking Statutes, Legal Series Bulletin #1
January 2002
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