It’s a bill! – HB 8 – And it’s on the schedule!

I realize this information will reveal a lot about me; however, it feels like the time to break my anonymity.

While I haven’t heard anything official about testifying, a search of the Maryland General Assembly’s website gave me the good news I’ve been waiting for – the draft bill I submitted and have been working to revise with a bill writer has been officially made a bill and has been given a number. It is on the scheduled to go before the Judiciary committee on 19 January.  To say I am astounded would be a gross understatement.  This is really happening. I made this happen. Wow.

HB 8

Delegate Washington

CRIMES – ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION – HARASSMENT

Changing the prohibition against using electronic mail with the intent to harass to prohibit engaging in electronic communication with the intent to harass; changing the defined term “electronic mail” to “electronic communication” and altering the definition; and establishing penalties for a second or subsequent violation of the Act.

EFFECTIVE OCTOBER 1, 2012 CR, § 3-805 – amended Assigned to: Judiciary

http://mlis.state.md.us/2012rs/CurrentStatusReport/HouseCurrentStatusReport.pdf

http://mlis.state.md.us/2012rs/synopsis/syh_new.pdf

THURSDAY JANUARY 19, 2012

                                  1:00 P.M.

  HB 4      Del Cardin, et    Baltimore County - Orphans' Court Judges -
            al                Qualifications
  HB 8 Del Washington Crimes - Electronic Communication - Harassment
  HB 39     Del Smigiel       State and Local Govt - Officials and General
                              Assembly Mbrs - Legislative Privilege Exception

  NOTE:  To Be Announced.
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FEDERAL LEGISLATION!

This just in from the Chief Counsel…

 

“Just yesterday Senator Leahy introduced legislation to reauthorize the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  The legislation includes Sec. 107. Criminal provision relating to stalking, including cyberstalking.   This section updates the federal anti-stalking statute to capture more modern forms of communication that perpetrators use to stalk their victims.  I have attached the draft language for this new definition for your reference:

 

SEC. 107. CRIMINAL PROVISION RELATING TO STALKING,

INCLUDING CYBERSTALKING.

 

3 Section 2261A of title 18, United States Code, is

4 amended to read as follows:

 

‘‘§ 2261A. Stalking

 

6 ‘‘Whoever—

 

7        ‘‘(1) travels in interstate or foreign commerce

8 or is present within the special maritime and

9 territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or enters or

10 leaves Indian country, with the intent to kill, injure,

11 harass, intimidate, or place under surveillance with

12 intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another

13 person, and in the course of, or as a result of, such

14 travel or presence engages in conduct that—

15               ‘‘(A) places that person in reasonable fear

16 of the death of, or serious bodily injury to—

17                         ‘‘(i) that person;

18                         ‘‘(ii) an immediate family member (as

19               defined in section 115) of that person; or

20                         ‘‘(iii) a spouse or intimate partner of

21               that person; or

22               ‘‘(B) causes or attempts to cause or would

23 be reasonably expected to cause substantial

24 emotional distress to a person described in

25 clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of subparagraph (A); or

 

JEN11D75 S.L.C.

 

1        ‘‘(2) with the intent to kill, injure, harass, in

2 intimidate, or place under surveillance with intent to

3 kill, injure, harass, or intimidate another person,

4 uses the mail, any interactive computer service or

5 electronic communication service or electronic

6 communication system of interstate commerce, or any

7 other facility of interstate or foreign commerce to

8 engage in a course of conduct that—

9                 ‘‘(A) places that person in reasonable fear

10 of the death of or serious bodily injury to a

11 person described in clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of

12 paragraph (1)(A); or

13               ‘‘(B) causes or attempts to cause or would

14 be reasonably expected to cause substantial

15 emotional distress to a person described in

16 clause (i), (ii), or (iii) of paragraph (1)(A),

17 shall be punished as provided in section 2261(b) of

18 this title.’’.

 

See attached press release:

 

http://leahy.senate.gov/press/press_releases/release/?id=0AA06EE7-D9B4-4E40-B635-9D46832A3CBC

 

Legislative history:

 

13. S.1925 : A bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.
Sponsor: Sen Leahy, Patrick J. [VT] (introduced 11/30/2011)      Cosponsors (1)
Committees: Senate Judiciary
Latest Major Action: 11/30/2011 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.

 

US Department of Justice – Violence Against Women Act Office – Stalking Section

 

http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/aboutstalking.htm

 

Also, can you please copy Sen. <insert name of state senator for my district> legislative aide on your reply to this e-mail, so that we are connected as we work on federal and state legislation?  Thanks.”

 

Building a Coalition

Another representative from another Senator’s office contacted me today. Oh, but not ‘just another representative’ – the Chief Counsel rang me up! And he was brimming with advice about what I need to do next in order to see these bills into legislation.

He also reassured me that, so far, I am on the right track and getting the support of the right people.

And…he is going to “do some additional research into federal legislation on this issue as well as the upcoming Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) now pending in Congress”

Federal. Legislation.

Congress.

Wow. I am completely overwhelmed. You see, to be even more brutally honest than I already have been, I was so inept regarding all things political, legislative, legal, criminal, etc, that I had to go to You Tube and watch the Schoolhouse Rock “How a Bill Becomes a Law: I’m Just a Bill” episode. Then I started reading about the legislative process and writing bills and lobbying. I studied statutes – the format, the language. I took copious notes and bookmarked dozens of reference links. While I’m far from qualified for a position in politics, I can talk the talk now and actually understand what I’m saying. Never before has the phrase, “I am always learning” been more apt.

It has been terrifying putting myself out there as I have over the past three months. I don’t do vulnerable well, but in order to be heard, I had to take this risk. I would like to say I am glad I did, but I am going to reserve that until these bills are made laws. Then I’ll be glad. Make no mistake, I am perfectly thrilled that I’ve come this far. And exceptionally motivated to push further. But I simply won’t be happy until I see this to its fruition.

Now to build a coalition (Once I look up the definition of ‘coalition’).

I also have to contemplate just how badly that County Cop failed me. If I feel it was significant, I can file a complaint. I haven’t thought of that. But I am glad I didn’t – in my fury I would have gone overboard, I’m sure. Now that I have let some of my anger go, I can approach that rather delicate issue more rationally. It is his livelihood, after all. Do I want to disrupt his as mine has been disrupted?

I’ve Been Asked to Testify

Black Friday, indeed…as the retail stores climb their way out of the red and into the black, so do I pull myself out of despair.

My State Senator contacted me today. Called my cell phone. On Black Friday.

On 19 November I sent him an email explaining my case and asking for a meeting to propose new legislation. I sent the same email to his Delegates as well. You know…just in case…

I wrote:

“Senator [name],

I am the victim of online harassment and online stalking. Unfortunately, due to the current lack of legislation regarding these offenses, my harasser/stalker will go unpunished.

I have met with a legislative aide from US Senator [name]’s office ([name]) who suggested I contact you.

In 2010, when the harassment began, I quickly sought the help of the [local] county police. The officer who took my report simply said there was nothing he could do.

My stalker began harassing me again in September 2011. Although I have been diligently researching resources and found the [name] State Computer Crimes Unit, the Trooper who took my case can not assist me in pressing criminal charges. There are simply too many weaknesses in the current legislation.

Senator, I would like to talk to you about passing legislation that will protect victims of online harassment and online stalking.

I have been researching the current legislation regarding online harassment and online stalking and drafted two bills, one proposing legislation for Digital Impersonation and the other amending the current Online Stalking statutes. Also, I am working with the Trooper from the Computer Crimes Division of the [name] State Police to draft a bill amending the current online harassment statutes.

I’d like to discuss these draft bills with you and discuss working together to move them into legislation.

As a result of the harassment I’ve experienced, I have had to go on medical leave from work (I am a [title] of [a subject] at [a school], so I am available to meet with you on the day and at the time that is most convenient for you.

I can be reached at [123-456-7890] or at [DeliaV@gmail.com].

For detailed information about my case, please see my blog which is maintained under a pseudonym to protect myself and my children: www.deliav.com. If you are interested in reading my professional writing, please see my blog at [URL]. For updates regarding my case, I can be followed on Twitter: @deliavenditti

Thank you for your time and consideration,
~[Delia Venditti]”

As it turns out, this issue was to go to legislation twice before…for some reason, one in which I will learn, it was swept to the side. As a result, My State Senator is very motivated and fully supports my issue.

In fact, he asked me if I would testify before Congress.

So I’ll testify. Can I get an A-men?

His Chief of Staff will be contacting me sometime during the first two weeks of December. We will then meet to revise my draft bills and prepare them to go before Congress.

The new session starts in January.

Can I get a Hell-yeah?

Progress

It has been an emotionally exhausting few days. I needed time to process my thoughts about my meeting with my State Senator’s Legislative Aide.

The meeting went well. I presented 2 draft bills, one that mirrors New York’s recent legislation that makes Digital Impersonation a crime http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S4015A-2011 .

The other draft bill proposes an Online Stalking Law. Currently, most legislation does not separate Stalking from Online Stalking, so Online Stalkers are not prosecuted, as their behaviors fall slightly outside the limits of the law.

I also discussed the draft bill I am working on to strengthen my State’s Online Harassment laws.

The aide with whom I met was eager to assist me in researching current legislation and other groups who may be working on similar legislation. She told me she would put my proposals in front of my State Senator ‘soon.’

I contacted my other State Senator to request a meeting as well.

Now the hard work begins. It’s time to begin a grassroots lobbying effort. I need to build a voice. The constituency needs to push their local government, so senators will join and co-sponsor my bills. I also need to, somehow, reach out to the judiciary committee.

How the hell am I going to do this? I’ve been asking myself that question for the past couple of days. I have researched grassroots lobbying efforts, which has given me ideas and a plan.

Right now, I am drafting emails, letters and a petition that can be circulated electronically and sent to local and state government officials. I am making a list of the local women’s groups that I plan to contact and ask for their support. Not only do I need individual voices, I need groups to join the push.

Please subscribe to this blog as a show of solidarity.

 

Why I Fight

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/angie-varona-14-year-unwillingly-internet-sex-symbol/comments?type=story&id=14882768#.TrvgumBuFp8

My father sent me an email this morning:

“go to abc news night line wed. (11/09/11) go to the Angie Varona story. dad”

I knew it would be somehow connected to my case and the lobbying efforts I have begun, so I Googled it and read her story.

This is why I am fighting. While there is debate over her intentions – she uploaded the pictures to a public site (Photo Bucket), the pictures were in circulation for three years – the bottom line is this, she is a victim. What started as an all-too-common practice, a very sad practice that is destroying our adolescent girls, of showcasing her body via electronic means, exploded into harassment, stalking, exploitation and victimization.

That’s what matters. That is the only thing that matters. A young girl, following a dangerous yet wildly popular social trend, in that adolescent mindset that believes they are invincible, has been tortured.

And it seems that laws couldn’t help her. I say seems because I haven’t researched the full story to learn what legal means she has pursued. My uneducated guess is the current legislation failed her.

Stop judging. It’s time to protect our girls, our women and not only teach them that their behaviors are self-exploitation, but also enact legislation to prosecute the people who are perpetrating this harassment and further exploitation.

I Got a Meeting

I received an email today from a Legislative Aide who works for my State Senator.  She is willing to meet with me to discuss new legislation to protect victims of online stalking. I’ll be going to DC on November 8th to get the legislative ball rolling.

I am ready. I have been researching new legislation in other states and have found that New York, Texas and California have enacted laws that make impersonating someone online a crime.

There has been a case in New Jersey I’ve been following that is similar to a part of my case: http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011311030018 What is significant is that a judge felt the defendant’s actions were criminal enough to go to trial even though New Jersey doesn’t have an impersonation law in place.

I feel honored to have the opportunity to speak for the rights of so many victims of online stalking and harassment.

Small Victories

The past couple of weeks have been difficult. This post-traumatic thing I got going on weighs me down. Some days, I sink in to the sadness because I just can’t escape the fear and hopelessness. Other days, I stare at things around me blankly, disassociated from feelings and experiencing nothing.

It sucks.

Mercifully there are little events that pull me from my macabre reverie.

Trooper came through for me once again. On Monday he emailed me to let me know he followed up with the state police in my stalker’s town. The sergeant there thought my case significant enough for further action that he forwarded it to the prosecutor’s office. I should hear something next week. The gesture of keeping me informed felt warm. I held my hands to the warmth as I used to hold them to the coal-burning stove in my childhood home and enjoyed the comfort of having someone on my side.

Yesterday my copyright certificate arrived in the mail. Reading the certificate flushed me with empowerment. I now have legal ownership of those images, which gave me a renewed sense of ownership of self. I feel less helpless. No one can do anything with those images without my permission. I am, once again, the gatekeeper of my body. I put my foot down and outsmarted him. My intelligence and strength saved me.

Small victories. Delicious strength. Today I’ll line my eyes with kohl black, warrior style, and smile at everyone I see.

 

Enter the Government

I’ve been drafting a bill to propose new legislation that would make it a crime for people to harass and stalk others online – this includes impersonating someone online “with the intent to [harass/alarm/annoy]” (CR-3803). The research I have done so far has revealed many holes in the current legislation, so my bill proposes to close those holes and provide protection to victims of this harassment.

I contacted my State’s Senator and requested a meeting. Into the belly of the beast go I.

I can expect a reply in 2-4 weeks – Senators are busy people, after all. But that’s just fine with me. The better prepared I am to ask for support of my bill, the better my chances of getting the support.

In the meantime, Trooper has contacted the police in my stalker’s town. He is going to ask them to pay my stalker a visit and order him to leave me alone. If they don’t agree to help, he is going to contact the State police and ask them. I can’t imagine that any law enforcement official would deny this request…then again, law enforcement officials have been less than upstanding thus far.

The past two days have been crushing. I’ve cried a lot and have felt utterly hopeless. Slowly I am regaining my desire to fight. The request to my Senator was a big step. It proved to me that I possess an ember of hope.

At his Mercy

Trooper called. The State’s Attorney can’t do anything. The 1-year statute of limitations is law. There is no way around that. So Officer G- completely dropped the ball. He failed miserably to both protect and serve. As a result, no criminal charges will be pressed. My stalker will get away with harassing and exploiting me.

I am devastated. Hopeless. Tired.

It is astounding that someone can assume the identity of another and harass, exploit and put that person in danger and it is not considered a crime. Perfectly legal to torture another human being.

That will change. Once I recover from this disappointment, I’ll continue the process of bill writing and getting new legislation passed. But for now I need to shut down.