Bill aims to toughen VA laws on stalking

Bill aims to toughen VA laws on stalking

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia is reworking its stalking laws, as a bill making its way through the General Assembly would allow someone to press charges more easily, even if they aren't necessarily fearing for their life.

Currently in Virginia, someone would have to threaten to assault, or kill you, in order for their actions to be considered stalking, legally. Advocates say the change in Senate Bill 1297 would expand the definition of stalking to behaviors that would severely impacts your life, like obsessively following someone or hacking their emails.

Fatima Smith works with the YWCA of Richmond's program which aids victims of domestic types of abuse, including stalking.

"Going to the grocery store, picking up their children, getting their children from school... that looks and feels different for a survivor (person who is braving a stalking situation) because they are now questioning if their partner stalking them," said Smith.

Smith has years of experience counseling stalking victims, now commonly referred to as survivors, by advocates. Smith says stalkers have many tactics, not just verbal threats or repeatedly showing up where their target is. Stalkers hack phones, computers, email, install software that can follow keystrokes, or even plant GPS tracking systems. Offenders can stand across from someone's house every morning, watching as the person heads to work. However, these actions may not fit the technical, legal standard of "life threatening." This bill would change the stalking law to include conduct that is meant to "coerce, intimidate, or harass" another person.

"(Some stalking actions) may not be illegal, but we still recognize that if you are uncomfortable by the situation, we are here to help you with that," continued Smith.

Senate Bill 1297 has passed the Senate and is now making its way to the House.

The YWCA's help hotline takes about 5,000 calls a year. Counselors are available 24/7 to help callers navigate help, from emergency housing to hospital visits and other ways to deal with stalkers, or remove themselves, and their families, from abusive situations. That number is (804)-612-8626.

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