Blumenthal Supports Violence Against Women Act, Introduces Bill to Curb Online Harassment, Abuse, and Criminal Facilitation

(Washington, DC) – Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today released the following statement in support of the 2011 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization and in support of a companion bill that he will introduce, the Internet Abuse, Stalking, and Domestic Violence Prevention Act of 2011 (“Internet Abuse Act”), to expand law enforcement tools for prosecuting criminals who use the internet as a tool for harassment, abuse, and the facilitation of and abusive crimes by third-parties:

“Domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking can be even more dangerous in the internet age – requiring broader, stronger protection in the Violence Against Women Act. I am proud to be a leading advocate of this landmark measure, and to propose new protections that update it against cyberstalking and impersonation,” Blumenthal said. “We must protect the thousands of women who fall victim every year to violent crimes facilitated by cyberstalking and impersonation- with consequences that are horrific and reprehensible. The Internet Abuse Act will empower law enforcement and protect victims from criminals who use the internet to intimidate, threaten, or injure them." 

Internet facilitation crimes, which often involve a perpetrator impersonating a victim or releasing information about a victim to a third party over the internet to enable violence, stalking, and abuse, have created new challenges for law enforcement officials and exposed gaps in criminal law.  The Internet Abuse Act creates new authority and modifies existing authority to ensure that federal law can fully reach this heinous conduct whenever it occurs. It has two primary components:

Updates to the Federal Online Harassment Statute

Expands current law to cover situations described by the Department of Justice in its 1999 report as “a cyberstalking situation where a person harasses or terrorizes another person by posting messages on a bulletin board or in a chat room encouraging others to harass or annoy another person.” Current federal law criminalizes anonymous, harassing communications directed at a specific victim but does not currently cover harassing communications that may not be directly received by a victim. This bill would fill this gap. The bill also protects free speech by preventing prosecutions based solely on a communications that merely “annoy” a recipient.

Criminalizing the Internet Facilitation of Crimes of Violence

Creates a new, narrow provision criminalizing the transmission of someone’s personally identifiable information in order to facilitate the violation of an existing federal domestic violence, stalking, or sexual offense.