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Stalking would be the same crime, online or in person

Stalking is stalking, whether it is in person or online, and they will be treated as identical crimes if a bill presented in the Legislature is adopted.

Under current law, a person commits the crime of stalking if they repeatedly follow someone with the intent to intimidate and harass.

“Unfortunately, scholarly literature indicates that law enforcement has a tendency to downplay the behavior because the individual acts of stalking are not typically criminal on their own and do not appear threatening to someone who doesn't understand the context,” said Rep. Lauren Davis, D-Shoreline, the sponsor of HB 1696.

A person commits the crime of cyberstalking when they knowingly install electronic tracking devices on someone without consent.

Stalking is a gross misdemeanor but can be a felony under certain circumstances. These exceptions include when the perpetrator has already been convicted of stalking or if the stalking violates an existing protective order.

Cyberstalking is a gross misdemeanor as well, with certain circumstances classifying it as a felony as well.

Under the proposed bill, the criminal charges for cyberstalking would be the same as stalking — a gross misdemeanor and a class B felony under certain circumstances — and cyberstalking would fall under the crime of stalking rather than being its own crime.

If a victim is experiencing substantial emotional distress, it would count as one of the elements of crime for stalking under HB 1696.

Davis said former intimate partners are to blame for 94 percent of domestic violence homicides, and over half of those victims reported being stalked to police before the murder.

Contrary to popular belief, stalking in a physical and remote form are both equally predictive of violence, she said.

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