Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today gave the following statement on the House floor in support of the Combat Online Predators Act (H.R. 4203). This bill protects children by combating the stalking and cyberstalking of minors.

Chairman Goodlatte: Today, I am pleased we are voting on H.R. 4203, the Combat Online Predators Act.  This legislation increases the maximum criminal penalty for those who stalk children and obligates the Department of Justice to report best practices for prosecuting stalking laws at the state and local levels.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, approximately 7.5 million people are stalked each year.  While stalking may not involve physical harm, the psychological effects from being stalked can be just as severe.  Stalking victims live in constant fear of violence. They fear it will never stop. In fact, the prevalence of anxiety, insomnia, social dysfunction, and severe depression is much higher among stalking victims than the general population.

About half of all victims of stalking indicated that they were stalked before the age of 25.  And about 14% of female victims and 16% of male victims experienced stalking between the ages of 11 and 17.

Mr. Speaker, the unfortunate reality is that, in the Internet age, stalking our nation’s youth has become easier for predators.  Predators can now harass children in their own homes—the very places our children should be safest—and can even do so anonymously.

H.R. 4203 recognizes that those who stalk minors should be subject to greater criminal penalties.  The bill increases the maximum allowable prison sentence penalty by five years in cases in which the victim is a minor.  No child should have to live in constant fear for their own safety, and this bill will further deter predators from such conduct.

Stalking cases are also notoriously difficult to prosecute, because they require showing repeated, intentional harassment.  It is important for prosecutors to be able to reference best practices in investigation and prosecuting these cases.  Therefore, H.R. 4203 requires the Attorney General to issue a report identifying best practices in bringing these cases.

I would like to thank the lead sponsor of this bill, Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.  This bill was approved with unanimous, bipartisan support by the House Judiciary Committee, and I urge my colleagues in the House to support this legislation.

I reserve the balance of my time.