And not just featured- on the front cover. Cynthia Lifson is featured on and in The Daily Record under the powerful words “Halting Harassment.” A long-time advocate against domestic violence, Lifson recently testified in support of legislation that significantly broadened the definition of stalking. This legislation received the overwhelming support of the General Assembly and was officially signed by the Governor on May 19. The new law will go into effect on October 1.
While stalking has been a crime in Maryland for a number of years, the new law will prohibit a person from engaging in a malicious course of conduct in which the person intends to cause or knows or reasonably should have known, that the conduct would cause serious emotional distress in another. Until the passage of this new law, stalking was limited to a showing that the malicious course of conduct would place another in reasonable fear of: serious bodily injury; an assault in any degree; rape or sexual offense or attempted rape or sexual offense; false imprisonment; or death.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, identified and measured seven stalking behaviors that that would cause a reasonable person to feel serious emotional distress. These behaviors include:
- Making unwanted phone calls;
- Sending unsolicited or unwanted letters, e-mails, messages or texts;
- Following or spying on the victim;
- Showing up at places without a legitimate reason;
- Waiting at places for the victim;
- Leaving unwanted items, presents, or flowers;
- Posting information or spreading rumors about the victim on the internet, in a public place, or by word of mouth.
While these acts individually may not be criminal, collectively and repetitively these behaviors may cause a victim to fear for his or her safety or for the safety of a family member. These acts are further intensified in our age of instant communication through the internet.
The new law addresses what many see as the greatest impact on victims. These unwanted behaviors create fear, uncertainty, and ultimately chaos in the lives of those who are forced to re-organize their time and routines to protect themselves and their family members from a person whose behavior resembles the hunter tracking its prey. By broadening the definition of stalking, the law will increase the protection available to Maryland’s citizens.