HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey is calling for action on legislation to increase punishment for cyberstalkers.
The Combat Online Predators Act was inspired by the horrifying experience of a Pennsylvania teenager, Madison Zezzo.
“She has asked me to convey to you that stalking victims are haunted by their stalkers every day,” said Erin Zezzo, Madison’s mother.
Madison started getting strange messages from her friend’s dad when she was just 13 years old. The behavior escalated.
“No matter what our family did to prevent this man from continuing stalking our child, he would quickly alter his plan and continue his invasion on our lives,” Erin Zezzo said.
“Despite harassing her online by texting her sexually explicit messages, he pled guilty to only a misdemeanor stalking charge,” Pennsylvania Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm said. “He got probation and counseling.”
Her family says the system didn’t protect Madison. Three years later, they found thousands of altered images of her on the man’s social media profiles.
“He posted over 15,000 times — images, doctored images, explicit horrific images of Madison,” Toomey said.
The nightmare is what pushes Erin Zezzo to join Toomey in calling for change. His legislation would increase penalties for cyberstalkers who terrorize children.
“It increases it by five years if the victim is a minor,” Toomey said.
“Approximately 10 million children have access to the internet, and one in five of those children are solicited and exploited online,” Storm said.
Erin says online safety needs to be addressed immediately.
“We had a man who wanted to have sex with our child against her will,” Erin Zezzo said. “We had a man who publicly detailed these plans on social media, yet the conviction process was unbelievably difficult due to these outdated laws.”
Toomey is confident the Senate will pass his measure by the end of the legislative session.