Bronfein Family Law Clinic student-attorneys Denise Blake and Ryan Knopp testified in Annapolis on Feb. 11 before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in support of a bill that would change the definitions of “stalking” and “harassment.” In particular, the bill would add language to the state stalking statute that emphasizes the “serious emotional distress” that stalkers cause their targets. The bill also would repeal the requirement that the behavior be “malicious.”
The bill, SB 278, is sponsored by Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery County).
Blake and Knopp also submitted written testimony to the committee.
“We at the University of Baltimore Family Law Clinic represent Baltimore City residents seeking protection from domestic violence. … Because of the limitations in the current definition [of stalking], many of our clients are ineligible to seek relief from their stalkers. Our clients who have been subjected to stalking report constantly looking over their shoulders, changing their daily routines, leaving jobs or school, and living in a constant state of agitation due to stress, trauma and fear. While these clients suffer greatly, they are not necessarily able to show that they are in fear of death or other crimes … enumerated in our current stalking statute. They do, however, experience significant damage from stalking behaviors that undermines their ability to function in society. Being stalked is a terrifying, disruptive and traumatizing event that frequently causes serious emotional distress.”
The students’ written testimony also observed that several nearby states — Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia — have recognized the need to include protection for people who experience serious emotional distress from being stalked. In all, 30 states include language about emotional distress in their stalking or harassment statutes.