When the 122th United States Congress adjourned last week without reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which expired on January 2nd, it went largely unreported amongst the media fiscal cliff mania. Congressional inaction will have a broader effect than anticipated, but don’t expect to find any of that in the MSM, as they waste time reporting on the Princess Kate portrait.
It was this act that amended, among other federal laws, the Communications Decency Act — in particular, the VAWA updated the CDA to include cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and cyberharassment. (The term”bullying” applies to minors, and “harassment” to adults, although anyone who engages in it has a maturity issue.) The amendment provided gender-neutral protections from anonymous attacks via computers and all electronic communication devices. Here’s a brief explanation of the amendment:
TITLE 47 UNITED STATES CODE > CHAPTER 5 > SUBCHAPTER II > Part I > § 223
Signed into law by President Bush on Jan. 5, 2006, section 113 of VAWA prohibits anyone from using a telephone or telecommunications device “w/o disclosing his identity and w/ the intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person.” Under VAWA a telecommunications device is defined as “any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the INTERNET.” Penalties for violating the act include 2 years in prison and fines. (citation: Topix)
This protection was lost last week.
While most states have passed somewhat similar laws, they are frequently found to be too broad or too narrow. For example, Michigan law requires the attacker to show a pattern of behavior of two or more unauthorized contacts — apparently one threat or attempted intimidation isn’t enough.
Even with solid protections at both the state and federal level, few law enforcement agencies fully grasp or enforce existing statute, leaving targets of cyber-abuse to fend for themselves.