By Teresa Anderson and Matthew Harwood
Victimized ESPN reporter Erin Andrews this week urged Congress to pass antistalking legislation that would toughen sentencing and allow law enforcement to pursue stalking undertaken via cell phone or the Internet.
Victimized ESPN reporter Erin Andrews this week urged Congress to pass antistalking legislation that would toughen sentencing for those convicted of stalking and allow law enforcement to pursue stalking undertaken via cell phone or the Internet.
"I need people to know how serious this is and that laws need to be tougher," she said at a press conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday flanked by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Congresswomen Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Virginia Fox (R-NC). "Penalties need to be stiffened."
Andrews' activism comes after Michael Barrett, an Illinois insurance executive, was sentenced to 2½ years in prison in March for stalking the sports reporter and "Dancing With the Stars" contestant. Barret pled guilty and admitted to renting hotel rooms next to Andrews three times and then covertly recording Andrews in the nude twice through hotel peepholes with his cell phone. He later posted the videos online after trying to sell them to TMZ, a celebrity gossip site, according to the Associated Press.
The Simplifying the Ambiguous Law Keeping Everyone Reliably Safe or STALKER Act (H.R. 5662 ), introduced by Rep. Sanchez would broaden the definition of stalking to allow law enforcement to pursue stalking undertaken via cell phone or the Internet. The bill has already been approved by the House of Representatives, but the Senate has not announced whether it will consider the bill. Sen. Klobuchar said she would introduce a Senate version and is shopping for cosponsors to increase its likelihood of passage, reports USA Today.
The legislation seeks to amend existing law to define stalking as engaging in “any conduct in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce” with the “intent to kill, physically injure, harass, or intimidate” another person. The intentionally vague definition will give the broadest latitude to law enforcement to pursue cyberstalking, electronic monitoring, or video surveillance, instances that are not covered under current law.
The bill would also impose stricter penalties for those convicted of stalking in certain circumstances. If the stalking occurs in violation of a protection order, the imposed prison sentence would be increased by five years. If the victim is under the age of 18, the sentence would be increased by 10 years.
"I'm here to give this law some teeth," Andrews said.
Andrews, who stays in about 250 hotels a year because of her work, said her ordeal has changed the way she travels.
"One thing I've learned is you don't really talk about too much about how you travel anymore," Andrews told a press conference. "Information is very accessible."
The incident could also change hotel security. Two weeks ago, Andrews sued Marriott International Inc. and Radisson Hotels International Inc. for helping Barrett commit the crime. "Not only did the hotels confirm that Ms. Andrews was intending to register as a guest, but they also released, without Ms. Andrews' consent, her room number. The hotels then provided Michael David Barrett a hotel room immediately adjacent to hers," the statement from law firm Greene, Broilett & Wheeler said, according to CNN.com.
(For more hotel security tips, see the July cover story "Roadmap to a Safe Stay " or the April cover story "Ensuring an Uneventful Stay .")
"Although I'll never be able to fully erase the impact that this invasion of privacy has had upon me and my family, I do hope that my experience will cause the hospitality industry to be more vigilant in protecting its guests from the time they reserve a hotel room until they check out," Andrews said in a statement.
♦ Photo of peephole by bdjsb7/Flickr