Stalking Protection Long Overdue

January 08, 1993

We used to resign ourselves to living with many things that are now viewed as intolerable -- second-hand cigarette smoke, racial slurs, sexual harassment and, now, stalking.

Thank heavens for this turnaround. Why shouldn't we can pass laws against these hurtful things?

Stalking, for example, has always been a great injustice in our justice system. Police have been powerless to arrest or charge people who threaten or follow us until they break a law, such as trespassing or inflicting assault. Those who suspect they are being stalked -- women, usually -- have little choice but to wait for the stalker to attack. Then an arrest can be made. By then, the victim also could be dead.

Annapolis Alderman Carl Snowden has proposed legislation that would make repeated pursuit or harassment a misdemeanor. It is a good idea whose time should have come long ago. It might even have saved Angie Meyers' life.

She was an Annapolis woman who, in the late 1970s, complained to police about being stalked by an old boyfriend. All the police could do was try to catch the stalker in the act. They never did. The man killed Ms. Meyers, then himself.

Considering that women have been primary victims of stalking, it's interesting that the few opponents of Mr. Snowden's bill, scheduled for a final vote Monday, are men who fear it will be used by women to make frivolous complaints. Nonsense.

The bill addresses repeated, non-consenting actions. The suitor who tries his luck by sending a love letter, or the fellow who inadvertently offends a female co-worker could not be charged under this statute.

Originally modeled after Prince George's County's new stalking law -- the only one in Maryland -- the Annapolis measure is even better because it copies language in a 1992 Michigan statute, possibly the toughest of the few such laws in the country. It defines examples of stalking behavior, making it easier to prosecute in court.

Several months ago, Annapolis pioneered the way in women's rights when the council passed Maryland's first local law prohibiting sexual harassment. The stalker bill solidifies the state capital's position as a leader in women's issues. State lawmakers, who plan to introduce statewide bills making stalking a felony, should follow suit.

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