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Missouri Lawmakers Mull Creation of ‘Cyberstalking’ Task Force

A proposal to create a cyberstalking task force is before state lawmakers for the third year in a row. The task force would be charged with developing best practices for preventing online harassment and for treating victims.

(TNS) — A proposal to create a cyber stalking task force is before state lawmakers for the third year in a row.

The " Stop Cyber stalking and Harassment Task Force" would be charged with developing best practices for preventing cyber stalking and harassment and for treating victims. It would also recommend law-enforcement training and tools, coordination between police departments, victims' rights and services and public education on the issue.

"This issue is extremely complex, with cases often crossing state lines," said bill sponsor Sen. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, at a Senate committee hearing Monday.

McCreery said she chose to continue work started by her predecessor, former state Sen. Jill Schupp, D- Creve Coeur, after meeting with several cyber stalking survivors.

The task force would consist of at least 16 members, including law enforcement, prosecutors, victims' advocates and state lawmakers.

Angela Vories, a cyber stalking victim of Robert Merkle, and Mark Kurkowski, a retired St. Louis Police detective who owns a harassment-prevention consulting business and who assisted Vories, are advocating for the proposal and spoke at the Monday committee hearing.

Vories said she crossed paths with her stalker, who was and still is a "complete stranger," at a public discussion and didn't share personal information or meet with him privately.

A month later, she started getting multiple, explicit rape threats. Only five years after the first threats did she receive a protective order, she said.

Merkle was eventually sentenced to nearly six years in prison for harassing and threatening multiple women.

Kurkowski said he has more than 30 years of experience related to domestic violence and stalking.

"I saw first-hand how Angela's stalker affected her physically, psychologically and emotionally," he said.

"Stalking is a perpetual victimization," said Kurkowski. "The majority of stalkers use and manipulate technology to monitor, watch, contact, control, threaten, sabotage, isolate and frighten victims."

This legislation is Senate Bill 1070.

©2024 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.