About 60 percent of stalking victims aren't currently able to obtain a restraining order in Pennsylvania, according to numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Under current law, PA victims can only obtain one if their stalker is a relative or someone they dated.
An amendment that would make restraining orders available to victims of stranger stalking will face consideration in the PA House Judiciary Committee Tuesday. If passed, it will be attached to a bill that provides court-ordered protection to sexual assault victims.
The amendment is named after Sarah Pesi, from Rostraver, who became a victim of stalking at the age of 13. Sarah was a soccer referee for junior soccer league when an adult coach began stalking and harassing her. When Sarah’s family went to the authorities, they were told they could not obtain a restraining order because the stalker didn’t meet state qualifications.
Heather Arnett, CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation, said Pennsylvania is one of twelve states without a stranger stalking law.
“Sarah actually did the research and found that, if she had been successful in passing this legislation the first year it was introduced, which was three years ago, over these three years a million Pennsylvanians would have been protected,” Arnett said.
Under Pennsylvania law stalking is illegal, and a first offense is considered a “misdemeanor of the first degree,” meaning offenders can face up to five years of imprisonment.
Arnett said Sarah has been pushing the legislation for the past four years.
“It’s not enough just to have a bill introduced, there needs to be a lot of advocacy and education done,” said Arnett. “She has met with all of the members of the House Judiciary Committee, she’s met with many many members of the legislature, talking to them about this issue, educating their staffs about this issue, and really just being a consistent presence in Harrisburg.”
Arnett said they’ve optimistic about the amendment’s chances. If the amendment is added to Senate Bill 681, the committee will vote on the bill and, if it passes, send it to the House floor.