By Senator Brian Frosh
Last year, more than 50 men visited a woman in Prince George’s County over a two-week period. The uninvited strangers arrived at all hours, day and night, some trying to force their way into her house. Each showed up expecting to have violent sex with her, and, in some instances, her children. Terrified for the safety of her family, she resorted to sitting up all night with a shotgun barrel trained on her front door. Her four children slept in the living room, too afraid to be alone in their beds.
All of these unwanted visitors claimed the woman had invited them to fulfill her fantasy or fetish to be sexually abused and assaulted. In fact, it was the victim’s ex-husband who had posted dozens of ads and social media messages to that effect, posing as the victim herself, and including her address and picture. The gruesome ads included requests like “Rape Me and My Daughters,” and offered her children to be violated for money.
This new trend in computer-facilitated crime is as horrific as it is simple. Thanks to the anonymity and wide reach of the Internet, any jealous ex, jilted lover, or jaded stalker can recruit an army of proxy rapists to assault their target. Unlike most conspirators, these recruiters and recruits never meet, never exchange anything of value, and may never even communicate directly at all.
The victim in Prince George's County had her life completely upended by her ex-husband's malicious solicitations. She was forced to beg website administrators to remove bogus postings, and eventually moved out of her home for fear of continued visits. Though her husband was eventually brought to justice, prosecutors were forced to cobble together a lengthy list of charges to accumulate a sentence that would fit this novel crime.
Though it can hardly be called a silver lining, this victim was spared from physical harm. The same cannot be said for the victim of Jebidiah James Stipe. In 2010, he created a fraudulent Craigslist ad that appeared to be from a former girlfriend. It included her Wyoming address, and requested that a "real aggressive man with no concern for women" fulfill her "rape fantasy." Ty Oliver McDowell answered the ad, forcing his way into the victim’s home and raping her at knifepoint.
Fortunately, we have the opportunity to stop Internet solicitations to sexual assault now, before anyone else in Maryland is victimized. By passing legislation to criminalize these deplorable acts, the Maryland General Assembly can give prosecutors the tools they need to bring the perpetrators to justice. In the 2014 session, Delegate Kathleen Dumais (D-15) and I will introduce legislation that will characterize such online solicitations a criminal act and impose a 20-year penalty.
Maryland should be a state where we work to halt the dangerous misuse of technology before tragedy befalls a neighbor, friend, or family member. Using the Internet for retaliation against another person, for the purpose of soliciting sexual assault, will not be tolerated. Offenders will be caught and punished. Information technology may continue to transform our lives for the better, but not if we allow criminals to be our most prolific innovators.
Senator Brian Frosh is the Chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee of the Maryland Senate. First elected to the General Assembly in 1986, Brian has served as Chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee since 2003, where he had helped shepherd landmark legislation codifying child advocacy centers, improving Maryland’s response to human trafficking, and expanding the tender years law to allow juries to hear more evidence from child victims of sexual abuse. Senator Frosh has been honored with a Justice for Children Award by the Maryland Children’s Alliance, a Special Recognition Award by the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, and the Champion for Children by the Department of Human Resources and Maryland State Bar Association.
This article appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of Frontline.