Here are some of my thoughts on this week’s Supreme Court ruling on Counterman v. Colorado. I’m not an attorney and do not claim to know the intricacies of every law in the US that pertains to stalking and all the behaviors that could be considered in stalking cases.
I experienced cyberstalking and harassment for years. At my harasser’s sentencing in 2017, the judge shared it was the most egregious case he reviewed in his judicial career. At the same time, I learned that my harasser had prior convictions for same and similar offenses.
While the judge noted that my harasser suffered from mental health issues and difficulty with self-regulation, she was sentenced to jail and probation, including a ban from accessing the internet. Her harmful intent was clear, and she was a repeat offender.
My harasser used multiple aliases and sent me hundreds of messages, even after I sent her one message telling her not to contact me, which was great advice I received from one of the first law enforcement officers who reviewed the evidence.
At that time, I had only received dozens of messages from one account. I tried to ignore the messages at first. When the insults turned into threats of violence, including following me around and hiring someone to do the same, I feared for my safety and contacted the police.
It boggled my mind that I would need to tell someone to stop sending me threatening messages for their behavior to possibly be considered harassment. It still boggles my mind. Fortunately, I’m now able to share this information with others in similar situations.
This week, the Supreme Court overturned the Counterman v. Colorado stalking conviction of a man who was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison and sent the case back to the Colorado courts, sharing a new view on what speech is protected and what speech is a threat.
As University of Miami law professor and @CCRInitiative president Mary Anne Franks (@ma_franks) explained in a recent NPR interview, this ruling means that a perpetrator could defend their behavior by saying and proving that in their mind their communication was welcome.
.@ma_franks added that with this decision the court did not take seriously the reality of stalking, how it’s underenforced, and the types of lives victims of stalking are resigned to, including how “their freedom of expression and their physical safety is threatened.”
My life completely changed the moment my harasser began tormenting me. It will never return to the way it was before. My experience with her constant abuse greatly impacted and still impacts many areas of my life.
Other victims, mostly women, who reached out to me over the years have had mixed results in pursuing cases against stalkers and harassers. It can be difficult to hone in on accounts’ devices and connect the devices with perpetrators. It can be difficult to navigate systems.
Not one of these victims thought their perpetrators considered the repeat nonconsensual communication as welcomed. Most victims do not communicate with their stalkers or stop communicating with them when the situation is clear, yet abusers continue.
Changing the standard of what speech is a threat and what is protected in this fashion is dangerous. Putting additional burdens on victims, prosecutors, and law enforcement to pursue cases of people who are actively instilling fear and tormenting victims is absurd.
In addition, this ruling may further deter victims from reporting, leading them to believe they have no choice but to endure abuse and live in constant fear for their safety. It also may give some perpetrators a false sense of acceptability of their behavior.
I don’t know if this new difference in the standard of protected speech would have made an impact in my case. I informed my harasser that her contact was unwanted, and it was clear that my harasser’s intent was to intimidate me, threaten me, and cause me harm.
I believe in the importance of free speech. It’s affording me the opportunity to share my opposing view to a decision of the highest court in the US. I do not, however, believe that free speech can be without some limitations, especially when speech clearly causes harm.
Here are two articles with expert opinions about the #SCOTUS decision’s possible impact: https://twitter.com/AndrewGumbel/status/1674073559151558657 https://twitter.com/MiamiLawSchool/status/1674508102203240462
Thank you, @ma_franks @DanielleCitron @CCRInitiative @AnnieSeifullah @lenoraclaire
Supreme Court Ruling on Counterman v. Colorado was originally tweeted by Lisa-Michelle Kucharz on June 30, 2023.