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Harassment law catches up to the digital age

Central New Yorkers trying to help victims of domestic violence are happy that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation that deals with the changing technology.

Vera House Executive Director Randi Bregman says the world of domestic violence and harassment has changed as technology allows people to become more plugged in.

"It used to be aggravated harassment was primarily making a phone call," Bregman explained. "Now it’s texting, Facebook messaging, email and the GPS piece."

She says harassment, especially by way of texting or Facebook, has changed the way some perpetrators make contact with victims.

"We literally have people who will get a thousand texts overnight, just a constant string of texts," Bregman said. “Answer me. Do you know what’s going to happen if you don’t answer me? Just all through the night. If you didn’t have that technology, it would take more energy even to pick up a phone and make a phone call, and wait for it to ring.”

So Bregman is happy with the legislation that addresses concerns about the use of GPS devices in stalking cases. It also brings harassment legislation up to date when it comes to technological forms of communication.

Bregman says the laws needed to change with the times.

“The in-person laws haven’t changed much in the last 20 years," Bregman explained. "And they work pretty well for us. But we’re constantly changing some of these technologically-based crimes to make sure we’re balancing free speech and trying to keep victims and survivors safe.”

Now that the law is up to date, Bregman says it's up to agencies like hers to make victims aware that it can be used as a tool by a perpetrator.

"I think people are so used to having their entire lives completely public," Bregman said. "That element of safety planning when your life is so public, we’re trying to work within the reality of their lives and what we know and understand about the potential risk.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.