Elonis v. United States Ruling CAn Put Domestic Violence Victims at Risk

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Anthony Douglas Elonis in a case that greatly affects domestic violence victims that experience cyberstalking and online abuse. Elonis was convicted of cyberstalking after, while using a pseudonym, posting self-styled rap lyrics threatening his ex-wife, his co-workers, law enforcement agents and a kindergarten class.

Although Elonis’ ex-wife testified and expressed concern for her safety, the ruling of 8-1 agreed with Elonis’ claim that prosecutors should prove that the posts were “true threats.” It did not reflect on the First Amendment issue.

According to the Report to Congress on Stalking and Domestic Violence, released in May 2001, cyberstalking is a new concern. With the Internet being so accessible and low in cost, it is very appealing to utilize this tool as another means of control over domestic violence victims.

According to National Violence Against Women Survey, which defines stalking as involving instances where the victim felt a high level of fear: 

  •  Women are far more likely than men to be victims of stalking—nearly 80 percent of stalking victims are women.

  • Women are twice as likely as men to be victims of stalking by strangers and eight times as likely to be victims of stalking by intimate partners.

Stalking is a very serious and dangerous crime that can impact victims physically, psychologically and financially. Being that cyberstalking is a relatively new concept, it is clear in this most recent Supreme Court decision that the law, in its vague and broad nature, is not able to protect victims of domestic violence.

Becoming informed is essential to the conversation. Although Elonis sets things behind with a lack of recognition of this growing problem, only additional voices will put cyberstalking at the forefront.