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New state law will help protect targets of stalkers

Some social problems, rooted in the psychological swamp of human nature, seem never to go away. Among them is the scourge of domestic violence, usually perpetrated against women by men who are filled with rage, driven by a compulsion to control, or who are just plain vicious.

Society, it seems, will always be grappling with that terrible issue and this month, Albany did, with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signing legislation making the use of electronic devices to follow someone with the intent of hurting them part of New York’s anti-stalking laws.

The law was championed by Sen. Timothy Kennedy and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, both D-Buffalo, and was spurred by the tragic murder of a West Seneca woman two years ago. Jackie Wisniewski was shot to death by Dr. Timothy V. Jorden Jr., her estranged boyfriend, in Erie County Medical Center. Jorden had surreptitiously installed a GPS tracking device on Wisniewski’s car. She found it but, fearful of his temper, did not file charges.

Under the new law, she wouldn’t have to. With it, police will be able to arrest stalkers for using GPS devices without the victim having to press charges or file an order of protection. That shifts the burden from victims, who might be reluctant to come forward, to law enforcement in stalking cases, the legislators said.

That’s an important change, and one that may help to keep victims of stalkers safer. Unfortunately, violations of the law qualify only as Class B misdemeanors. A previous version of the law was crafted as a felony, but was blocked in the Assembly, which can’t make up its mind how much it wants to serve the state’s women. That chamber, long controlled by Democrats, readily passes laws affirming abortion rights and equality issues, but when it comes to protecting them from violence, it gets squeamish.

Still, a misdemeanor is better than nothing. And the need for the law is reflected in the number of cases of domestic violence. In Erie County alone, more than 6,300 cases were reported in 2012, 4,000 of them filed by women. Plainly, this law will be put to use. Sadly, and just as plainly, it won’t mean the end of domestic violence.

That’s why governors, lawmakers, police, physicians, social service agencies, families and friends need to be alert. Violent, controlling people are not easily dissuaded from their natures. There will be more victims, brutalized by people who don’t care about the laws or who exploit loopholes that have yet to be closed. It’s nothing less than terrorism, conducted on an intimate basis and with the purpose of causing misery and even death. This law, at least, will help.