Vermont Offers New Protections to Stalking Victims, Social Workers

Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, signed into law new safety protections for social workers and for victims of stalking.

The legislation, S.154, takes effect July 1. It groups workers for the Vermont Department for Children and Families with police officers, first responders, and medical providers in terms of how threatening or assaulting one will bring added punishment over what an assault on another member of the public may bring.

"Social worker safety is paramount," said Trissie Casanova, a DCF worker.

The move follows last summer's shooting death of Lara Sobel, a DCF employee prosecutors say was murdered by a central Vermont mom enraged after losing child custody. While that may be an extreme case, Sobel's colleagues asked the Vermont Legislature for enhanced penalties for the other kinds of threats they experience.

"I've had my building threatened to be blown up, I've had people who were really angry with me waiting by my car at the end of the day, I've had things sent to my home," Casanova recalled. "I have been threatened to be killed. That shouldn't be part of your job description. And hopefully, this is going to serve as a deterrent to some that they can't behave in this manner."

The new law also modernizes Vermont's definition of stalking.

"I think it's a brand new day for victims and survivors," said one survivor of stalking, who asked necn not to use her name or broadcast her face.

The updated statutes outline what behaviors constitute stalking, and in a new acknowledgement, say fear or intimidation can come via social media, along with other means.

"I think it's been a long time coming," the survivor said in an interview with necn.

The Vermont woman said she is still distressed and fears for her physical safety after a decade of angry online messages and threats from an ex. The survivor said she believes the law should ease others' access to civil protection orders.

Advocates for stalking victims have insisted previously vague state definitions of stalking made civil protection orders harder to obtain through the courts.

"I think this has the potential to intervene earlier and give victims a little more peace of mind," the survivor said, adding that the law may give targets of stalking the feeling they are being heard by members of law enforcement.

Also Thursday, Shumlin authorized a million dollars in security upgrades to DCF buildings and other state offices under H.878. That legislation provides funding for a host of infrastructure upgrades and operational work around the state.

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