Chatham first-year attempts to change Pennsylvania stalking legislation


Photo courtesy of Sarah Pesi

Under current Pennsylvania law, approximately 60% of stalking victims are unable to obtain a protective order. PA stalking victims can only obtain a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) if their stalker is either a relative or a current or former intimate partner.

On Tuesday November 19, the PA House Judiciary Committee passed an amendment to SB681 that would allow victims of stranger stalking to obtain restraining orders. The amendment, also referred to as “Sarah’s Bill,” was written by first-year Sarah Pesi and will next be sent to the House floor for a vote.

Pesi drafted the bill at age 14 while attending Belle Vernon Area High School. When she was 12, Pesi held a job as a youth soccer referee. After an adult male coach began stalking and harassing her, Pesi contacted the police and was informed that she could not obtain a protective order because her stalker did not meet the PA state qualifications.

Pesi joined the Youth and Government organization at age 14, where she participated in a model legislative conference and learned how to draft a bill. When she was given the assignment to “pick something in Pennsylvania that frustrates you and that you want to change,” Pesi instantly knew what to write about. Pesi conducted extensive research on stalking and harassing, taking notes on laws from other states as well as data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

While Pesi’s bill successfully passed through the model legislature, she was not satisfied with just an imaginary law. The day after she finished her freshman year of high school, Pesi met with House Representative Ted Harhai, who agreed to sponsor Sarah’s Bill.

Six years later, Pesi is still working to get her legislation passed. “It definitely is difficult at times…it’s frustrating when you work so hard and only get part of what you want,” said Pesi. “But I would say even if I could help just one person, it would be worth it.” If the bill passes the upcoming House vote, it will then be sent to the Senate for approval. “Getting it past committee is a huge step because most bills die in committee.” said Pesi. As the bill progresses through various stages, Pesi recognizes that the success is truly a result of the group effort of all who have helped her along the way. Some major players who have made this possible include the Women and Girls Foundation ( who taught her essential advocacy skills) as well as people within the legislative system who have helped: Representative Ellis, Chairman Marsico, Representative Turzai, Mr. Dymek and the members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Chatham students can help support Sarah’s Bill by visiting and signing up for email alerts. The email updates are the best way to stay informed on the upcoming House vote and other events, as well as fill out action alerts.