Advocates fear ripple effects for other cases as court rules a perpetrator must be aware of the impact of their behavior

A US supreme court ruling making it more difficult to prosecute stalking cases provoked widespread alarm on Tuesday, as lawyers, activists and high-profile stalking victims accused the justices of failing to understand the rapidly growing threat of obsessive online bullying and letting down millions of women forced to live in fear of ex-partners and deranged admirers.

In a 7-2 decision, the supreme court threw out the conviction of a cyberbully in Colorado who became obsessed with a singer he had never met and to whom he sent hundreds of threatening messages. The majority opinion, written by the liberal justice Elena Kagan, argued that stalking victims need to prove not just that they have a legitimate reason to feel threatened – as anti-stalking laws in Colorado and many other states require – but also that the perpetrator has some awareness of the impact of their behavior.

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