RALEIGH, N.C. — As of Dec. 1, there will be a new charge for victims who are subjected to unwanted fondling in North Carolina -- sexual battery.
Leonora Miller loves gardening at her Apex home, but after being assaulted twice outside her home, her joy has turned to fear. Last year, Tommy Holloway, a stranger, was convicted of assaulting her and making threatening phone calls. Last month, he was charged with assaulting her again.
"He leaped from the side and he jumped on me, literally, jumped on me," Miller said.
Miller used her thumbs to cut off his breathing and managed to get away.
"I really believe that unless God helped me, I would be a rape victim right now," he said.
But under current law, Apex police could only charge Holloway with simple assault, a misdemeanor that generally carries little or no jail time.
Under the new charge, it would make unwanted fondling a sex crime and carries with it more jail time.
"This is not a petty crime. It's not going to be overlooked and indeed, it will show on your record you committed a crime with a sexual intent," said Monika Johnson Hostler, of the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Miller hopes someday she can once again see her garden as a safe place.
"I don't want someone else to have to go through this," she said.
Holloway is charged with assault, breaking and entering and a probation violation.
North Carolina's law, like most states, is not tough on stalkers. Only 11 states in the country make stalking an automatic felony. In New York and Mississippi, stalking is a misdemeanor no matter how many offenses.
The remaining 38 states, including North Carolina, have complicated laws that could make stalking a felony. Factors for a tougher charge include the victim's age and the offender's record.