Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking, put simply, is the use of the internet or other electronic means to stalk someone. It is the use of information and communications technology, particularly the Internet, by a person or group of people, to harass another. It often includes false accusations, monitoring the victims activities via the internet, sending threats, identity theft, damage to data or equipment, the sexual solicitation of minors and gathering information for harassment purposes. All in all, cyberstalking is relatively new. Decreasing expense & increased availability of computers/online services have more people than ever "logging onto" the Internet, making another form of contact subject to abuse by stalkers.

Cyberstalkers target their victims through chat rooms, message boards, discussion forums, and e-mail. It takes many forms such as: threatening or obscene e-mail, spamming (sending someone a multitude of junk e-mails), live chatroom harassment or “flaming”  (online verbal abuse), leaving improper (obscene, lewd, inflammatory, assaultive) messages on message boards or in guest books, sending worms or viruses, sending unsolicited e-mail, tracing another person's computer and Internet activity and electronic identity theft. Like stalking off-line, online stalking can be a terrifying experience for victims, placing them at risk of psychological trauma and possible physical harm. Many cyberstalkers do evolve into “real life” stalking in which a victim may experience abusive and excessive phone calls, vandalism, threatening or obscene mail, trespassing and physical assault.

If you are a Victim of Cyberstalking

  • Victims who are under the age of 18 should tell their parents or another adult they trust about any harassment and/or threats (see also Cyberbullying)
  • Experts suggest that in cases where the offender is known, victims should send the stalker a clear written warning. Specifically, victims should communicate that the contact is unwanted, and ask the perpetrator to cease sending communications of any kind. Victims should do this only once. Then, no matter the response, victims should under no circumstances ever communicate with the stalker again. Victims should save copies of this communication in both electronic and hard copy form.
  • If the harassment continues, the victim may wish to file a complaint with the stalker's Internet service provider, as well as with their own service provider. Many Internet service providers offer tools that filter or block communications from specific individuals.
  • As soon as individuals suspect they are victims of online harassment or cyberstalking, they should start collecting all evidence and document all contact made by the stalker. Save all e-mail, postings, or other communications in both electronic and hard-copy form. If possible, save all of the header information from e-mails and newsgroup postings. Record the dates and times of any contact with the stalker.
  • Victims may also want to start a log of each communication explaining the situation in more detail. Victims may want to document how the harassment is affecting their lives and what steps they have taken to stop the harassment.
  • Victims may want to file a report with local law enforcement or contact their local prosecutor's office to see what charges, if any, can be pursued. Victims should save copies of police reports and record all contact with law enforcement officials and the prosecutor's office.
  • Victims who are being continually harassed may want to consider changing their e-mail address, Internet service provider, a home phone number, and should examine the possibility of using encryption software or privacy protection programs. Any local computer store can offer a variety of protective software, options and suggestions. Victims may also want to learn how to use the filtering capabilities of email programs to block e-mails from certain addresses.
  • Furthermore, victims should contact online directory listings such as www.four11.com, www.switchboard.com, and www.whowhere.com to request removal from their directory.
  • Finally, under no circumstances should victims agree to meet with the perpetrator face to face to "work it out," or "talk." No contact should ever be made with the stalker. Meeting a stalker in person can be very dangerous.

Prevention Tips

  • Do not share personal information in public spaces anywhere online, nor give it to strangers, including in e-mail or chat rooms. Do not use your real name or nickname as your screen name or user ID. Pick a name that is gender- and -age-neutral. And do not post personal information as part of any user profiles.
  • Be extremely cautious about meeting online acquaintances in person. If you choose to meet, do so in a public place and take along a friend.
  • Make sure that your ISP and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) network have an acceptable use policy that prohibits cyberstalking. And if your network fails to respond to your complaints, consider switching to a provider that is more responsive to user complaints.
  • If a situation online becomes hostile, log off or surf elsewhere. If a situation places you in fear, contact a local law enforcement agency.

Additional Resources:

Your local prosecutor's office, law enforcement, or state Attorney General's office. Check in the Blue Pages of your local phone book under the appropriate section heading of either "Local Government," "County Government," or "State Government."

Borrowed, in part, from the National Centers for Victims of Crime Copyright © 2003
 

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