Each year, over one million women are stalked and 350,000 men. Stalking is a serious problem and can lead to dangerous consequences for the victim.
With the advent of the Internet, a new environment now exists for the cyberstalkers and online predator. Millions of children, teens and adults create billions of internet exchanges daily. With the addition of cell phone and text messaging, the daily exchange number reaches the billions. Digital technology, telecommunications and the cyberspace environment are now hunting grounds for online predators.
Cyberstalking was predicted as inevitable for 15 years, but only recently has parents, young people, and community agencies started to focus on this growing problem. To exemplify how this warning has been explained for well over a decade, the Department of Justice (hereafter “DOA”) authored and released the 1999 Report On Cyberstalking: A New Challenge For Law Enforcement And Industry.
12 years ago, the highly reputable Department of Justice (DOJ) published a report defining cyberstalking, the dangers to children and cyberstalking resources. In this report, the DOJ is not only thorough, but prophetic as well. They clearly stated the problems of cyberstalking and predicted the number of online predators would increase with each passing year.
It’s 12 years later, and the DOJ was correct in their predictions. Although the resources they provide are all highly reputable with excellent information, Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA), National Center for Victims of Crime, CyberAngels, and the DOJ’s National Cybercrime Training Partnership are four organizations with incredible resources and educational tools.
For those interested in furthering their knowledge base on cyberstalkers and online predators, the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (IACIS) is a reputable organization.
Their mission as stated at their web site is “IACIS® is an international volunteer non-profit corporation composed of law enforcement professionals dedicated to education in the field of forensic computer science. IACIS members represent Federal, State, Local and International Law Enforcement professionals. Regular IACIS members have been trained in the forensic science of seizing and processing computer systems.”
Although experts like the DOJ and IACIS work to apprehend online predators, the number of cyberstalkers will continue to grow and it must be the citizens themselves to learn how to reduce their potential for becoming a future victim.
The cyberstalker refers to a male, female or group of people who use the internet, e-mail, or any other electronic communications device to stalk another person. Stalking is defined as a behavior wherein a person willfully and repeatedly engages in conduct directed towards another person who, if known by the victim, can cause significant concern and fear. Stalking generally involves harassing or threatening behavior that an individual or group engages in repeatedly targeting a victim(s). Cyberstalking is the same, but includes the methods of intimidation and harassment via electronic communication.
Most stalking laws in the United States require the offender(s) to make a credible threat of violence against the victim. In addition to directly threatening the victim with harm, family members who are threatened may also be grounds for arrest. Depending on state laws, the alleged stalker’s course of conduct can constitute an implied threat. The National Center for Victims of Crime is a dedicated association, which can assist locating and defining state stalking laws and how to proceed.
While some stalking and cyberstalking conduct involving annoying or bothersome behavior falls short of illegal stalking, these behaviors may be a prelude to more intense stalking and violence. The goal is to treat these actions as serious and not to minimize. Although these behaviors could be defined as harassment, the time to become proactive is when knowledge of these actions becomes apparent.
Cyberstalkers are often motivated by negative emotions or serious psychological factors. Psychiatric illness, obsession fixations, revenge, hate, anger and jealousy are common affective states fueling the cyberstalker. At times, the victim may not even know or ever met the cyberstalker indicating another red flag of alert. Once aware of any indication of harassment or stalking has been initiated, the immediate next step is contacting local authorities. Although contacting local authorities may sound overblown or drastic, the potential outcome of not doing so may be far worse.
One of the Department of Justice’s recommended resources for investigating cyberstalking is the not for profit organization Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA). Their president, Ms. Jayne Hitchcock, is one of the countries premiere cyber bully and cybercrime experts. In 2010, WHOA released results from their decade long study on cyberstalking. 2010 Cyberstalking Statistics is a revealing study of survey information compiled over a ten-year period. The results from this report will motivate anyone who accesses and uses the internet on a regular basis.
The methods the cyberstalker engages in ranges from novice to advanced. The more advanced they are in new electronic technology, the more proficient they become at targeting their victim. One of the methods few victims are aware of used by the cyberstalker is called cyber or digital surveillance. Cyber surveillance has both positive and negative applications. In the wrong hands, cyber surveillance can be deadly.
Also called Digitally Mediated Surveillance (DMS), this advanced technology is becoming increasingly prevalent and more accessible by those seeking to secure their environment and those seeking to spy on others. Each time a person goes online, text messages, or uses anything else involving electronic communications, they produce a growing stream of personal digital data of interest to unseen others. As DMS becomes more accessible to the general population, the more careful unsuspecting victims will have to be.
A cyberstalker using cyber surveillance initially does not present a direct physical threat to his/her potential victim, but follows the victim’s online activity to gather information on their personal habits and contacts. After sufficient data is compiled, he/she begins to make threats and other forms of verbal intimidation. The anonymity provided to the cyberstalker by online interactions greatly reduces the probability of identification.
This veil of invisibility and low probability of identification makes cyberstalking far more common than physical stalking. Although cyberstalking might seem relatively harmless by the younger generation or veteran online users, it can easily evolve into psychological and emotional harm. As part of the evolution of cyberstalking and victim inactivity, the veiled hidden harassment may lead to actual physical stalking and/or physical/sexual assault.
Cyberstalkers and online predators target their victims via websites, chat rooms, discussion forums, message boards, blogs, email and texting. The availability of free email, website space and frequency of electronic communication usage provides the online predator with a digital footprint. Having access to this information along with the anonymity, the increase of cyberstalking in the form of harassment becomes as plain as day.
The cyberstalker starts by quickly doing a Google or search engine search using the person’s alias, real name, or email address or any other personal data. Other ways to compile personal information, which one would think innocuous, is by researching a victim’s public profile available at any social media site like Facebook or MySpace.
Cyberstalking is a quickly growing form of computer related crime in communities across the country. Cyberstalking is when a person is followed, monitored, harassed and pursued online. Whether the victim is aware or not, their privacy is invaded, their every move is watched and their personal information is slowly compiled. Once aware the stalking is occurring, this form of harassment often disrupts the life of the victim and leaves them feeling very afraid, threatened and worried.
Cyberstalking usually occurs with women stalked by men, but women at greater rates are increasingly stalking men. Present numbers estimate the gender ratio at 3-1 with women being stalked three times as much. One of the fastest growing segments of victims is children stalked by adult predators, pedophiles and their peer groups.
The obvious difference between physical stalking and cyberstalking is that the cyberstalker does not have to open his front door. Everything he/she does can be done online and veiled by anonymity. Cyberstalkers need not have to leave their home to find and harass their targets. Having this anonymity, they have no fear of physical violence or the victim’s loved ones since they cannot be physically touched in cyberspace. They also feel confident legal intervention is not likely given their invisibility.
Essentially, they have a free ticket to act and behave without repercussions. Given this cloak preventing identification, they may be thousands of miles away, as close as a neighbor or even closer being a relative. Their unknown potential, geographic whereabouts or motivations can be a chilling experience.
Cyberstalking and the online predators who engage in these behaviors are growing with every passing year. Although organizations like the Department of Justice and the National Center for Victims of Crime work diligently to educate the public, society remains ignorant to the predators lurking within cyberspace. The reasoning for the public’s refusal for educating themselves and/or children likely lies in honest denial. By not affirming these dangers are real, people don’t have to be concerned or set boundaries on the information they reveal online.
Cyberstalkers and online predators rely on the public not becoming educated on the necessary steps involved to reduce their potential of becoming the predator’s next target. The steps needed for online protection and reasonable security is quite easy and straightforward. Educate yourself and loved ones on the predator profile, set boundaries on personal information disclosed online, refrain from engaging in social exchanges with people you don’t know, familiarize yourself with local laws on cyber harassment, and always have local law enforcement’s contact information at hand.