The explosive growth in Internet use, as well as in other forms of electronic communications has brought with it an equal explosion in the misuse of these new forms of communication, including the crime of cyberstalking. Cyberstalking causes fear, and it is characterized by a predator pursuing a target through online or electronic means of communication.
There are many variations of cyberstalking, some seem less serious but can have severe consequences:
- Sending vulgar greeting cards
- Creating websites about the target
- Posting photos of the target online
- Attacking their computer with viruses or excessive spamming
- Using programs that track online activity against a victim to record their online history and confidential information including passwords
- Sending threatening, harassing or obscene messages to the victim’s friends, family, and coworkers through email, texts, live chat, message boards or online guest books
Vicious on-line statements and rumors may also be used against the victim. Any form of harassment sent by electronic communication, including cell phones, is also classified as cyber-stalking; cyberstalking is not limited to the internet.
Many cyberstalking situations do evolve into off-line stalking, and a victim may experience abusive and excessive phone calls, vandalism, threatening or obscene mail, trespassing, and physical assault.
Cyberstalking and Domestic Violence Victims
Domestic violence victims are one of the most vulnerable groups to traditional stalking, so it’s no surprise they are vulnerable to cyber-stalking as well. In Canada, it appears that the primary motivation for stalking another person relates to a desire to control a former partner. It’s a myth that if women “just leaves” they will be okay. Cyberstalking provides astonishingly easy and cheap tools for an abuser to locate women who have tried to move away or go into hiding. Cyberstalking is a way for abusers to continue to maintain rigid control and instill fear into a domestic partner, even when she has already left the relationship.
If you are leaving a partner, spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend – especially if they are abusive, troubled, angry or difficult – reset every single password on all of your accounts to something they cannot guess. Inform your bank and credit companies that this person is not allowed to make any changes to your accounts no matter what the reason. Even if you are reasonably certain that your former partner is “okay,” this is a good practice for moving forward on your own. It is also a good idea to get a new cell phone and credit card that the ex doesn’t know about. Make these changes before you leave if you can.
FAQ’S About Cyberstalking
What Type of People are Stalkers?
In many documented cyberstalking cases, the cyberstalker and the victim had a prior relationship, and the cyberstalking began when the victim attempted to break off the relationship. It is common for the “dumpee” to become jealous, enraged, and begin to stalk their ex online. Cyberstalking by strangers and acquaintances can occur as well.
How can I Protect Myself Against Being a Victim of Cyberstalking?
Using trustworthy antivirus software and keeping the number of people who have access to your computer as limited as possible, as well as being sure not to use public computers for very personal matters, lessens the chances that your personal life can be breached by a cyberstalker.
What Should I do if I’m Being Cyberstalked?
- If you know the person cyberstalking you, you should send the stalker a clear written warning. Explain that the contact is unwanted and ask them to stop sending communications of any kind. You should do this only once. No matter the response, you should absolutely never communicate with the stalker again.
- If you suspect that you are being cyberstalked, you should start collecting all evidence and document all contact made by the stalker. Save all emails, postings, or other communications in both electronic and hard-copy form. You may also want to explain each contact in more detail, by documenting how the harassment affected your life.
- You may want to file a report with local law enforcement to see what charges, if any, can be pursued. You should save copies of police reports and record all contact with law enforcement officials.
- If you are still being cyberstalked you may want to consider changing your e-mail address, Internet service provider, home phone number, and examine the possibility of privacy protection programs. Any local computer store can offer a variety of protective software, options and suggestions. Some filtering capabilities of email programs and tools offered by internet service providers can block emails from certain addresses.
- Finally, under no circumstances should you 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.
What are the Effects of Being Cyberstalked?
Online stalking can be a terrifying experience for victims, placing them at risk for psychological trauma and possible physical harm. Many stalkers – online or off – are motivated by a desire to exert control over their victims. The effects of stalking may include behavioural, psychological and social aspects. Victims of cyberstalking may feel:
- Feelings of uncertainty and unpredictability
- Trouble sleeping and concentrating
- Weight instabilities (losing or gaining)
- Loss of personal safety and security
Tips for Internet Safety
- Do not give out your home address online.
- Use difficult passwords for protection. This goes for online passwords, cell phones, bankcards, etc.
- Search for yourself online by using your name and number to see how much information is available online and if there is false information posted.
- Be skeptical about any emails, telephone calls, or texts that ask for your personal information. Always err on the side of caution if you are not sure about something.
- Never give out your Social Insurance Number online unless you are sure of who will have access to it.
- If you have a blog or website, use a free registry that will record incoming users of your site.
- Once or twice a year check your credit report status online, this is especially the case for businesses.
- Always act on suspicions concerning your accounts online and phone calls received; do not assume that there is nothing wrong.
- Have your computer checked by a professional if you believe you may be a target.
- Reach out for emotional support by talking to a counsellor if you have been affected by a cyberstalker.
Familiarity with the Internet and a sense of distance created by electronic communications causes society to believe that such communications are not dangerous, are easily ignored and are therefore unimportant. However, cyber-stalking is a serious threat facing individuals in every community. The internet has no geographical limitations, so cyberstalking may occur regardless of whether or not the victim and harasser are in the same location.