9 min read
Cyberstalking... What is It
Cyberstalking can be defined as stalking or harassment that takes place via online channels such as social media, forums, or email. It is usually planned and sustained over a period of time. Cyberstalking cases often begin as harmless interactions, but then leads to systematic, and perhaps annoying and frightening comments and behavior. Cyberstalking does not necessarily include direct contact. Often times, victims do not even know they are being stalked or falling victim to cyberstalking.
Who is Most Likely to be Cyberstalked
Although cyberstalking can happen to anyone of any age or gender, females are more likely to be cyberstalked than males. In the United States alone, over one million women are stalked via the internet each year, in comparison to approximately 350,000-370,000 men. About 1/12 women will be cyberstalked in their lifetime. Women between the ages of 18-29 are also more likely to fall victim to cyberstalking. This could be due to lifestyle, education, and place of residence between these ages. Women or men who are victims of domestic violence are also considered a vulnerable group when it comes to cyberstalking. Even after the legal termination of a violent marriage or partnership, a former spouse may use cyberstalking to remain present in their former spouses' life. This can be done through social media, personal financial and bank accounts, emails, and other personal internet usage.
Legalities of Cyberstalking
Cyberstalking laws are fairly new due to the fact that online networks are fairly new. In fact, The Violence Against Women Act of 2000 was one of the first serious cyberstalking cases that finally placed cyberstalking under the scrutiny of federal lawmakers. Before then, it was considered something that could and should be handled amongst individuals.
Cyberstalking laws depend on the state in which the crime happens, but each state does have laws against cyberstalking, making it universally illegal throughout the states. One aspect that makes cyberstalking, and its legalities unique, is that cyberstalking convictions are based on series' of acts, that may not even be classified as crimes under different circumstances. Common legal consequences for cyberstalking are: restaining orders, probation sentences, fines, restitution, and prison.
Forms of Cyberstalking
Although many may think that cyberstalking is simply digging into someone's social media page, there is much more to it. Contrary to popular belief, cyberstalking can occur in several different, a lot of which people are not aware of. Here are some of the different forms cyberstalking can take:
This can involve provoking the victim through unwanted messages, threatening the victim, or even extreme unwanted activity on the victim's page. In terms of threatening the victim, this can pertain to friends, family, or even job opportunities. Anything did repeatedly online, and against the victim's will, could be considered harassment via cyberstalking. This can also evolve into stalking the victim in person.
Embarrassing the victim, which can also be considered cyberbullying, is another form of cyberstalking. This can include anything from exposing the victim's personal information to making fun of the victim online. This form of cyberstalking often goes unaccounted for because many people do not know that this is a form of cyberstalking.
3) Financial Control
This form of cyberstalking pertains to attempting to make money out of the victim's fear. It involves coercing the victim to give the stalker money, through different fear tactics. It could also involve hacking into the victim's bank accounts, or ruining their credit.
How to Prevent Cyberstalking
While the new technological advancements in today's society are life-altering, the increasing victimizations associated with such advancements is detrimental. It has become more crucial to protect yourself online. The following are steps you can take to prevent cyberstalking:
1) Make your Social Media Private
Staying low-key on social media may not be anyone's first choice after all people use social media to connect with others by sharing information. However, it is important to avoid unwanted people from knowing personal information about you such as your current location or the area you live in.
2) Avoid Sharing Personal Information
Outside of social media platforms, many people share personal information without acknowledging the risks. For example, the simple act of filling out a survey that includes personal information increases the likelihood of being victimized by cyberstalking.
3) Hide your IP Address
It may be surprising to most to disclose many applications and online services reveal your IP address to the other person you are communicating with. This is significant because your IP address is linked to personal data and information; such as an internet bill that is sent to your home. Let's say you use a credit card to pay this bill, the cyberstalker can now utilize your IP address and use it to find your credit card information leading to the revelation of your physical address. You can use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to conceal your IP address. Doing this allows for your real IP address to remain hidden and allows you to select a location of your choice.
4) Reset your Passwords
It is important that you reset your passwords frequently and you should never share your passwords with anyone. Because many cyberstalking cases involve a former or existing partner, it is also important to reset your passwords after a break-up. Additionally, creating strong passwords avoids cyberstalkers from easily guessing them.
5) Use an Antivirus Software
Installing an antivirus software allows for protection against cyberstalkers who attempt to install malware on your device. The antivirus software will detect any malicious programs and block them.
6) Be Aware of your Online Presence
Try googling your name in different combinations such as your full name, phone number, address, etc. This allows you to see what information pop-ups when you search for yourself. If personal information is easily accessible when conducting your search, there are ways to get rid of it. Often times you can contact the website and have it removed.
This video outlines a few more tips to protect yourself against cyberstalking:
Who Is Behind Cyberstalking
Most cyberstalkers know their victims and motives tend to be revenge, anger, control, and lust. A lot of cases come from a previous partner or somebody who would like to be involved. It may also be a random attack. There are apps that allow a person to track even more of the data online and "One in 10 Americans admitted to using an app to monitor an ex or current partner’s text messages, phone calls, direct messages, emails and photos, said the survey." The people using this software would have to be trusted enough to get close to the phone. That is usually a result of a past or current romantic relationship. They attempt to control the victim through information they gain from cyberstalking.
Other cases of cyberstalking can result from individuals who are targeting high-profile people. They could be strangers, but have become enamored with the celebrity. These people may have mental illnesses. They may think that the advances are welcome or they are hoping to gain something else from it.
Sometimes a group of people will participate in cyberstalking to achieve a goal. Goals could include financial gain, revenge or pushing their agendas and beliefs. The target could be a person or organization. They may try to extort their victim.
- 87 percent of the stalkers identified by victims in the survey were men. (National Violence Against Women Survey)
- Men were 2.5 times more likely than women to engage in this behavior (NortonLifeLock).
- The most common form of online stalking was checking a partner's phone without them knowing, followed by reviewing their search history without consent. Nearly 10% of people admit to creating a fake profile to check on spouses or exes on social media (NortonLifeLock).
- Two-thirds (66.2%) of female victims of stalking were stalked by a current or former intimate partner; men were primarily stalked by an intimate partner or an acquaintance, 41.4% and 40.0%, respectively (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey).
What to do if you're being cyberstalked
★ If you're under 18 please tell a parent or a trusted adult about the situation
First step: make it clear to the stalker, if you feel comfortable doing so, that you do not want any further communication of any sort
- After this do not take part in any further communication with the stalker! This is what they want. Not giving the stalker what they want may cause them to stop if not at least minimize some of their unwanted behaviors.
Next: Block the stalker on everything you can
- this can include Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, email, texting messaging, and all platforms one may have
★ Save all evidence!
Keep a log and copies of all communication from the stalker as evidence against them
- should include the times and dates plus what was said
- all events that have contributed to the stalking is worth taking note of
If the stalking does not stop contact your local police department. The saved evidence will help with having proof against the stalker.
It is important that a victim of cyberstalking has support. Share your experiences with close friends or family. Talking with others and having a support system can help mentally and emotionally. If you feel as though you can't share with anyone around you, there are resources that are also online who can suggest what steps you should take next.
VictimConnect Resource Center offers services to victims of all crimes, including stalking, such as referring victims to the appropriate local or national resources for them. All communication received remains anonymous.
- Phone and texting hotline is currently available Monday - Friday, 12:00pm – 5:00pm ET at 855-4-VICTIM or (855-484-2846)
- Online chat is currently available Monday-Friday 12:00pm – 5:00pm at http://www.chat.victimconnect.org/