While physical stalking has of course been around for several years, cyberstalking is a fairly recent phenomenon and is growing in recurrence with the increased availability of computers and internet across the world.
WHAT IS STALKING?
Any unwanted attention from an individual or even a group is defined as stalking. Typically, stalking may include harassing and intimidating the victim and general obsessive behavior. Cases of stalking are rare in the world of online dating but nevertheless, before you arrange a meeting with an online date, make sure you know them well enough and read our tips for staying safe when meeting someone for the first time.
WHAT IS CYBERSTALKING?
There is no official definition of cyberstalking. When an individual or a group uses the internet and other electronic means to harass another individual, a group or an organization, it is known as cyberstalking. Typical cyberstalking behavior may include monitoring, false accusations, cyber bullying, gathering information for harassment, threats, damaging data, equipment and other sensitive information, ordering goods and services on behalf of victim and even claiming that the victim is harassing them. It is a type of mental assault on the victim that is premeditated and malicious with the sole purpose of distressing the victim.
PHYSICAL STALKING VS CYBERSTALKING
Cyberstalking and physical stalking share several similarities.
- Most stalkers are known to their victims and most of the time ex-flames and former intimates become stalkers. However, this is not to say that strangers do not stalk. Examples of this have been found in the real and virtual world.
- The majority of cyberstalking victims are women and most stalkers are usually men.
- Offline and online, a stalker by nature feels a strong urge to control their victim.
- Victims experience the same amount of fear, desperation and helplessness whether they are physically stalked or cyber stalked.
However there are certain differences too. In the case of cyberstalking:
- The stalker and the victim need not necessarily be in the same geographical location as a cyber stalker can carry out their activities online no matter what part of the world they are in.
- One of the scariest aspects of cybertsalking is that a stalker can easily use electronic third parties to suit their purpose of harassing and threatening their victims. A stalker can therefore easily post misleading information on a forum about the victim or even falsely pose as the victim in a chat room. Sometimes a stalker even posts the victim’s personal information online. Unfortunately, it is easier for the stalker to create havoc in a victim’s life when stalking online.
- It is harder to confront a cyber stalker due to the barriers of electronic communication.
Online harassment and cyberstalking can be just as threatening as physical stalking. In the 1999 Report on Cyberstalking compiled by the US Department of Justic, Vice-President Al Gore said “Make no mistake: this kind of harassment can be as frightening and as real as being followed and watched in your neighborhood or in your home.”
When dating online you will usually meet lots of nice people but every once in a while there can be someone with the wrong intentions, such as cyberstalking. Therefore it is important to protect yourself and stay safe while you’re looking for a date online.
- Do not give out your contact details until you get to know someone well enough. If you’re using email to communicate with someone, make sure your email address does not give out your personal details. Knowing your phone number, where you live etc is a lot of information in a stalker’s hands.
- When creating your email address for online dating, don’t use your full name. There is no need to reveal your full name until you get to know someone better.
- Keep your guard up. Everyone is not out to get you but there’s no harm in just staying careful.
- Do not use your full name as your screen name or ID on online dating profiles or dating chat rooms.
- Until you know someone well enough, do not discuss too many personal details with them. A stalker uses personal details to threaten a victim.
- Try to use the chat, IM and email services provided by the online dating site.
- Google yourself and make sure there is nothing out there that gives out too many details about you. This is also a good way of ensuring your name is not being used online without your knowledge.
- If you are breaking up with someone you met via online dating but no longer want to pursue the relationship, it may be wise to change all your passwords, secret questions etc.
If you think you are being cyberstalked, don’t brush it off because it will not go away unless you make it go away.
- If you are being cyberstalked, at the first instance, try asking the harasser to stop or blocking all email from them. In addition, alert the administration of your dating site as well so he can be removed from the site.
- You can also contact the stalker’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) as most ISPs have clear policies prohibiting the abuse of their services. Identify the domain by taking a look at the email address. The name following the “@” sign is the domain name and you can use this is a starting point to file a complaint.
- If it continues and you feel you are in danger, collect all the evidence you have and report the stalker to your local police.
- The website for WHO@ – Working to Halt Online Abuse has a lot of information.
- This FAQ is helpful too.
- The Cyber Angels online safety education program.
- The US Department of Justice comprehensively explains stalking and lists various statistics.
- The Stalking Resource Center of The National Center for Victims of Crime
- Stalking Victims Sanctuary is a website for victims of stalking
Cyberstalking is a legally recognized crime in almost every country now and several countries have special laws for cyberstalking cases. However, even if your country does not have a special cyberstalking law, if you are a victim, you must contact the police immediately for help.
- US Info – The US currently has no federal law on the issue of cyberstalking. However, this article might be helpful. Several states, starting with California in 1999 have their own cyberstalking legislation or have at least begun to address the issue. These include Florida, Alabama, Arizona, Connecticut and New York among others.
- UK Info – Cyberstalking is classified as a criminal offence according to the Malicious Communications Act of 1998.
- Australia Info – Using technology to harass someone is described as “criminal stalking” according to the Stalking Amendment Act (1999)