CyberStalking, its Effects and Methods of Prevention

What is CyberStalking? How it affects people and how to increase awareness?

Cyberstalking, laws and prevention

With the rise of internet, while the world got faster and more efficient, the internet also brought some new dangers with itself. Online-bullying and cyber-stalking are some problems that came with the rise of the internet and social media. While the methods of harassment utilized in their case may be widely different from real world bullying or harassment, their effects can be just as bad or sometimes worse. Cyber-stalking has become a major cause of worry for people using the internet and especially so in the advanced countries. It is understood as the process of threatening or harassing a person using electronic means of communication. Sometimes the purpose is just to inflict psychological harm and sometimes it can be to extort money from the victim. The person involved in cyber-stalking can use abusive or threatening language to make the victim feel threatened about his own or his close relatives’ life. Whether a person directly communicates in this way to some person or lets his device be used for the purpose of cyber-stalking, he will be legally accused of the crime. The legal apparatus has tried to deter people from such crimes using stringent means and still has not been completely successful at controlling the crime. The criminals can still try to harass people through email or other means and the best way is to inform the police right after receiving such threatening messages. Identity theft can also be a case of cyber-stalking where the thief can use a person’s email account to send damaging mails to the people he knows and in this way threaten his mental peace and stability. Other methods generally used for cyber-stalking by criminals are use of email to send threatening messages or sending mass unsolicited mails to the victim.

Strangely, while most cyber-stalkers believe, they will never get caught, they often get caught. Most often it is the women who get to become the victims of cyber-stalking and it is because in their case it is easier to inflict psychological damage than in case of male victims. As per a CDC report published in 2011, 1 out of 6 women while only 1 out of 19 men had experienced cyber stalking. In these cases, the victims believed that one of their loved ones’ life was under grave threat. Stats published by the DoJ in 2012 reported that many of the victims had experienced stalking for months or years. 11% of the victims reported that they had experienced it for more than 5 years. Cyber-stalking, has the potential to destroy people’s peace of mind and their lives and the perpetrator does not even need to locate his target physically but can safely do so anonymously because of the proliferation of computer and internet technologies. However, the use of technology has also made these cases complex and in many cases you will need more help than just the local law. Law enforcement agencies have made additional resources available to help with such cases.

The widespread use of internet has also brought several types of complications to people’s lives. Revealing your important personal data to the wrong people may become a cause of worry or anxiety and even push the victims to the point of suicide. Amanda Todd’s suicide at the age of 15 highlighted how cyber-stalkers could bring people to the brink of complete loss of self control. She underwent severe anxiety and depression before she committed suicide and detailed all her horrendous experiences in a YouTube video. The worst problem is that such people often do not get the social support when they need it the most. The cyber-stalkers send repeated and intrusive communication to the victim causing anxiety to escalate and the person to feel worried for his life and self-respect. Sometimes, it can also involve spreading rumors about the victim and making him feel disturbed and threatened.

‘18 U.S. Code § 2261A’ deals with stalking and cyber stalking and ‘18 U.S. Code § 2261B’ with its punishments.

§ 2261A defines cyber-stalking as an act by the perpetrator that places the victim in reasonable fear of death or serious physical injury to himself or his close relative like spouse or child or tries to cause substantial emotional distress through the use of mail, any kind of interactive communication service or electronic communication service.

18 U.S. Code § 2261B notes the penalties for such offenses including stalking and cyber stalking. –

- The punishment can be life imprisonment or imprisonment for any number of years if stalking results in the death of the victim. - Imprisonment can be of no more than 20 years if the crime results in permanent disfigurement or life threatening bodily injury to the victim. - If a dangerous weapon is used by the offender or if serious bodily injury occurs then imprisonment can be of up to ten years. - In any other case, the imprisonment can be of up to 5 years with or without fines.

While mail is generally the most prevalent tool used for cyber-stalking by the perpetrators, the other tools of messaging and social media can also be used for online harassment. Posting sexual images on Facebook or other social media channels and similar disturbing posts has also become common. The Bureau of Justice publishes annual stats related to stalking every year. As per 2017 stats, 1 out of 4 stalking victims reported Cyber-Stalking using some form of electronic communication like email or messaging. The Federal government as well as some independent agencies are working to prevent Cyber-Stalking and have brought informational resources and other tools to help the victims. WHOA or Women Halting Online Abuse are similar agencies that are working to prevent online abuse of women.

In many cases of cyber-stalking the perpetrator is someone who has been an intimate one in the past. Sexual harassment is among the common types of cyber stalking. The cyber-stalkers generally do not fear any kind of physical retaliation because of the anonymity offered in the online environment. Sometimes people who have failed at romance also retort to cyber-stalking for the purpose of venting their frustration. Hate Vendettas are also a form of cyberstalking that often start on basis of non sexual reasons and many times have most males as victims. A personal grudge or ego also makes people targets of cyber stalking. The growth in methods of electronic communication have also brought barriers down and increased cases of cyber stalking.

Since such crimes can often result in both physical and psychological or even financial damage, it is good to maintain precaution. One should not share his personal information online publicly or with strangers through email or chat rooms. Neither should you post your personal information in your profiles that can be accessed publicly. Do not grow friendships online and avoid meeting online friends in person. If situation gets hostile online, log off to or surf other websites and try to avoid future contact with the same person. If the situation makes you afraid, it is good to report to the law enforcement agencies.

In case you are being cyber-stalked, you should preserve all the electronic communication for use as evidence without any altering or editing. You can also block the email or filter the perpetrator’s messages. The chat-room contacts can also be blocked in a similar manner. Still, if harassment continues one can also contact the perpetrator’s ISP and file a complaint. However, one should always stay cautious in his online interactions, in order to prevent any form of stalking or harassment. In several cases such crimes have resulted in the death of the victim or other forms of serious psychological or physical damages and while there are several prevention tools and channels, nothing is better than awareness. Being aware helps you stay careful and prevents any form of damage at an early stage.


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