In this Age of Information, the issue of cyber stalking has become more prevalent. Our generation often makes remarks about “Facebook stalking” potential boyfriends and girlfriends, future roommates, classmates, etc. to be better acquainted with them.
This practice is considered common and legal online behavior. However, “cyber stalking” is different. It is the use of online technology to harass, intimidate, or cause severe emotional distress to another person. It includes a wide range of, usually malicious, online behaviors such as, sending threatening tweets, excessive emailing, “revenge porn”, and even identity theft (for instance, logging into another’s Facebook page and feigning to be that person).
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1 in 4 adult victims of stalking also reported cyber stalking, usually through email (83% of cases) and/or instant messaging (35% of cases); this amounts to over 900,000 cases of cyber harassment in 2006 alone.
Though men and women are involved in cyber stalking at almost equal rates, women are more likely to be its victims. Between 2000 and 2011, women were the victims in over 70% of cyber stalking cases brought to Working to Halt Abuse, a volunteer organization that strives to educate the general public on online harassment. Often the perpetrator of cyber stalking is an ex boyfriend or girlfriend, or perhaps a classmate, but it is also possible, and quite common, that online harassment is perpetrated by complete strangers.
Cyber stalking is a unique crime due to the anonymity enjoyed by those who commit it. To Internet users, the computer acts as a mask obscuring each person’s real identity and allows us to develop online personas.
Another important factor that distinguishes cyber crimes from other crimes is that they could be committed from one side of the world on a victim on the other side.
The Internet’s anonymity paired with the ability that it provides users to remain distant from others has allowed certain individuals to intimidate, bully, and threaten their victims from thousands of miles away from the comfort of their living room couch without ever having to see the consequences of their actions. Such a crime is now easier than ever to commit and the law is fighting a losing battle against new technology.
For instance, in Oklahoma there is no statute explicitly forbidding cyber stalking while online harassment could be charged as unlawful “unconsented contact.” Conversely, Washington D.C.’s laws specifically address the issue of online harassment in detail.
Today, colleges have started taking steps to tackle this issue on their own. They are now defining the act in specific terms and forbidding the act of cyber stalking in their student conduct codes.
They are also providing informative seminars at freshman orientation on identifying online abuse and the process of reporting its cases. The remedy in cases of stalking on campus usually involves a no-contact order, which prohibits both parties from communicating with one another, either directly or indirectly, in person, through the Internet, over the phone, through notes, friends, or any other means.
Violation of a no-contact order can result in suspension for either or both parties. If the case has particularly grave implications, for instance if the perpetrator has threatened violence, then schools may take more serious measures. The George Washington University helps these victims navigate the D.C. court system to get a temporary restraining order or take more serious measures, if necessary.
If you think that you are a victim of cyber stalking, communicate to the other person in clear terms that you no longer wish to continue interacting with them. After this, do not reply to any kind of attempt of the person to communicate with you. If they continue to try and contact you through messages or any other platform, you should consider bringing the case to your college authorities or the police.
MAKE SURE TO SAVE EVERYTHING!
If you approach the court or the student disciplinary office with your case, you will need to make those messages available. Some ISPs completely erase deleted emails after 30 days, rendering them gone forever, so it is important to keep records of these interactions.
Technology has dramatically changed our world and how we interact with each other. Never before have we been able to communicate so instantaneously with anyone in the world, but new technology brings new threats that demand new legal approaches be developed.