Two years ago I wrote the following article. It’s in the Writers’ Library–and, I think, in this blog, but since I’ve received several requests in the last few weeks to run it again, I’m figuring it’s getting hard to find. 🙂 I’m including the Tip Sheet that was a separate article with it. Realize that more has been done now to protect victims on the legal front. These are general tips and I hope helpful to you, but do check with law enforcement agencies for the most up to date information and protections.
WHAT IT IS. WHAT IS DONE. ARE YOU A VICTIM? WHAT YOU CAN DO. WHO CAN HELP.
(FMI Visit: Cyberstalking )
At one time cyberstalkers–those who stalk someone via the Internet–was easy for a criminal to do and difficult for a victim to charge, prosecute and convict.
The advent of the Internet caused explosive changes in daily life and put lawmakers into a tailspin on what changes to make first. Immediate need became the byword of the day, and lawmaker’s actions followed suit. But that time has passed, and today there are significant laws and legislation protecting victims–and more pending.
WHAT DO CYBERSTALKERS DO?
Many track or monitor a person. Groups and organizations, too, can become targets. A cyberstalker might make false accusations against the victim, might gather information and use it illegally (identity theft, solicitation, subscribing a victim to numerous spam lists, pornographic websites, or levy threats.) The purpose is typically to harass the victim and/or to damage his/her reputation.
Often the repeated behavior persists to the point that the stalker is directed (directly or through a third party, who may or may not be an authority) to cease and desist. Depending on the mental health of the stalker, and the depth of his/her obsession, the stalker either chooses to stop stalking or continues.
Of those who continue, many use an associate and/or friend, who might or might not be aware of the harassment and/or the warnings to the stalker to cease and desist and to leave the victim alone. In a real sense, they too become victims.
With cyberstalkers, the stalking isn’t normally a matter of any one action. In fact, singular actions might be legal ones. But the continuous pounding of action upon action upon action collectively completes a larger picture of the depth of a mental assault on the victim.
WHO IS A STALKER?
Some stalkers are strangers. Others know their victim.
Generally those who know their victim have no current relationship with the victim. Either they never did, or it ceased to exist some time ago, and the choice to sever well might have been the stalker’s decision.
Stalkers are notorious for making false accusations. For claiming they are the victims. For encouraging others to harass and/or make disparaging comments to or about the victim based on false information fed to them by the stalker.
Some take stalking even further, into attacks on data, infringing on copyrights, posting material in public forums under the victim’s name, claiming the victim’s identity. Even reprinting the victim’s material without express permission to do so. Some violate personal email by uploading it into a public forum without the author’s consent.
Still other stalkers cross over into deeper identity theft by placing orders in the victim’s name or participating in objectionable activities while impersonating the victim.
Understand that the cyberstalker is obsessed. What might have started as curiosity escalates to obsession.
WHAT IS THE CYBERSTALKER’S GOAL?
The stalker’s goal is to initiate contact where none exists.
I’m reminded of the child. To get attention, a child will attempt to gain attention through constructive means. But if that doesn’t work, the child will adopt destructive means. The end goal is attention. How it is obtained is insignificant to the stalker. A crucial difference worthy of note is that a cyberstalker might or might not be immature but s/he is not a child and his/her actions are far more destructive. (To the victim, but also to him/herself.)
CAN A CYBERSTALKER GET PHYSICAL?
Yes. It’s documented in the form of abusive phone calls, snail mail, packages left at residences by stalkers told to stay away (a mental home invasion). Reports have been made of vandalism, trespassing and even physical assault. Some say the deeper the stalker’s frustration at not being in control of the victim/situation or at having his/her attempts to contact thwarted, the greater the odds that frustration will escalate into more severe attacks.
IS THERE LEGAL RECOURSE?
Yes. Lawmakers have made strides to protect victims. Not surprisingly, California first put laws into effect in 1999. The State of Florida followed in placing a ban on cyberstalking in 2003. Many other states have followed. (So have many countries. Visit the notes section on the above link for more specifics.) That’s legislation on a state level. On a federal level, the lawmaker’s are still catching up, but they did address cyberstalking by incorporating it into stalking statues addressed in legislation passed in 2000.(1) So victims are not without protection.
DOES THE VICTIM ALWAYS KNOW S/HE IS A VICTIM OF CYBERSTALKING?
No. The victim well might not know s/he is being stalked. At least, not until the stalker’s obsession escalates. In some situations, however, the victim might know it from the start. Or s/he might know it but not identify the behavior as stalking until the stalker’s actions escalate to an obvious point.
Often, particularly in the case of sex offenders and/or those with malicious tendencies toward minors, the victim is not aware that they’re a victim until they are in significant danger from the stalker, which makes it imperative that parents and authority figures in minors’ lives educate them to the risks and warning signs. Armed with information and alerted to the warning signs, the kids then have a better chance to protect themselves and they know to alert parents and/or authority figures to potential dangers so that they might take steps to protect the children before they become victims.
WHAT IF YOU HAVE A PUBLIC PERSONAE?
If you have a public personae, it’s all the more important to be aware–or to get aware, and stay aware.
To get a complete listing of what you can do to protect yourself and your interests, visit your state’s website and/or contact local law enforcement.
Remember that cyberstalking isn’t typically a single event but a repetition of events that collectively constitute criminal activity. It isn’t a matter of threats being levied. Monitoring you is sufficient violation.
PUBLIC PERSONAE TIPS:
For a listing of things you can do to protect yourself and your interests, see the Cyberstalking Tip Sheet below.
If you incorporate those tips, do what you can to avoid contact with the cyberstalker, then you’re taking reasonable measures to protect yourself and your interests.
If those reasonable measures do not work and the stalker persists, then you’ve got indisputable proof of actions in your records: Preventative actions you’ve taken, and hostile actions the stalker has taken.
The authorities then have what they need to do their jobs–and you can go back to living your life.
Most importantly, be aware. The Internet is a wonderful tool, but it can be used as a weapon. Don’t willingly become a victim.*
(1)See the FMI [for more information] URL above for more information/resources on domestic and foreign information on cyberstalking. Be sure to check the notes section for in-depth references.
©2008-10, Vicki Hinze
CYBERSTALKING Tip Sheet. ©2008-10, Vicki Hinze
Public Personae Tips (some of which benefit others, too):
1. If you maintain a website, incorporate activity reports so that abnormal activity is noted and reported to you. An example would be abnormally frequent visits by the same person to the same page during a short period of time. (Or if s/he has recruited a third party to monitor your site, then that individual’s activity will be reported and incorporated for your records.) Remember, this third party might or might not know that they’ve been recruited.
2. Set up alerts with search engines to inform you of searches run on you. When a search is requested, you’re notified and have the report for your records.
You can do this at, for example, Google at this URL: http://www.google.com/alerts.
3. Run your own search on your name at least once a week. Under advance search options, you can restrict the dates and review documents. (Not long ago, I discovered several mom/breast-feeding articles I’d supposedly written only I hadn’t. Authorities investigated and they were removed.) The point is, your search will reveal these type of violations against you, your professional, public personnae and your reputation.
4. Have your webmistress/webmaster monitor RSS feeds. (The obsessive nature of the stalker is often indicated by their repetitive behavior. For example, the stalker will read the same article over and over again, often during a short period of time. And if there is nothing new to view on your site, then s/he will home in on something old and compulsively read it multiple times in short order. It’s amazingly simple for an experienced eye to catch this behavior–all one must do is look.)
5. Document. Keep explicit records and the originals–a hard copy (printed) as well as electronic versions. When you print, be sure to “view details” or “long headers” in the messages. This tracks the messages you received not only back to a specific server but back to a specific computer.
6. Off-site storage. Since stalkers can become aggressive and even eventually engage in assault or other destructive behavior, it is sensible to keep a copy of your evidence file off-site, meaning away from your office or home or wherever the stalker most often attempts contact. You can:
a. Have a friend keep a copy of the file.
b. Set up an email account only for record purposes and store a copy in that account.
For items sent snail mail, keep the originals off-site in a safe place. Keep a scanned copy in your off-site email account and in your records file. For objects delivered to your home, place of business, or other physical place: photograph and store a scanned copy off-site, keep the originals in a safe, off-site location and a scanned copy in your records.
7. Block the stalker on your email address/addresses. Remember, this is an obsessive behavior and the stalker’s objective is to demand a response/reaction from you to initiate contact. In several case studies, it is at that point where tensions escalate and some stalkers turn violent or subversively destructive.
8. Insist (in writing, retaining a copy for your records) or through an authorized third-party that the stalker leave you alone. Once this is done, do not engage in any further contact. Notice has been given and served.
9. Live your life. While a cyberstalker creates turmoil, havoc and/or distress, you have a job to do and a life to live, and you should do it and live it.
If you incorporate these tips, do what you can to avoid contact, then you’re taking reasonable measures. If those reasonable measures do not work and the stalker persists, then you’ve got indisputable proof of his/her actions in your records: Preventative actions you’ve taken, and hostile actions the stalker has taken. The authorities then have what they need to do their jobs. They’ll deal with the stalker, and you can go back to living your life.
Mostly importantly, be aware. The Internet is a wonderful tool, but it can be used as a weapon. The perception of being anonymous entices others to say and do things online they’d never do in person. They aren’t anonymous, of course. Even those on rerouters deliberately trying to hide their identities can be tracked. But sometimes it takes time for them to figure that out, and in the interim, they cause trouble.
While you can’t control the actions of others, you can control your own and take reasonable steps to protect yourself online. In doing so, you don’t willingly become a victim.◆