What is cyberstalking and what is cyberharassment?
Cyberstalking and cyberharassment are very similar. Most people use them interchangeably, but there is a subtle distinction, typically relating to the perpetrator’s intent and the original motivation for their behavior.
While the two situations usually involve many of the same online tactics, cyberstalking is almost always characterized by the stalker relentlessly pursuing his\her victim online and is much more likely to include some form of offline attack, as well. This offline aspect makes it a more serious situation as it can easily lead to dangerous physical contact, if the victim’s location is known
Why do people cyberstalk or cyberharass others?
Cyberstalkers are often driven by revenge, hate, anger, jealousy, obsession and mental illness. While a cyberharasser may be motivated by some of these same feelings, often the harassment is driven by the desire to frighten or embarrass the harassment victim.
Sometimes the harasser intends to teach the victim a lesson in netiquette or political correctness (from the harasser’s point of view). Often the cyberharassment victim is merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, or has made a comment or expressed an opinion that the cyberharasser dislikes.
What do cyberstalkers/harassers do when the stalk or harass someone?
The harasser may post comments intended to cause distress to the victim, or make them the subject of harassment by others. They may send a constant stream of e-mails and instant messages to their victims or a victim’s co-workers, friends, or family. They may pose as the victim and post offensive comments or send offensive messages in their name.
They may send hateful or provocative communications to the victim’s boss, family or significant other (in their own name or posing as the victim). Often the victim’s computer is hacked or their e-mail accounts are broken-into by the cyberstalker/harasser and taken over entirely, or the password is changed and the victim locked out of their own accounts. The victim may be signed-up for spam, porn sites and questionable offers.
Cyberstalkers/harassers frequently follow their victims into chat rooms and onto discussion boards, posting lies and hateful messages, or passing misinformation about the victim. They may create sexually explicit images, using the head of their victims attached to the bodies of porn actors.
If they have real sexually explicit or nude images of their victims (usually from a failed romantic relationship between the stalker/harasser and the victim), they may create Web sites posting the images and advertising the site to friends and family of the victim, or supply them to commercial porn sites with amateur image sections for public display.
We are even familiar with cases where the cyberstalker has threatened the life of the President of the United States or the Queen of England, while posing as the victim.
In the most dangerous type of cases, the cyberstalker posts the name, address and telephone number of the victim online, often posing as them, and soliciting sexual activities on their behalf. In a California case, a man targeted a woman by posting her name and address online and soliciting group sex. The woman had never even used the computer before, but found herself facing angry, sexually frustrated men at her front door.
Death threats are typical in a cyberstalking situation. In fact, there have been several well-publicized cases in the United States where victims were eventually murdered by their stalkers. Many of these began as cyberstalking situations.
If there is any indication that a cyberstalker/harasser knows where the victim lives, works or how to find them offline, law enforcement must be contacted IMMEDIATELY to begin an active investigation into the circumstances of the situation.
Is cyberstalking illegal? What about cyberharassment?
The laws tend to lump the two types of cybercrimes together. For the purposes of this guide, other than when there is a legal distinction, both cyberstalking and harassment are discussed under the heading “cyberstalking.”
While most states in the United States have various types of cyberstalking/harassment laws on the books, there is no U.S. federal cyberstalking/harassment law (except when children under 16 are involved and being targeted for sexual harassment).
Many Western European countries have cyberstalking/harassment laws, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Few Asian countries have cyberstalking/harassment laws.
If I can’t file criminal charges against the cyberstalker/harasser, what can I do to them?
Often the victims of cyberstalking and cyberharassment are limited to civil litigation (suing the stalker or harassment) or reporting the cyberstalker/harasser to their ISP and trying to get their accounts revoked, or Web sites shutdown.
Are there different types of cyberstalking/harassment situations?
Absolutely! There are three different kinds of cyberstalking situations...
- Online cyberstalking and harassment that stays online.
- Online harassment and stalking that ventures offline or encourages offline actions.
- Offline stalking or harassment that moves online.
It doesn’t make any difference whether or not the victim has even used the Internet. The distinction between online and offline is dependent on the medium used by the perpetrator.
What is the profile of a typical cyberstalking/harassment victim?
Cyberstalking occurs more often with women as the victim, although that is gradually changing. Our most recent survey discloses that men are being cyberstalked and harassed more frequently by women than ever before.
Children who are stalked by adult sexual predators are not considered victims of cyberstalking, but rather are considered luring victims or victims of child exploitation.
What can you do to avoid becoming a victim of cyberstalking/harassment?
Typically, the cyberharassment victim is new online, and inexperienced with the rules of netiquette (online etiquette). So learning the rules of the cyber-road is a good way to avoid being an easy mark for a cyberstalker/harasser.
Typically, the cyberharasser feels empowered by the perceived anonymity online. They feel they can hide behind their monitor. But most people leave a trail of cyber-breadcrumbs behind them online.
Learning how to read an e-mail header is a good place to start stripping your stalker/harasser of their perceived anonymity.
Ignoring the communications sent to you is the best first step to stopping most cberstalking / harassment.
Unless your situation involves a truly obsessed or depraved harasser, most will lose interest quickly if they don't get the reaction they seek.
Our cyber-self-defense tips can help you avoid cyberstalking/harassment entirely and stop it before it gets out-of-hand.
Flaming wars (where insults and verbal attacks are traded online) can often lead to cyberstalking and harassment. Flaming can get out of control quickly and often escalates into serious threats, offline and online.
Cyberstalking, where the real dangers arise, can have a substantial offline aspect, either by way of the victim and stalker working together, romantically involved or prior or current communications of some kind.
Some are intent on targeting victims of sexual abuse, cancer patients and members of certain minority groups. Protecting your privacy is key to protecting yourself form credible offline threats.
What is a quick list of safety tips to avoid cyberstalking/harassment?
- Don't respond to flaming (provocation online).
- Choose a genderless screen name.
- Don't flirt online, unless you're prepared for the consequences. This is just like real life. Yes, you have the right to flirt. And you have the right to a sexy nickname. But the more obvious you are, the more likely you are to arouse unwanted attention from unwanted suitors.
- Save offending messages and report them to your service provider.
- If someone makes threats in a chat room or on a message board, notify the moderator or Web site operator right away.
- Don’t confront the stalker/harasser, this only arouses more anger or emotional attacks.Don't give out any personal information about yourself.
- Get out of a situation online that has become hostile, log off or surf elsewhere.
- Google yourself to make sure no personal information is posted by others about you.