If you haven’t experienced it, it may seem like an easy thing to stop. What’s the big deal, anyway? Just block and delete anyone that seems to be harassing or stalking you online, and call the police. But not every case is that straightforward, not every incident is caught in time before it gets totally out of hand, and no stalker is accommodating to your demand to stop doing what they’re doing.
The Pew Research Center revealed that 40% of adult internet users have experienced some sort of harassment online, the bulk of that number being young women. Each year, over 850,000 American adults are targeted online, and again, the majority of them being young women.
These numbers don’t even include teens. Pew also reported that 59% of American teens have experienced abusive behavior in cyberspace. Over 30% of those surveyed said they received explicit images they didn’t ask for. Adolescence is difficult enough without cyberstalking and cyberbullying, which only adds fuel to the fire. A student who has been cyberbullied is twice as likely to take their own life because of it. Most young teens who experience this type of bullying should never reach such extremes, but, at the bare minimum, they become distraught, depressed, scared, experience low self-esteem, and many other mental conditions that make it extremely difficult to enjoy their lives as they should. The numbers prove that we need to know more about this issue and learn how to resolve it.
What Is Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is a term usually reserved for adults online. When we think of stalking, celebrities may be the first people to come to our minds. Most of us have read or heard about celebrities that have reported stalkers, in the case where they were actually able to identify their stalker. In this day and age, with how much of our communication is online and how most people don’t think twice when posting something about themselves online, be it pictures or opinions, anyone can be a target of cyberstalking. You don’t need to be a celebrity.
For the average person, more often than not, it is a person they are familiar with. For instance, lots of people stalk their former partners, always wanting to know what they’re up to, who they’re talking to, and where they’re going. If it’s not a former partner it could be someone that was rejected. Or it could just be an acquaintance. You can never be too sure what jealousy, rejection, or anger can do to a person. Not everyone is going to act or handle something calmly and correctly.
In its basic form, cyberstalking is a type of harassment. You can be stalked through your phone calls, messages, emails, images, videos, and anything else shared online. It’s normal to receive one or two annoying messages or emails from someone. Up to that point, neither people nor law enforcement considers it harassment or stalking. Yet, if it increases, in quantity or intensity, then a line is crossed. But where is that line?
It’s considered cyberstalking when an action, using an electronic device, is purposefully repeated with the intent of causing fear, distress, bodily, or mental harm. The harm comes in many forms; it could be blackmailing, extortion, verbal abuse, cruelty, bullying, or many other types.
Types of Cyberstalking
The three most common types of cyberstalking are email, internet, and computer stalking.
Email is perhaps the most common method. The easiest thing for any stalker to do is to create dozens of anonymous accounts and send emails from different devices and locations. Individuals can receive any type of harassing emails. They could be rumors about the victim or facts the stalker threatens to release. They may ask for something in return for not releasing them — extortion — or may not ask for anything and just impose fear. Emails also involve hate mail and death threats and other types of threats.
There’s plenty of software out there that stalkers use to spoof an account. Spoofing doesn’t require hacking to send out emails impersonating the person who the email supposedly belongs to. This means a stalker could send a letter to your boss, for instance, from your email account. Spoofing involves a third party, so whichever service you use for email probably can’t help you.
People most prone to this are those who have active social media accounts. Very active users actually juggle around 8 social networking accounts, including messaging apps. From the 4.5 billion people online, around 3.8 billion of them spend a lot of their time using social media.
Social media is the perfect environment to spread a rumor, taunt victims, and make their life miserable. You can and should report abusive messages to the social media outlet, but don’t expect much. If you’ve had to do that before then you’ve noticed they can’t do much to help other than advise you to block the person. Still, report the abuse and keep a record of everything. Later in this article, we’ll tell you why keeping records is crucial.
Computer stalking typically involves hacking. Though it needs some level of computer knowledge; a person who isn’t that computer savvy can still find online instructions on how to hack. Hacking isn’t only about sending viruses and the like, but, more importantly, after a hack, you can be tracked. Tracking people allow someone to know where you are.
Basically, tracking gives a lot more information than just an IP address. But, with just that, it can give the wrong person information on where your location is. Even if you’ve only contacted a person once, they can trace your whereabouts.
What Can You Do if You’re a Victim?
When you put all the information together, it may seem like a hopeless case to get your life back and get a stalker out of it. But there is help, legal and otherwise, available. Here are a few things you can do to prevent it or stop it if it has already happened.
Contact a lawyer
Contacting the police is the first route victims usually take. However, the fact is, the police can do very little for you, but at least file a report through them. Many victims will seek a lawyer’s guidance because a crime is being committed and this crime has agonizing effects. Thomas Feiter from Fighter Law Firm (https://www.fighterlaw.com/) says that being stalked can negatively affect your mental health for a long time after the stalkers’ advances. No one should have to live their life with an enormous amount of distress, fear, and anxiety because of the criminal behavior of someone else. Even though nothing compensates this mental anguish, an experienced lawyer can build a case for you and you will be entitled to receive compensation for damages and have it all end.
That is why all 50 states have anti-stalking laws, and cyber-stalking falls into the category. In fact, the police may advise you to get a lawyer as there is not enough police education on these matters and police departments may view it as a civil matter, not a criminal issue. Depending on how severe the case is, the crime may be filed as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Be Clear With the Harasser
Send a clear, written message to the person harassing you not to contact you again. If they do it again, don’t respond to them. You want to show that you have zero tolerance toward this type of behavior. This will be used by a lawyer when needed. Make sure any evidence you possess has a date and time.
Unless you have the following 5 elements, it will be impossible to prove you’re being cyberstalked. In order to file a suit, there are 5 elements needed. Stalking is often sexual in nature, but it doesn’t have to be for a person to be accused and face charges.
- Proof of engagement in communication.
- Proof of images, written documents, or videos sent to the victim.
- Proof that electronic devices are used to reach the victim.
- Proof that this communication is directed toward the person, organization, or group intended.
- Proving that there is no other reason for the communication happening other than intimidating or causing fear and distress to the victim.
You don’t have to have a specific relationship with someone to get a restraining order against them. Most people think a restraining order pertains to domestic abuse, for instance. If you know who your stalker is, you may be able to get a type of restraining order related to cyberstalking and harassment because there are different kinds of restraining orders. Clearly, this isn’t an option if you don’t know who is stalking or harassing you. However, their identity may be revealed at any time. The person may be targeting other people, also. That’s why it’s important to keep a record of all the communication that the person has sent you. If you can’t use it now, you will need it in the future.
This is a sensitive topic, and you may be scared or embarrassed to tell the people around you about it. But keeping it to yourself may do more harm than good. Even if the police might not be able to help you, file a report with them. Tell your close friends, colleagues, and boss at work, and tell your neighbors. Any of these people can help you. For instance, if the stalker slanders you or spreads a rumor to your boss, your boss will have had a heads up from you. Neighbors can notice if there’s someone strange lurking around. Have confidence in the different people who can help you.
If you feel you are in imminent danger, don’t ignore that feeling. If you live alone, find another place to stay for a while. Have your phone with you at all times so that you can call for help if needed. Cyberstalking starts online, but there’s nothing to stop the person from taking it further — offline stalking. Hopefully, it will never get to that, but you have to be prepared. If you have no other place to go to, consider investing in some proper security for your home. Security cameras and door locks should be installed.
Like a disease, it’s easier to prevent cyberstalking than it is to cure it. Here is some advice on how to prevent it.
Limit Personal Information
There’s no need to post every little thing about you online. The people who know you up close and personal already know these things about you. The people who are just in a list of friends online or follow you on social media don’t need to know things like your telephone number or address and don’t post pictures that indicate where you live.
Adjust Privacy Settings
Privacy settings are there for a reason; use them. Though some sites might have more complicated settings, it won’t take much time to understand them and use them to limit who can contact you.
Limit Talking With Strangers
At the end of the day, the person you’re talking to on a dating app or the person you don’t know that you added to your friend’s list is a stranger. It takes a long time to really get to know someone to trust them with key information about you. Limit adding the people you don’t know and limit the information about you that you give them.
It’s never easy to deal with a situation like online harassment- what is one meant to do really? Every stalker has their own motives for stalking and none of those motives are good. Even when you think the stalking may have stopped, stalkers can show up again. That’s why some victims stay silent after years of being stalked before taking any action. And some people don’t even know they’re being stalked. Help yourself by taking precautions and consider hiring a professional lawyer to get you justice and relieve you from this heavy burden and hold the person accountable.