Stalking is a terrifying experience for the stalked because people thrive on positive social interactions. When we are cut off from our social networks because of fear and harassment, we wilt. Never knowing when it’s safe to leave the house, dreading the arrival of mail, always wondering who is on the other end of the phone or email message is no way to be forced to live. Things that once brought pleasure for the victim, such as going to the park or store, can seem scary and pointless.
Society as a whole is becoming more conscious of stopping violence in public, by calling the police, pressing charges, and running to help. Stalking victims that once had no place to turn for support, now have laws to protect them. However, as our world becomes safer, the violence becomes more subversive. The internet serves as a safe place where an abuser can safely continue to abuse. With the help of the internet, stalkers do not have to be the shady figure in the ally anymore; they can stalk from the office, the high school library, or home with the kids.
Cyber stalking is legally defined as “the use of the Internet, email or other electronic communications to stalk, and generally refers to a pattern of threatening or malicious behaviors” (ncsl). These behaviors can include obsessive texting or emailing, and attempts to frighten, isolate, and control through an overwhelming amount of messaging and deprave, insulting language. those are all actions performed by cyber stalkers.
Before defining the character of cyber stalkers one must understand bullying too. A bully is not a terrible child, ruined to forever be mean, just like a stalker is not necessarily a terrible person lurking in the night. Obsession is a very real psychological state from which stalkers usually suffer. Stalking can happen for a number of different reasons such as a relationship gone sour, hurt feelings over work and school, or just plain jealousy. The condition of obsession can be treated successfully with talk and behavior therapy. If the stalker can reach catharsis through talking and feeling through resentment and pain, then they have a chance to recover.
Cyber Stalkers: Not just adults
Stalkers are not just adults. Intense cyber bullying is considered a form of stalking. The days when the school bully shoved you in the locker and stole your lunch money are not so much anymore. Now the internet serves as an unwatched and unrestricted fertile ground for abuse. The internet has become a hiding place for cyberbullies and stalkers to harass and monitor their victims. As one Women’s Center reports, “Stalking seems to be more prevalent on college campuses. In one study between 27% and 35% of female students were stalked and between 15% and 18% of male students…while only…8% of women and 2% of men have been stalked at some point in their lives” (uh). While the term ‘cyberbully’ is usually reserved for highschool and grade school incidences, cyber bullying and cyber stalking mean basically the same thing. So it is safe to say that most, but not all, incidences of cyberstalking happen to younger people. That means our children, adolescents, and young adults are mostly in danger.
Cyber Stalkers: Prevention
Since we are sure of a high risk age bracket, prevention is definitely possible.
Is there a way to stop potential stalkers before they target you? Is prevention even possible? Well, one thing for sure is, you can’t change your own behavior too much just because some people are abusive. If you change too much, such as not being so outgoing, or being “too nice,” in a way the stalker won and the abuse has worked. The stalker will have succeeded in isolating and dominating you, and we do not want that!
There are, however, certain things you can do to avoid cyber abuse that won’t involve you changing the unique way you present yourself to the world. Some easy things you can do include not putting your personal information online, like your phone number and address and not using your full name as your email address.
You can also make a rule to not divulge personal information to ANYONE online, even if you think you know them. Sometimes people impersonate other people and is better to be safe than sorry! Also, make sure to not open emails that are from unfamiliar sources. An unfamiliar email message could contain viruses meant to steal your information.
Cyber Stalkers: Safety First
What do I do if I think I’m being stalked?
Second: Block all communication channels to said person. That means everything! The cyberstalker is looking for any information or response they can get from you. If they can’t find a way to hook you, they are powerless. Whatever happens DO NOT COMMUNICATE with the stalker once you know their true nature, even to rea m them out, no matter how tempting that may be. It has absolutely been proven best to cut off all correspondence with the stalker.
Block all internet communication channels. This includes email addresses that have sent harassing mail, as well as social networking sites, and public forums.
Block any telephone numbers the stalker has used to contact you. There is always a way to do this, either through your cell phone’s settings or by calling your telephone company.
Note: You may feel like you are being rude, but it is really better to be safe than sorry. Unless this person is very important to you, you can’t take the chance that the abuse might escalate into something worse. If you don’t correspond with them they have nothing to work with.
Third: Report and Consider a Restraining Order. If you are truly afraid this person might hurt or harass you further, it is your duty to report them and get a restraining order. Each state has its own qualifications to determine if a situation constitutes a restraining order. Some states require that you have had some sort of prior relationship to the stalker in order to get a restraining order while other states just require that you be afraid. The National Conference of State Legislatures offers a comprehensive list of states and their laws.