“They contacted my family and friends on social media to tell them how awful I am”.
“They have stolen or forced me to hand over my passwords and used them to log in to my emails and social media accounts so they can see who I am talking to”.
These are common statements Operation Foxhole Advocates hear from clients when describing their abuser. Methodical, deliberate, and persistent use of the internet, e-mail, or other telecommunication technology to harass or stalk another person is a representation of Cyberstalking.
The Who, Why, and How of Cyberstalking?
A 2001 Office of Justice Department (OJD) report states “Many stalkers—online or offline—are motivated by a desire to exert control over their victims and will engage in similar types of behavior to accomplish this end. As with offline stalking, the available evidence (which is largely anecdotal) suggests that the majority of cyberstalkers are men and the majority of their victims are women, although there have been reported cases of women cyberstalking men and of same-sex cyberstalking”. Continuously advancing technology makes it possible for abusers to use Spyware software or a hardwired device that allows perpetrators to monitor and retrieve information about their intended victim’s device usage. Spyware can be almost impossible to detect once installed and access can occur remotely so the victim remains unaware of the monitoring.
The Effects of Cyberstalking
While Cyberstalking does not involve physical contact, its effects can be just as frightening and potentially dangerous. Cyberstalking is a form of psychological tormenting, and its victim may experience the following trauma responses:
Sleep disturbances/nightmares, Hypervigilance, Higher than normal levels of stress, A feeling of being out of control, and A continuous sense of the loss of personal safety.
What can you do to protect yourself from Cyberstalking?
Always trust your instincts. If you begin to notice that someone knows too much about you and your activities, it is possible that they are monitoring you. If you suspect you are a victim of Cyberstalking it is vital that you create a Safety Plan. Consider using a safer computer, purchasing a new cell phone or checking the privacy settings on your current device. Create a new password and reset your PIN numbers, and finally, search your name on the internet regularly.
Where to Seek Assistance
Advocates here at Operation Foxhole can assist with directing you to the appropriate reporting sources and create your Safety Plan. You can also use national hotlines such as 1-800-656-HOPE, National Domestic Hotline 1800-799-SAFE or a website such as www.rainn.org.
Legal Sources for additional reading
Electronic Harassment – 47 U.S.C. § 223 (a)(1)(C) makes it a crime to anonymously use a telecommunications device (i.e., telephone, computer, or other electronic device used for communication) to harass a person;
47 U.S.C. § 223 (a)(1)(E) prohibits initiating communications via a telecommunications device solely to harass the recipient.
Electronic Threats – 18 U.S.C. § 875 prohibits transmitting communications containing threats to kidnap or physically injure someone. It also criminalizes the actions of someone who, with intent to extort (receive anything of value), electronically threatens to injure the property or reputation of a person. Cyberstalking – 18 U.S.C. § 2261A prohibits a person, with the intent to kill, injure, harass, or intimidate someone, from using a computer (or other digital communications system), to engage in actions (course of conduct) reasonably expected to cause a person (or immediate family member, spouse, or intimate partner) substantial emotional distress.
Obscenity – 47 U.S.C. § 223(a)(1)(A) prohibits using a telecommunications device to make, create, or solicit, and transmit any obscene comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication.
U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Violence Against Women Office “Stalking and Domestic Violence Report to Congress” May 2001.