Cyberstalking is a relatively new phenomenon. Although there is no universally accepted definition of cyberstalking, the term is used in reference to the use of the Internet, email, or other electronic communications devices to stalk another person.
Stalking generally involves harassing or threatening behavior that an perpetrator engages in repeatedly, such as following a person, appearing at a person's home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages or objects, or vandalizing a person's property. Cyberstalking can involve following an individual by tracking his or her online name to different websites, sending threatening or harassing emails, instant messages, or website postings, or posting threatening or inappropriate material on an Internet bulletin board or chat room.
In Kansas law, stalking is defined as intentionally or recklessly engaging in a course of conduct targeted at a specific person which would cause a reasonable person in the circumstances of the targeted person to fear for such person's safety, or the safety of a member of such person's immediate family and the targeted person is actually placed in such fear. While some conduct involving annoying or menacing behavior might fall short of illegal stalking, such behavior may be a prelude to stalking and should be treated seriously.
Given the enormous amount of personal information available through the Internet today, a cyberstalker can often locate private information about a potential victim with a few mouse clicks or key strokes.
If you are a Victim of Cyberstalking:
- Victims who are under the age of 18 should tell their parents or another adult they trust about any harassments and/or threats made online or elsewhere.
- Victims should file a report with local law enforcement and inquire what charges, if any, can be pursued. Victims should save copies of police reports and record all contact with law enforcement officials.
- Experts suggest that in cases where the offender is known, victims should send the stalker a clear written warning. Specifically, victims should communicate that the contact is unwanted, and ask the perpetrator to cease sending communications of any kind. Victims should do this only once. Then, no matter the response, victims should under no circumstances ever communicate with the stalker again. Victims should save copies of this communication in both electronic and hard copy form.
- If the harassment continues, the victim may wish to file a complaint with the stalker's Internet service provider, as well as with their own service provider. Many Internet service providers offer tools that filter or block communications from specific individuals.
- As soon as individuals suspect they are victims of online harassment or cyberstalking, they should start collecting all evidence and document all contact made by the stalker. To charge a stalking offense, law enforcement officers must be able to show a course of conduct by the stalker. Save all email, postings, or other communications in both electronic and hard-copy form. If possible, save all of the header information from emails and newsgroup postings. Record the dates and times of any contact with the stalker.
- Victims may also want to start a log of each communication explaining the situation in more detail. Victims may want to document how the harassment is affecting their lives and what steps they have taken to stop the harassment.
- Victims who are being continually harassed may want to consider changing their email address, Internet service provider, home phone number, and should examine the possibility of using encryption software or privacy protection programs. Any local computer store can offer a variety of protective software, options and suggestions. Victims may also want to learn how to use the filtering capabilities of email programs to block emails from certain addresses.
- Finally, under no circumstances should victims agree to meet with the perpetrator face to face to "work it out," or "talk." No contact should ever be made with the stalker. Meeting a stalker in person can be very dangerous.
Potential Effects of Cyberstalking:
Just because cyberstalking does not include physical contact with the perpetrator does not mean it is not as threatening or frightening as any other type of crime. Victims of cyberstalking often experience psychological trauma, as well as physical and emotional reactions as a result of their victimization. Some of these effects may include: