Cyberstalking is a relatively new phenomenon. Cyberstalking generally refers to the use of the Internet, email, or other electronic communications devices to stalk another person.
Stalking involves harassing or threatening behavior that an individual 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 their online name to different websites, sending threatening or harassing emails, instant messages, or website postings, or posting threatening or inappropriate material on Internet bulletin boards or chat room.
Given the enormous amount of personal information available through the Internet today, a cyberstalker can easily locate private information about a potential victim with a few mouse clicks.
If you are a Victim of Cyberstalking:
- Teens who are under the age of 18 should tell their parents or another adult they trust about any harassments and/or threats.
- You should file a report with local law enforcement or contact your local prosecutor's office to see what charges, if any, can be pursued. Save copies of police reports and record all contact with law enforcement officials and the prosecutor's office.
- Experts suggest that in cases where the offender is known, victims should send the stalker a clear written warning. Specifically, you should communicate that the contact is unwanted, and ask the stalker to cease sending communications of any kind. You should do this only once. Then, no matter the response, you should under no circumstances ever communicate with the stalker again. You should save copies of this communication in both electronic and hard copy form.
- If the harassment continues, you and your parents may wish to file a complaint with the stalker's Internet service provider, as well as with your own service provider. Many Internet service providers offer tools that filter or block communications from specific individuals.
- As soon as individuals suspect they are being harassed online or stalked online, they should start collecting all evidence and document all contact made 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.
- You may also want to start a log of each communication explaining the situation in more detail. You may want to document how the harassment is affecting your lives and what steps you have taken to stop the harassment.
- If you are being continually harassed, you may want to consider changing your email address, Internet service provider, a 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. You 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 you 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.