Stalking and Cyber Stalking
Stalking, as defined by the criminal justice system, refers to acts such as following, viewing, communicating with, or moving in a threatening or menacing manner toward someone without that person’s consent. It entails a pattern of harassing behaviors intended to frighten, intimidate, terrorize, or injure another person.
Cyber stalking is a variety of behaviors that involve (a) repeated threats and/or harassment (b) by the use of electronic mail or other computer-based communication (c) that would make a reasonable person afraid or concerned for their safety (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner, 2000). Cyber stalking can include repeated emails or instant messages, flooding victim’s e-mail box, sending viruses, using victim’s email to subscribe to unwanted listservs; sending misinformation to chat rooms; and sending victim’s information and photos to sexually-oriented sites.
- 8% of women and 2% of men have been stalked at some point in their lives (National Institute of Justice, 1996)
- 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 (Feemouw, Westrup, & Pennypacker, 1997).
- In one study on a college campus, 1 in 10 students reported having experienced online harassment from either strangers, an acquaintance, or a significant other (Finn, 2004). Sexual minorities were especially targeted.
Dynamics of Stalking
- Common stalking behaviors include spying, sending notes or gifts, surveillance, threats, unannounced visits or calls, psychological aggression and coercion, attempting to scare or harass the person being stalked, and even physical and verbal attacks (Davis & Frieze, 2002; Sinclair & Frieze, 2005).
- The primary motives for stalking include power, control, and possession.
- The majority of stalkers have been in a prior relationship with the victim, although some stalkers have only an imaginary relationship with their victims. Offenders often refuse to accept the end of the relationship and to give up their hold over the victim.
- There are some gender differences in stalking. Although historically women have been most likely to be victims of stalking, some recent studies have shown that women are just as likely as men to stalk and even be violent. Men tend to underreport stalking by women because they do not see women’s pursuit tactics as threatening. Male stalkers are more likely to ignore rejection and exaggerate signs of acceptance by the victim.
- Early dating behaviors such as persistence, intimidation, and mild violence may foreshadow potentially violent and aggressively persistent behaviors as the relationship progresses (Williams & Frieze, 2005)
- Stalking is rooted in a culture in which romance is associated with the pursuit of a reluctant female by a persistent male (Lee, 1998). The stalking behavior may be seen by the stalker as romantic rather than intimidating, but the fear experienced by the victim is a more reliable indicator of stalking than the intention of the perpetrator.
- The internet can increase stalking by promoting a false sense of intimacy and a misunderstanding of intentions. Also, the relative anonymity and the propensity for disinhibited behavior can promote greater risk-taking and asocial behavior by a greater number of people (Finn, 2004).
Effects on Victim(s)
Victims should be reminded that they did not ask for this behavior, nor deserve it. Although some people might downplay the effects of being stalked, it can have serious ramifications for the victim. Some effects include: anxiety, mental anguish, physical harm, stress, and fear. Many times stalking forces victims to make changes in their lives such as moving from their homes, changing jobs, or being becoming hyper vigilant.
What you Can Do to Address Stalking
- End all communication with the person who is stalking you. You might need to write a letter stating that such contact is unwelcome and you will contact law enforcement if the behavior continues. Do not further react, argue, scream, or pay further attention for that is often what the stalker wants.
- Document the stalking, writing down times, places, and detailed summaries of each event.
- Contact law enforcement officials. Only police should confront the stalker, not friends or family members.
- Consider obtaining a restraining order, but evaluate the pros and cons of doing so. Sometimes it can escalate the violence.
- Change your routine.
- Don’t answer the phone or door if you don’t know who it is.
- Let family, friends, and your employer know you are being stalked.
What you Can Do to Address Cyber Stalking
- Don’t share personal information in online public places
- Select a user name that is age and gender neutral
- Create separate email accounts for chat room use
- Save all copies of communication from a cyber stalker
- Send a clear message to a cyber stalker than you do not want further communication and will contact authorities if messages continue
- Use filters and blockers to block unwanted emails
- It is strongly recommended not to meet people in person that you meet on the internet
In an emergency, call the police at 911
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233)
Houston Area Women’s Center (713) 528-2121
Halt Abuse: Online Resource for Cyber stalking http://www.haltabuse.org
Texas Council on Family Violence http://www.tcfv.org
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence http://www.ncadv.org/
University of Houston Campus Resources
Information (713) 743-0600 or (713) 743-3333
Counseling and Psycholgoical Services (CAPS) (713) 743-5454
Women’s Resource Center (832) 842-6191
* There are many anti-stalking websites and even support groups for people who are being stalked. Critically assess sites for the accuracy of the information and seek multiple opinions before acting.