Cyberstalking, online harassment, online abuse and online bullying are all very serious offenses that have a great deal of overlap in their definitions. They are all essentially harassment and/or stalking over the internet or another digital communication device (e.g. cell phone, instant message). Dealing with online harassment is something that you should know.
The labels generally refer to a scale of harassment: online bullying is relatively “mild,” cyberstalking is “severe,” and online abuse/harassment are somewhere in the middle.
Stalking refers to repetitive behavior that is intrusive, harassing, or threatening. Harassment is communication that is unwanted and aggressive, disturbing, or vulgar in nature. Harassment makes the subject feel uncomfortable or even in danger.
It’s hard to get an idea of how frequently cyberstalking occurs, because a lot of it goes unreported. The U.S. Dept. of Justice and Centers for Disease Control released a study called “Stalking in America” in 1998, concluding that:
Eight percent of women will be stalked at some time in their lives. That is one in 12 U.S. women. Two percent of men will be stalked at some time in their lives. That translates to one in 45 U.S. men. About one million women and 400,000 men are stalked each year in the U.S.
It is likely that these numbers have increased since 1998, based on the simple fact that there are now many more internet users, and there is more personal information available on the web than ever before. Remember that this study was done for stalking, not just cyberstalking. There have been no comprehensive studies on cyberstalking.
There are, however, laws in most states governing cyberstalking. The most comprehensive list on the World Wide Web can be found at: http://www.haltabuse.org/resources/laws/
If you feel you are a victim of cyberstalking, here are some things you can do in dealing with online harassment:
- Cancel old email, instant message, or online community accounts. Create new ones. Make the new account name non-identifying or random.
- Make all online accounts private if given the option. Don’t list yourself in account service directories.
- Only give the new account information to trusted friends.
- Minimize the information you present on social networking sites, message boards, and similar sites.
- Never use actual pictures of yourself if you’re having problems with a cyberstalker: now they know what you look like.
- Use a strong password for every account you have.
- Use and keep up to date with anti-virus and anti-spyware programs, as computer viruses and spyware could allow another user to access or view information on your computer.
(This is cyberstalking as well, because it occurs over a digital device)
- Get your number unlisted and ensure it stays unpublished. Decline the input of your phone number into directories whenever possible, and get it unlisted as an alternative. Always look for the opt-out box whenever you are signing up for a new service that requires your address, phone number, or any of your personal information.
- Have your name removed from existing phone directories, including reverse directories.
- Get an alternative number for when you do need to give out a phone number to a person or company (e.g. a voicemail box or an additional cell).
- Do not print your phone number on your checks.
- Get “Per Line” blocking or “Complete Blocking” through your phone company so you number isn’t displayed while you make outgoing calls.
Cyberstalking can occur alongside general stalking, in that case you should consider:
Really important ideas:
- File police reports for any stalking activities. This will make the restraining order process easier should it become necessary.
- Keep a log of every stalking incident (including date, time, type of communication, and a transcript if possible).
- Keep a log of every conversation you’ve had with law enforcement and/or communication company representatives (e.g. Internet Service Providers for an online stalker) including date, time, name, and position of the person to whom you’ve spoken.
- Act to diffuse stalking situations. Take even borderline threats very seriously and respond to them clearly. Tell the aggressor, “Do not contact me again” in a firm and commanding tone. Do not respond to any messages after that. A stalker gets pleasure through their ability to make a victims react with distress. By not responding, you’re taking away that victim. They’ll likely move on.
- Be protected at all times. You may feel empowered if you take a martial arts class, or just carry a can of pepper spray with you at all times.
- It goes without saying that if you are uncomfortable with it, you should avoid traveling alone.
- Always have a way to communicate in an emergency situation. The easiest way to ensure this is to carry a cell phone.
- Get a cell phone with a digital camera installed, that way you can document stalking with images as proof.
- Get a P.O. Box and use it for all services that request your address, including bills.
- Don’t use your home address when you subscribe to magazines or get shipments.
- Do not accept packages at home or work unless they were explicitly ordered by you, it will confirm your existence at that address.
- Only give your most trusted friends your true residential address.
Don’t file a “Change of Address” form with the U.S. Postal Service if you should move.
- Make sure your mailbox has a lock on it.
- Enlist in your state’s address confidentiality program (this program protects information for victims of stalking and domestic violence). For contact info for your state, please visit: http://www.sos.state.ok.us/acp/confidentiality_programs.htm
Some other ideas:
- Let people know that contact information you give them should be held in confidence. Tell them not to make them available in public places or on any medium that can be stolen easily.
- Avoid using your middle initial or the suffixes of your name if you want to blend into a crowd.
- Whenever you are filling out a profile with any company or government agency, only answer the questions that have an asterisk on them (or whichever symbol tells you it’s necessary to fill out) and don’t give them any more information than that which they absolutely must have. Ask or find out if the company has a confidentiality option you can choose or opt-out of any selling of your information.
- Use a P.O. Box on your driver’s license rather than your home address (consider that it will show up on your DMV records).
Don’t put your name on the directory list of tenants in your apartment, condo, or community’s front gate.
- Be extremely protective of your social security number. This is an important piece of the puzzle for almost all of your personal information. When you lose your social security number, it’s like losing a key that works on many safes filled with your personal information.
- Don’t hesitate to alert the major credit bureaus (Experian, Transunion, and Equifax) with a “Fraud Alert” if you think someone may be trying to steal or look into your identity fraudulently.
Run reverse phone search now
- Find out the source of a harassing (“prank”) caller
- Investigate a “suspicious” number that you found on your boyfriend/girlfriend’s phone
- Research a number that appeared on your phone bill
- Locate an old friend from high school or college
- Research “missed calls” on your caller ID that you don’t recognize
- Lookup someone’s exact address
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