Tuesday, January 12, 2010

January Is Stalking Awareness Month

Each year in the United States about 3.4 million people are victims of stalking. Young adults are the primary targets; the majority of victims are 18-24 years old. Most victims know their stalker. About 1 in 4 victims experienced some form of cyberstalking.

The exact definition of stalking varies by state, but in general, stalking refers to “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that involves repeated visual or physical proximity, nonconsensual communication, or verbal, written, or implied threats, or a combination thereof, that would cause a reasonable person fear.” Examples of this behavior include:
  • Repeated undesired contact (phone calls, emails, letters, show up unexpectedly, etc.).
  • Following or laying in wait for the individual
  • Making threats to the individual or her/his family.
  • Any other behavior used to conatct, harass, track or threaten the individual.

If You Are Being Stalked You Should Consider:

  • Avoiding all contact with the stalker.
  • Informing family, friends, supervisors and co-workers of what is going on.
  • Reporting the stalking to your local police.
  • Keeping an accurate journal or log of all incidents connected to the stalking.
  • Keeping all evidence received from the stalker such as letters, packages, taped telephone messages, etc.
The impact of stalking can be profound and life altering. Individuals who are stalked often change many of their behavior patterns and have strong emotional responses to the stalking. Some responses to stalking include:
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Nervousness
  • Isolation
Stalking Laws
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have anti-stalking laws. However, the legal definitions vary. For more information about your state’s stalking laws, CLICK HERE.

The Internet is another form of communication vulnerable to abuse by stalkers. Cyberstalking can take forms such as:
  • Threatning/obscene emails
  • Live chat harassment or flaming (online verbal abuse)
  • Harassment through texting
  • Hacking and/or monitoring a victim's computer and internet activity
  • Forming a website in honor of a victim
  • Can include off-line stalking/harassments such as following a victim or actual physical contact between a stalker and his/her victim
While cyberstalking is a specific kind of stalking, the possible severity of its emotional and physical threat is similar to the fear caused by offline stalking, with the same potential consequences. As a result of their victimization, many victims have physical and emotional reactions such as:
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns
  • Experiencing nightmares
  • Feeling anxious or helpless
  • Fearing for one's safety

The use of technology to stalk is increasing due to the rapid development of technology in today’s world. Like offline stalking, cyberstalking is a form of personal terrorism. Similarly, cyberstalking may precede offline stalking, sexual assault, physical violence, or even murder.

“Cyberstalking is threatening behavior or unwanted advances directed at another using the Internet and other forms of online and computer communications.”

Cyberstalking Laws
46 states have laws that explicitly include electronic forms of communication within stalking or harassment laws. New Jersey, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kentucky and the District of Columbia do not have cyberstalking laws. For more information on your state’s laws, CLICK HERE.

Prevention Tips

  • Do not share personal informaiton in public spaces anywhere online
  • Do not use your real name or nickname as your screen name or user ID. Pick a name that is gender- and age-neutral.
  • Do not post personal information as part of any user profiles (i.e. Facebook, Myspace, Twitter).
  • Use a "nonsense" password that has no relation to you as a person; use a comibnation of numbers, symbols, and letter and make sure it is at least 6 characters long. Also, try to change your password frequently and avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.
  • Be VERY cautious about meeting online acquaintances in person. If you choose to meet, do so in a public place and take along a friend.
  • Make sure that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) network have an acceptable user policy that prohibits cyberstalking.
  • If a situation online becomes hostile you should log off or surf elsewhere.
  • Do not share passwords to email or social networking sites with friends or acquaintances.
  • Active password protection on cell phones.
  • If a situation places you in fear, contact a local law enforcement agency.
What To Do If You Are Being Cyberstalked
  • If you are receiving unwanred contact, make clear to that person that you would like him or her not to contact you again.
  • Save all communications for evidence. Do not edit or alter them in any way. Also, keep a record of your contacts with Internet system administrators or law enforcement officials.
  • You may want to consider blocking or filtering messages from the harasser. Although formats differ, a common chat room command to block someone would be to type: /ignore(without the brackets). However, in some circumstances (such as threats of violence), it may be more appropriate to save the information and contact law enforcement authorities.
  • If harassment continues after you have asked the person to stop, contact the harasser's
    Internet Service Provider (ISP). Often, an ISP can try to stop the conduct by direct contact with the stalker or by closing their account. If you receive abusive e-mails, identify the domain (after the "@" sign) and contact that ISP. Most ISP's have an e-mail address such as abuse@ or postmaster@ that can be used for complaints. If the ISP has a website, visit the site for information on how to file a complaint.
  • Contact your local police department and inform them of the situation in as much detail as
To obtain more information on how to report an Internet crime such as stalking, harassment, or exploitation, visit the U.S. Department of Justice website Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.

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