There are many different kinds of stalkers as we’ve previously discussed. But the laws haven’t always kept pace with the crime.
For example, did you know that the first anti-stalking law wasn’t passed until 1990? And then, it was only in one state – California.
The good news is that other states quickly followed, and by 1993 there was an anti-stalking law on the books in every state. Also, the federal government responded in 1994 by passing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
VAWA made it a federal crime to cross state lines with the intent to injure, harass or intimidate a spouse or intimate partner. Two years later, Congress expanded VAWA to include all stalking victims, not just spouses and intimate partners.
The Rise of Cyberstalking
Unfortunately, 26 years later, stalking is still a problem. During a 12-month period, it’s estimated that 1.5 percent of people over age 18 were the victims of stalking. Also, one study reported that 13 percent of college women indicated that they had been stalked at some point in the past.
To make matters worse, stalking has only become more complex. Cyberstalking – the use of technology such as the Internet, cell phones or GPS to stalk victims – has become more prevalent, and more dangerous, than ever before. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “approximately one in four stalking victims reported some form of cyberstalking, such as email or instant messaging.”
Part of the danger of technology, the evolution of the internet and social networking sites is that it makes it easier for stalkers to get information about their victims. Another difficult factor of cyberstalking is anonymity. Stalkers don’t ever need to physically interact with their victims to terrorize them, because they can do everything online.
Examples of Cyberstalking
Below is a list of some of the ways stalkers use technology against their victims from iPredator Inc., a New York Cybercrime Psychology & Internet Safety Company:
- Using electronic communication such as emails, text messages and social media to harass the victim
- Threatening the victim or victim’s family, friends or co-workers through email
- Publishing the victim’s personal information such as name, address and phone numbers online
- Making up false personas in order to trick the victim into having contact
- Stealing the victim’s identity to post offensive comments online
- Creating and posting sexually explicit images of the victim or victim’s loved ones
- Hacking into the victim’s computer to monitor their communication
- Placing an unknown GPS or tracking device on their vehicle to track the victim’s movements
- Subscribing the victim to pornography sites and unwanted advertising
- Setting up websites that threaten the victim or encourage others to contact, harass or harm them
- Following the victim in chat rooms and on social media to harass them
One terrifying example of cyberstalking is Sherri Peak’s case.
After she broke up with her husband, he hid a GPS device in her car to track her movements. Next to the GPS device, he placed a cellphone that didn’t ring but still picked up so that he could listen to her conversations. Finally, he used spyware to hack into her email.
Within no time, he had almost unrestricted access to every aspect of Sherri’s life. In the article, Sherri is quoted saying, “This guy had me completely wired in. He knew everything at every moment.” Once the technology was discovered, her husband was arrested and prosecuted. But up until that moment, Sherri lived in fear not knowing how he knew so much about her life.
Protect Yourself from Cyberstalking
So in addition to recognizing cyberstalking, it’s important to protect yourself. Here are some suggestions from Alexis A. Moore, founder of the national advocacy group Survivors in Action:
- Don’t make your home address available. Stick to using a work address or a private mailbox.
- Use a secure password to protect all of your accounts such as your computer, cellphone, banking information, emails and credit cards.
- Monitor the Internet to see how your personal information is being used online. Make sure there is nothing you’re unaware of.
- If you are ending your relationship, reset all of your passwords and remove them from having access to any of your accounts like credit cards or cell phones.
- Set your Facebook and other social media accounts to private so that only the people you want to have access can see your posts.
- Never give out your Social Security number unless you are sure of the person who is asking for the information.
- Be suspicious of emails or phone calls that are asking for your personal information.
Teach Your Campus About Cyberstalking
Stalking laws such as VAWA are out there, but so are cyberstalkers. People need to be aware of the dangers and know what to look out for.
Fortunately, higher education institutions are in a unique position to help. With VAWA training, schools can help teach faculty and staff about the signs of stalking and how to protect themselves and students if they, or someone they know, become a victim.
To learn more about the training courses we offer for students, faculty and staff, fill out the form on the right.