|As we showed in the first article in this series, the condition of the Internet public’s awareness of the issues of Internet Safety is in deplorable condition. This is at the very heart of the problem. |
Yes, there are laws, and more coming, that address specific aspects of the crimes that are perpetrated against people on the Internet, but even this has its problems. There are more dangers than the laws address and the Internet is International in scope, which makes enforcement more difficult.
We submit that even more effective than laws that punish the criminal after the commission of a crime, is a high profile promotion of Internet Safety Awareness combined with a comprehensive understanding of the broad definition of Internet Safety and instruction for developing defenses against the dangers that exist on-line.
Cyber Stalking an Enormous Problem
Cyber stalking is one of the most prevalent problems, as we earlier made claim. Have you even realized the full impact yet of the idea that one in ten will become the victim of a cyber stalker? Let’s look at what that really means.
According to the United States Department of Justice, in a study done in 1999 the figure is actually a little higher than 1 out of ten.
Stalking is more prevalent than previously thought: 8.1 percent of surveyed women and 2.2 percent of surveyed men reported being stalked. Source – USDOJ (http://www.ncjrs.org/txtfiles1/nij/183781.txt)
This shows a total of 10.3% have been stalked. Again, not a statistic that really hits home. The big shock comes when you apply these figures to the total Internet population.
In a 1999 Commerce-Nielson report (http://www.commerce.net/) the total Internet population for the United Sates and Canada was 92,200,000. If we adjust that figure for a modest (many sources say it is much higher) 8% growth since that report, the figure has now exceeded 100,000,000.
This means that based on the DOJ study there are now 10,300,000 current and future cyber stalking victims on-line. Over ten million in the United States and Canada alone!
Understanding the Offense
In order to understand the offense it helps to first know what a cyber stalker is. A stalker is anyone who contacts you or seeks to gain intimate personal knowledge of you without your consent, or after being told to cease.
Merriam-Webster defines stalker as: to pursue quarry or prey stealthily from the Old English bestelcian, which means to steal.
What better way to prey stealthily than behind the alias of an Internet account? It seems as though the fact that on the Internet everyone chooses his or her own identity has brought out of the woodwork every kind of unstable minded individual.
So the definition of a cyber stalker would be: one who contacts or seeks to gain intimate personal knowledge of another through the Internet or other on-line method of communication without their consent, or after being told to cease. This is the offense; unwelcome communication, remember it.
The “contact” of a stalker can range from unwelcome advances and obscene offerings, to disparaging, demeaning, slanderous, vile, or threatening comments made in a chat room, on a bulletin board, through Email, instant message, or any other on-line communication medium.
The big problem is that you never know when, or whom, or how far they are going to go in pursuit of their deranged goal, whatever that might be. What starts out as a seemingly innocent exchange can progress from amorous advances to name calling to threats to…? You just don’t know where it is going to end.
You must, however, be prepared for the worst and take the appropriate steps as soon as you begin to suspect that you have become victim. The reason? Because of how bad it can get!
According to statistics from W.H.O.A. (Working to Halt On-line Abuse, http://www.haltabuse.org) 19.5% of cyber stalking cases escalate to offline stalking. This brings a pretty scary reality into view.
One out every five cyber stalking cases becomes an off line, real world stalking case. Remember we were working with an estimated 10,000,000 victims. This means that 2,000,000 of those will have cases that escalate into the real world.
Is that enough reason for caution? Is that enough reason for action? Is that enough reason to stop now and take the time to learn about this and other dangers that exist in cyberspace? To prepare defenses? And to make sure that those you care about are aware of these things?
They Come to Conquer
The cyber stalker can come from anywhere. From a chat room, a newsgroup, a bulletin board, or email. Virtually any medium of communication available on-line affords them the opportunity to pick a victim.
This is not to say that all cyber stalkers go looking for victims, some of them become cyber stalkers after being spurned by someone they were attracted to. This is why we must be watchful of our communications at all times.
We do not know what kind of people they are nor do we know what they are capable of. We do know that once we have become the object of a cyber stalker, we have a one in five chance that it will actually reach our home. We do know that once a cyber stalker has begun, they are here to conquer, and some will use any means necessary to feel that they have won a great victory.
Besides the other types of contact previously described, cyber stalkers are also known to send electronic viruses, send masses of spam mail, and even hack your computer for the purposes of identity theft.
For the most part their goal seems to be to intimidate, create fear, and get a reaction. This makes them feel as though they have some sort of power, and in a sense they do. The power to generate fears, the power to achieve the desired result in your reaction of fear and panic.
It is important to understand this because this is part of your first round of defenses against these individuals.
The effects of a cyber stalker on the life of their victim are real. These effects include psychological trauma, which manifests itself in many forms. From paranoia, to agoraphobia, to the extremes of a complete nervous breakdown, those who have found themselves to be the target of a stalker can go through a full range of changed behavior.
The threat of real physical danger to yourself or your loved ones is not to be discounted and so this becomes a driving force behind these changes.
But these are victories to the cyber stalker and we are here to reduce, if not eliminate, the victories that these denizens of cyberspace seek to achieve. Therefore, the best defense is to understand the underlying psyche of the cyber stalker and rip the taste of victory out of their grasp before they can even taste it.
As we just mentioned their goal is to see the effects of intimidation and fear, and to many this is the sum total of their goal. To others there is no end in sight of the lengths to which they will go to feel satisfied that they have accomplished their objective.
The best way to be prepared is to understand beforehand how to react, and the appropriate steps to take once you realize that you have become a victim.
The first is to remain calm and objective, not reacting to flames with flames, threats with threats, just not reacting. Remember, to react is to feed the fire.
Once someone begins a campaign the best course is to simply and calmly speak to them one time, whether by email, chat, bulletin board, or whatever method is being used, and tell them that you no longer wish to have any communication with them whatsoever. If you feel that you should in your particular circumstance, include the fact that you are prepared to follow established reporting procedures if they fail to comply with your request to cease contact. Save a copy of your request and make that your last communication with them.
You have just set the stage for a complaint if they should continue. You have notified them that any further communication is unwelcome and if it persists it now falls under the definition of cyber stalking in a very concrete way.
Now you have a couple of decisions to make. Do you keep your current account open so that you will have reportable evidence should the person continue or do you block them from access? This is up to you and is a decision that you should make based on your own level of comfort. Just remember if you choose to keep access open, do not respond to anything, at all, period.
If you receive further communications you can report the offender to both their ISP (Internet Service Provider) and your own. Most ISPs will, with sufficient grounds, terminate the offender’s accounts.
Realize this, however; if you can bear to just ignore the communications while you gather evidence, you stand a greater chance of the offender just getting tired of being ignored and going away. On the other hand, if you report them and they have their account terminated, they can get another account somewhere else and may be thrilled that they got a reaction, or angry at the termination, and press further.
If the stalking continues, you may have to go to the extremes of either changing your accounts, or changing your ISP altogether. You may have to find new places to visit if that is feasible. If they found you before in an on-line venue that you frequent, it would be easy enough to find you again even under a new account, unless you can also change your style of communication so drastically that they would not recognize you.
Be Prepared to Go All the Way
Your next step is to go your local police, and enlist the assistance of one of the on-line organizations that work with cyber stalking cases. Some of these organizations are,
As drastic as it sounds, we mentioned be prepared for the worst, so be prepared even to relocate if you find that your stalker has discovered your whereabouts. Remember, one in five cases escalate to off-line stalking. Don’t assume you must the moment you realize that you are being cyber stalked, but be prepared in case you have to. There are many cases where this has been the only recourse. We have resources on our main web site that include links to some of these stories if you care to see just how extreme it can get.
The main thing is to be prepared. Be prepared for anything. Don’t let these statistics escape your mind. Think about those you care about and share this information with them. And if we haven’t provided enough already, we will finish with these.
Based on analysis of the National Violence Against Women Survey results, it is estimated that 8.2 million women have been cyberstalked at some point in their lifetime . . . (Cyberstalking,1999). Source – National Center for Victims of Crimes
One percent of these were cyber stalked during the previous year. That is 82,000 female cyber stalking victims during the year, or 225 victims per day! Based on a study from two years ago! How much has the Internet grown since then? And that is just female victims. Further studies by the US Department of Justice indicate that men make up approximately 20% of the stalking victim total.
*Based on a Spring 1999 CommerceNet/Nielsen Internet Demographic Survey with projections for an 8% growth through 2000. Source – CommerceNet
Are these statistics that we can ignore, or even risk becoming a part of? I say no! It’s your Internet, you can make a difference. How? By promoting Internet Safety Awareness. Not as an alarmist, but as a realist. The Internet is an amazing and wonderful tool if used appropriately, but like any other tool, safe use must be considered.
We will look at some more, equally shocking statistics in next week’s article which discusses the vastly important topic of Child Predators, this one will make you angry. This topic will also include more information on reporting.
Internet safety should be a concern of all who are connected with the Internet, and we have an opportunity to make a difference.
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