Cyberstalking &
Internet Stalking

Introduction

Back to Top

Cyberstalking refers to harassment or unwanted communication via some form of technology including computers, global positioning systems (GPS), cell phones, cameras and more. The National Center for Victims of Crime defines cyberstalking as "threatening behavior or unwanted advances directed at another using the Internet and other forms of online and computer communications." Cyberstalkers may use email, chat rooms, message boards, discussion forums, GPS technology, listening devices, hidden cameras and more to target their victims. Cyberstalking can include harassing, threatening or obscene emails, excessive spamming, live chat harassment otherwise known as flaming, inappropriate messages on message boards or online guest books, dangerous electronic viruses sent, unsolicited email, and electronic identity theft. [1] In this article, we will further define cyberstalking and provide parents with a thorough list of warning signs. Furthermore, we will examine who is at risk for cyberstalking and what to do if you (or your child) fall victim to online harassment.

Examples of Cyberstalking

Back to Top

On behalf of Liz Claiborne Inc., Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) conducted a nationwide survey in 2007 about teenage dating abuse and violence. Of 615 teens between the ages of 13 and 18, the study found that 382 were in a relationship. Of those teens in a relationship, 30% said they've been text messaged multiple times an hour by a partner wanting to check up on them, and 18% said their partner used a social networking site to harass them. Additionally, 17% of the teens surveyed said their partner has made them "afraid to respond to a cell phone call, email, IM or text message, and 10% said they've actually been threatened in calls or messages. [19] The study also concluded that one in four teens reported being text messaged by a partner every hour between 10pm and 5am, a dangerous fact that indicates the boyfriend or girlfriend is seeking "control and intimidation," according to the study's experts [20].

Indeed, internet stalking may take many forms, and in some cases, victims are not fully aware that what they are experiencing is, in fact, considered cyberstalking. Your child may be a victim of cyber stalking if they:

  • Receive multiple emails or text messages per day
  • Receive unsolicited threatening emails and/or death threats
  • Receive electronic viruses
  • Receive extreme amounts of spamming
  • Experience sexual harassment or sexting via online posts, emails or cell phones, including posting and/or creating sexually explicit images

Experience online harassment or cyberbullying within online chat rooms or forum posts
Find their personal information like phone numbers, email addresses, and street addresses posted without their consent
Have an email or cell phone account that has been hacked
Are subscribed to pornography and unwanted advertising without their knowledge or consent [6]

By further abusing technology, cyberstalkers may also:

  • Monitor a victim's online activities via Spyware; (Stalkers can install Spyware on a computer or cell phone without even having physical access to the device). [18]
  • Track the location of the victim using GPS technology;
  • Intercept phone calls or messages;
  • Impersonate the victim; and
  • Watch the victim through hidden cameras. [5]

Who Is At Risk?

Back to Top

Educating teenagers about the dangers of cyberstalking is vital because they may be at risk in college. According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2009, "persons ages 18-19 and 20-24 years experience the highest rate of stalking. [3] A survey of 681 undergraduate college students, conducted by the Department of Human Development at Cornell University, found that 20% had been stalked or harassed by someone they had previously dated, 8% had initiated stalking or harassment, and 1% had been both a target and a stalker themselves. [2]

However, teens are also particularly susceptible to cyberstalking if they blog, according to a report presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Their risk is due partially to the fact that teens who maintain online diaries offer an incredible amount of personal information to the public and, in essence, to a plethora of potential stalkers. Teen bloggers often disclose their first names (70%), age (67%), and contact information (61%), including their email addresses (44%), and instant messaging username (44%). Teen bloggers also commonly provide a link to a personal homepage (30%), and reveal their location (59%), full names (20%) and birth dates (39%). [4] One may assume that teenagers who engage in video blogging, or vlogging, are equally in danger.

Believe it or not, parents may inadvertently put their children in harm's way when they post family photographs or videos of their children online. In an effort to share photos and videos with family members and friends, online predators and cyberstalkers may come across the media and follow the trail until they find personal information about the child including a home address or school name. Read on an article on Child's safety on Youtube at SafetyWeb's Parental Control blog about the risks involved with children featured on YouTube.

Something as simple as a Google search allows cyber stalkers to find out personal information about their target, including a hometown, school name, and whether or not they've ever been featured in a local newspaper. Cyberstalkers may also inconspicuously pose as friends in chat rooms and ask personal questions such as "What is your high school mascot?" or "What is the name of your pet?" At first glance, these questions may seem harmless, but their answers are often used for password recovery, and innocently providing this kind of information may lead to a hacked account and identity theft.

It is important to note that only a certain amount of internet stalking cases involve strangers. More often, victims are cyberstalked by familiar faces such as a bully at school or a neighbor. It is also common for cyberstalking to begin after a relationship ends; the "dumpee" becomes jealous, enraged, and begins to stalk their ex online. That said, some cases do involve strangers, and unlike traditional stalking, online harassment has no geographic limitations. The Internet has no boundaries and, therefore, cyberstalking may occur regardless of whether or not the victim and harasser are in the same location. In fact, a volunteer organization called Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA) released a report in 2009 which stated that only 36% of their received cases involved the victim and harasser in the same state or country. [17]

Signs Your Child is a Victim of Cyberstalking

Back to Top

Just as many victims of cyber stalking are not aware that they are being victimized, parents are sometimes not able to recognize the core warning signs that their child may be in trouble and in need of help. Remember that cyberstalkers, especially practiced online predators and pedophiles, know exactly how to manipulate their victims. If your child presents any of the signs listed below, it is your responsibility to investigate.

  • Your child spends excessive amounts of time on the computer, especially late at night.
  • Your child receives phone calls late at night, or is making calls to numbers you do not recognize.
  • Your child closes windows or turns off the computer monitor when you or another parent is nearby.
  • Your child is using an email address that you are not familiar with.
  • Your child receives gifts, mail and packages from someone you do not know.
  • Your child has become withdrawn from family, friends, school, and activities. [12]

Many victims of cyberstalking and cyber-harassment feel angry, annoyed, anxious, scared, helpless, sick, depressed, and even suicidal. [13] Victims of stalking also feel like they can never get away from the stalker and, consequently, have trouble sleeping and concentrating. Victims often believe the stalker is always watching them and may experience weight fluctuations (losing or gaining) as a result. [14]

A Pedophile's New Playground

Back to Top

According to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2 out of every 5 missing teenagers between 15 and 17-years-old are abducted in connection with Internet activity. [15] It is in a pedophile's nature to lurk wherever children go, and cyberspace allows them to live out their fantasies anonymously and quietly. This anonymity allows the most dangerous of online predators to feel at ease, free of the notion that they may be caught. Pedophiles have learned how to fool their prey into thinking they are "friends," and they often succeed in seducing, manipulating, and controlling both children and teenagers to do the unthinkable.

Television shows like CBS' "48 Hours" and Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator with Chris Hansen" have presented shocking story after story of adult pedophiles using the Internet to seek out sex with children. In many cases, the pedophile lies about their age and sends pornographic photographs to the minors. Although the aforementioned television broadcasts have brought the dangers of online pedophilia to the public's attention, the threat persists. In June of 2010, a Nevada man was arrested for using technology to lure children. Jared Smith allegedly hacked into a Facebook account and then made sexual advances to a 14-year-old girl, posing as a friend. [10] Sadly, similar cases continue to appear all across our nation.

Cyberstalking & Social Networking Sites

Back to Top

The act of stalking on Facebook (otherwise known as "Facebook stalking") includes but is not limited to continually checking someone's profile page, adding perfect strangers as friends to get information about your love interest, logging on to your friends' accounts to get information, and reading walls of people you don't know. [9]

Facebook has recently made many changes to their privacy settings and, as a result, many unsuspecting users have a default setting on their account that allows "everyone" to view their photographs. Additionally, Facebook launched an application last year called Photo Stalker which allows its users to view photographs of other members which are publically available, even if they are not linked as friends. In a recent interview, the application's developer said, "That's what people go on Facebook for, to look at pictures of their exes. They are going to be able to spy on people, which they weren't able to do before." He continued, "People are just curious, stalkers, I don't know. The name is perfect, only stalkers would want to do that." [8]

There have been several documented cases of cyberstalking via Facebook since the social networking site's inception. Earlier in 2010, two teenagers of Pamlico County, North Carolina were charged with cyberstalking their high school's interim principal. The Class 2 misdemeanor charge is associated with a Facebook page which the teens allegedly set up in the victim's name. The page included many offensive statements towards students, and the school district suffered "considerable disruption" as a result. [16] In April 2010, a 16-year-old Arkansas boy sued his mother for Facebook-stalking. The boy's mother, Denise New, was later convicted of harassment for locking her son out of his own Facebook account, and then leaving slanderous messages, including vulgarities, on his wall. The harassment continued via cell phone messages, full of more foul language. New was ordered to pay a 5 fine plus take classes in both anger management and parenting before the judge considers whether to allow her to see her son again. [11] Read on SafetyWeb's blog post about a cyberstalker using Facebook to stalk students at the University of Iowa.

Along with Facebook, other popular websites like Twitter have enabled cyberstalkers to see updates on their prey 24/7, and in some cases, allowing them to see their victim's whereabouts. Recent applications that utilize global positioning software (GPS) technology, like Foursquare, make the act of finding their victims even easier. Check out dangers of GPS technology and its correlation to cyberstalking.

How To Prevent Being Cyberstalked?

Back to Top

There are quick and easy steps every parent should take to prevent their child from becoming a victim of cyberstalking.

  • Learn everything you can about the Internet and the latest trends in technology.
  • Monitor your child, their access to electronic communications and their activities online. An Internet monitoring software can help you with this.
  • Install a reliable Internet filter and enable parental controls where available.
  • Talk to your child about Internet safety and appropriate vs. inappropriate online behavior. Encourage your child to speak to you or another trusting adult if they experience anything uncomfortable while online.
  • With your child, go over their friends list. Make sure your child hasn't accepted any friend requests from total strangers.
  • Check your child's privacy settings. Limit the amount of people who can see photographs and other personal information. Every time your teenager ends a relationship, make sure the privacy settings are checked again.
  • Ensure your child avoids announcing his/her location via status updates of GPS-enabled applications.
  • When using websites like eBay or Craigslist, make sure your child never releases his/her address. Always use anonymous email addresses and if they must meet somebody for an in-person sale, agree to meet in a public place and make sure a parent or guardian is present for the meeting.
  • Google your child's name. Set up a Google alert to notify you every time your child's name appears in a blog post or online comment anywhere on the Internet. Visit Google.com/alerts and enter your child's name as a search term to begin. [7]

What To Do if Your Child is a Victim

Back to Top

If your child has become a victim of cyberstalking, it is important to take one or more of the following steps:

  1. Once (and only once), contact the harasser to let him/her know that their harassment is unwarranted and must cease immediately, or you will take further legal action. You (and your child) should never respond to any communication from the stalker after.
  2. Keep a record of all the cyberstalking evidence including emails and postings in either hard-copy or digital form.
  3. Report the incident(s) to your Internet Service Provider and consider changing ISPs to stop cyberstalking.
  4. Close your child's current email account and open a new one without using their real name. Consider using email filters to block the known person from contacting them.
  5. Contact your local police to see what additional action can be taken.
  6. Contact your local FBI Computer Crimes Unit. (A complete list can be found here).
  7. Contact online directories to remove your child from their listings if they are included.
  8. Never agree to meet with the cyberstalker to work things out in person.
  9. Never leave your computer logged in unattended.
  10. Make sure your child chooses a good account password and changes it frequently. The password should be at least 7 letters long.
  11. Review your child's email signature to make sure it does not reveal anything personal. [1]

Helpful Resources

Back to Top

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

http://www.fbi.gov/homepage.htm

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

www.missingkids.com

National Center for Victims of Crime

http://www.ncvc.org

National Network to End Domestic Violence

http://nnedv.org/

National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline

http://www.loveisrespect.org/

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

http://ojjdp.ncjrs.gov/index.html

Sexual Harassment Support

http://www.sexualharassmentsupport.org/AboutSHS.html

Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA)

http://www.haltabuse.org/
and http://www.haltabuse.org/resources/laws/index.shtml to learn about state laws.