While the act of stalking has long existed, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the behaviour became criminalised. Since then, society has been propelled into an era where meeting someone new is as easy as swiping right – and so it is no wonder that as technology has evolved, the practice of stalking has too.
Incidences of this harassment carried out over the “interwebs” are rare. This practice is an extension of traditional stalking — and the internet is enabling the stalkers to take their “hobby” to a new platform. In light of this, cyberstalking is defined as the use of electronic mediums to stalk or harass an individual or group. This harassment may include (but is not limited to): false accusations, threats, slander, monitoring and libel.
Sit tight as we peek into the dark world of cyberstalking, with an introduction to this 21st century crime.
One of the prevalent methods used by criminal profilers to categorise a stalker is by their relationship to the victim. While this is critical in assisting investigators in creating an initial picture of the perpetrator, it is by no means a definitive character sketch of said individual. Above all, it is pertinent that the stalker’s motivations are also considered.
Simple obsessional stalkers have had a prior relationship with their victim — the motivations underlying this category include revenge or a desire to restart the relationship. The common instrument is always fear. On the other hand, in cases of love obsessional stalking, there may be no previous relationship with the victim. The perpetrator may suffer from a mental illness like bipolar disorder. Often, the victim is known through the media (such as a celebrity) or perhaps through the internet. This is the second largest group of stalkers after the simple obsessional category.
In erotomanic cases of stalking, the perpetrator is convinced the target of their stalking is in love with them. In these incidences the offenders are likely to be female while the victims tend to be older males of an advanced social status. As you might have guessed, in some cases the perpetrator suffers from a mental disorder.
Finally, in cases of stalking that fall into the false victimisation syndrome category, the offender actually accuses another person of stalking them as a way to gain support and sympathy.
One in how many?
Possibly unsurprisingly, it is incredibly difficult to assess the prevalence of cyberstalking within a community. Due to the nature of this digital harassment, victims may feel they are in no immediate danger, not know what to do about it and, scarily, may not even realise they are being stalked.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, it is estimated that fourteen in every one thousand people (eighteen years and older) were a victim of stalking. Of those, one in four reported some form of cyberstalking — 83% cited email as a method, with just 35% reporting that instant messaging was used.
Generally speaking, stalkers tend to be of a more mature age and, on average, have achieved a higher level of education than other offenders — 42% have completed some high school with a relatively large 6% having actually graduated college.
Naturally, one would expect that in order to be a victim of cyberstalking, you would need to at least own a computer and have internet access, if not be active on social media. However, there is one case study that demonstrates how you can become a victim of this practice even without the correct equipment.
The victim met the perpetrator at church, and had previously rejected several romantic attempts. The offender, a fifty-five year old male, retaliated by posting her personal details to the Internet — including her physical description, home address and telephone number. He also posted details about how one could bypass her security system. In addition, he shared several (fake) explicit fantasies on her behalf on online forums. As a result, the victim was constantly harassed at her home by strangers and the perpetrator alike. The offender’s behaviour resulted in the victim being forced out of her home, losing her job, weight loss and severe anxiety.
While the actions of cyberstalking — as above — may be no direct physical threat the the victim, the long-term psychological effects can be extremely damaging.
Your turn: Do you think that cyberstalking should be take as seriously as traditional stalking? What do you think can be done to prevent these crimes? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!