Most of us know what stalking is; what we don’t know is how pervasive it is. And with the advent of advanced technology and communications stalking just went cyber. Cyberstalking is such a new phenomenon that the media and law enforcement have yet to broadly define and quantify it. The available resources are so few and limited that there is little information for victims or for professional victim service providers to utilize. What stats there are reveal millions of potential and projected future cases.
We have all grown so complacent about our information and how it is stored and managed; we have no idea how easy it is to access essential personal data that would unlock the safeguards to our finances, our personal and economic safety and our lives. The havoc a cyberstalker can wreak is painful, frustrating and long-lasting, and the technological tools and resources commonly used by cyberstalkers are all available online for affordable prices.
The epidemic of identity theft indicates technology abuse is one of the fastest growing areas of crime. Cyberstalking is not identity theft. An identity thief, whether stealing from a stranger or a family member, has a very specific goal in mind — financial gain. Identity thieves are unconcerned by the consequences of their behavior on the victim’s life. Whereas just like a “traditional stalker”, the actions of a cyberstalker are deliberate and focused on the consequences to the victim and can be totally anonymous, thanks to the sophisticated technology we rely on every day. The same techniques used for identity theft are easily applied to one person who has been targeted specifically for reasons of anger, revenge, or control. A cyberstalker’s intent is to harm their intended victim using the anonymity and untraceable distance of technology. In many situations, the victim’s lives and their family are completely disrupted by the perpetrator.
Cyberstalking can take many forms, including:
- Harassment, embarrassment and humiliation of the victim
- Emptying bank accounts or other economic control such as ruining the victim’s credit score
- Harassing family, friends and employers to isolate the victim
- Tracking and locating the victim and her movements more easily (e.g. using Facebook notifications to know where they are)
- Scare tactics to instill fear and more.
Domestic violence victims are one of the most vulnerable groups to traditional stalking, so it’s no surprise they are vulnerable to cyberstalking as well. It’s a myth that if women “just leave” they will be okay. Cyberstalking is a way to continue to maintain rigid control and instill fear into a domestic partner, even when she has already left the relationship.
- More than one million women are stalked annually in the United States. An astonishing one in twelve women will be stalked in their lifetimes. The average duration of stalking is nearly two years and even longer if the stalking involves intimate partners.
- Within the past twelve months, 9.3 million Americans were victims of identity theft. Identity theft is often present in situations of domestic abuse and can become a form of economic abuse once the woman has left her partner. One and a half million of those reporting identity thefts in 2004 also reported that they suffered from domestic abuse and harassment from their ex’s. These latter stats could be more correctly re-categorized as cyberstalking incidents.
- National figures show victims of cyberstalking tend to be females during the college ages 18-29 but women are not the only targets. National figures show most stalkers to be male by overwhelming margins (87 percent.)
- The Department of Justice statistical report of June 29, 2006 indicates that, on average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in this country every day. The FBI reports that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 to 44 — more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. Cyberstalking provides astonishingly easy and cheap tools for an abuser to locate women who have tried to move away or go into hiding.
Documented cases of cyberstalking have included a wide variety of incidents. Victims have discovered their pictures and personal information have been submitted to online dating services after being contacted by men wanting to set up a meeting. Other stalking victims and their children have been monitored using the GPS tracking device on their cell phones. Victims have been located by paying online investigations agencies. Social networking sites are routinely used by cyberstalkers to track, harass and intimidate victims and their families. (Read the NCVC article on this site.)
If you or someone you know is being stalked contact CADV. Advocates have information including steps to keep you safe. They will help you identify which ones you need to take, to develop a safety plan and “Know It, Name It and Stop the Stalking”.