Cyber Stalking: A Global Menace in the
Cyber stalking is a new form of computer related crime occurring in our society. Cyber stalking is when a person is followed and pursued on line. Their privacy is invaded, their every move watched. It is a form of harassment that can disrupt the life of the victim and leave them feeling very afraid and threatened. Cyber Stalking usually occurs with women, who are stalked by men, or children who are stalked by adult predators or pedophiles. Cyber stalkers need not have to leave their home to find, or harass their targets, and has no fear of physical violence since they believe that they cannot be physically touched in cyberspace. They may be on the other side of the earth or a neighbor or even a relative. Their main targets are mostly females, and children, who are emotionally weak or unstable. Typically, the cyber stalker's victim is new on the web, and inexperienced with the rules of netiquette and internet safety. It is believed that over 75% of the victims are female, but sometimes men are also stalked. The figures are more on assumed basis and the actual figures can really never be known since most crimes of such natures go unreported. This theoretical analysis focuses on the typology of cyber stalking, typology of perpetrators and victims and research in cyber stalking.
Key Words: Cyber stalking; cyber crime; trends and issues; typology; victims; stalkers
The information superhighway is undergoing rapid growth in this new millennium. The Internet and other telecommunications technologies are promoting advances in virtually every aspect of society and every corner of the globe: fostering commerce, improving education and health care, promoting participatory democracy in the developed and developing countries, and facilitating communications among family and friends, whether across the street or around the world. Unfortunately, many of the attributes of this technology - low cost, ease of use, and anonymous nature, among others - make it an attractive medium for fraudulent scams, child sexual exploitation, and increasingly, a new concern known as "cyber stalking" (Attorney General Report, 1999).
Cyber stalking is the use of the Internet or other electronic means to stalk someone which may be a computer crime or harassment. This term is used interchangeably with online harassment and online abuse. A cyber stalker does not present a direct physical threat to a victim, but follows the victim's online activity to gather information and make threats or other forms of verbal intimidation. The anonymity of online interaction reduces the chance of identification and makes cyber stalking more common than physical stalking. Although cyber stalking might seem relatively harmless, it can cause victims psychological and emotional harm, and it may occasionally lead to actual stalking. Cyber stalking is becoming a common tactic in racism, and other expressions of bigotry and hate (National centre for victims of crime, 2003).
Cyber stalkers target and harass their victims via websites, chat rooms, discussion forums, open publishing websites (e.g. blogs and Indymedia) and email. The availability of free email and website space, as well as the anonymity provided by these chatrooms and forums, has contributed to the increase of cyber stalking as a form of harassment. Also contributing is that cyber stalking is as easy as doing a google search for someone's alias, real name, or email address (National centre for victims of crime, 2003).
Bocjj (2002) offers the following definition for cyber stalking:
"A group of behaviours in which an individual, group of individuals or organisation, uses information and communications technology to harass another individual, group of individuals or organisation. Such behaviours may include, but are not limited to, the transmission of threats and false accusations, damage to data or equipment, identity theft, data theft, computer monitoring, the solicitation of minors for sexual purposes and any form of aggression. Harassment is defined as a course of action that a reasonable person, in possession of the same information, would think causes another reasonable person to suffer emotional distress."
Typology of Cyber Stalking:
There are three primary ways in which cyber stalking is conducted (Ogilvie, 2000)
· Email Stalking: Direct communication through email.
· Internet Stalking: Global communication through the Internet.
· Computer Stalking: Unauthorised control of another person’s computer.
1. Email Stalking
While the most common forms of stalking in the physical world involve telephoning, sending mail, and actual surveillance (Burgess et al. 1997; Mullen et al. 1999; Tjaden 1997), cyber stalking can take many forms. Unsolicited email is one of the most common forms of harassment, including hate, obscene, or threatening mail. Other forms of harassment include sending the victim viruses or high volumes of electronic junk mail (spamming). It is important to note here that sending viruses or telemarketing solicitations alone do not constitute stalking. However, if these communications are repetitively sent in a manner which is designed to intimidate (that is, similar to the manner in which stalkers in the physical world send subscriptions to pornographic magazines), then they may constitute “concerning behaviours” and hence be categorized as stalking (Ogilvie, 2000).
In many ways, stalking via email represents the closest replication of traditional stalking patterns. Given that the most common forms of stalking behavior are telephoning and sending mail, the adoption of email by stalkers is not surprising. As a medium, email incorporates the immediacy of a phone call and introduces the degree of separation entailed in a letter. It might be argued that email stalking is actually less invasive than phone calls because the victim can undermine the interaction by deleting, without opening, any suspicious or unsolicited messages. This argument does, however, deny the social meaning of email communication. As with telephone stalking, email harassment constitutes an uninvited and arguably threatening incursion into private space. As with stalking in the physical world, email stalking can result from an attempt to initiate a relationship, repair a relationship, or threaten and traumatize a person. Interestingly though, those cases which have been prosecuted have tended to fall into the latter category (Ogilvie, 2000).
2. Internet Stalking
As with stalking in the physical world, few examples of stalking are confined to one medium. While email stalking may be analogous to traditional stalking in some instances, it is not restricted to this format. Stalkers can more comprehensively use the Internet in order to slander and endanger their victims. In such cases, the cyber stalking takes on a public, rather than a private, dimension. What is particularly disturbing about this second form of cyber stalking is that it appears to be the most likely to spill over into “physical space”. In these instances, cyber stalking is accompanied by traditional stalking behaviours such as threatening phone calls, vandalism of property, threatening mail, and physical attacks (Laughren 2000). As noted by Gilbert (1999): In real life, stalkers usually stalk in proximity to their victims—they want the victim to see them and know they are there—they feed on the victim’s reaction. On the internet, proximity takes on a new meaning (Ogilvie, 2000).
Obviously, there are important differences between the situation of someone who is regularly within shooting range of her or his stalker and someone who is being stalked from two thousand miles away. While the previous examples can be viewed as offensive and threatening, they can, nevertheless, be viewed as distinct from “traditional” stalking in that they remain in cyber space. While emotional distress is (appropriately) acknowledged in most criminal sanctions, it is not considered as serious as actual physical threat. Thus, while links between stalking, domestic violence, and feticide have been empirically demonstrated “in real life” (Burgess et al. 1997; Kurt 1995; McFarlane et al. 1999), much cyber stalking remains at the level of inducing emotional distress, fear, and apprehension. However, this is not to say that causing apprehension and fear should not be criminally sanctioned, or that the cyber and the real are somehow inherently or intrinsically disconnected (Ogilvie, 2000).
3. Computer Stalking
Whilst the first two categories of cyber stalking can “spill over” into real world interactions, the “distancing” quality of the cyber component of the interaction is, nevertheless, a defining feature of the interaction. If there is no movement into the real world, targets of the harassment are still able to buffer themselves from exposure to the stalker by avoiding parts of the Internet used by the stalker. The necessity to do this is of course an intrusion upon the rights of the individual, but it is at least a strategy that can be employed to obtain a degree of distance between the stalker and the victim. In the third category of cyber stalking, this defensive strategy is undermined by the stalker. In essence, the stalker exploits the workings of the Internet and the Windows operating system in order to assume control over the computer of the targeted victim (Ogilvie, 2000).
It is probably not widely recognized that an individual “Windows based” computer connected to the Internet can be identified, and connected to, by another computer connected to the Internet. This “connection” is not the “link” via a third party characterizing typical Internet interactions; rather, it is a computer-to-computer connection allowing the interloper to exercise control over the computer of the target. At present, a reasonably high degree of computer “savvy” is required to undertake this form of exploitation of the Internet and the Windows operating system. However, and inevitably, instructions on how to use the technologies in this way are available on the Internet. It is likely that progressively easier “scripts” for the exercise will be made freely available for anyone so inclined to download. In practice, what this means is that individual computer users have a vastly reduced buffer between themselves and the stalker (Ogilvie, 2000).
A cyber stalker can communicate directly with their target as soon as the target computer connects in any way to the Internet. The stalker can assume control of the victim’s computer and the only defensive option for the victim is to disconnect and relinquish their current Internet “address”. The situation is like discovering that anytime you pick up the phone, a stalker is on-line and in control of your phone. The only way to avoid the stalker is to disconnect the phone completely, and then reconnect with an entirely new number. Only one specific example of this technique was used in stalking. A woman received a message stating “I’m going to get you”, the interloper then opened the woman’s CD-ROM drive in order to prove he had control of her computer (Karp 2000). More recent versions of this technology claim to enable real-time keystroke logging (the recording of every keystroke) and view the computer desktop in real time (Spring 1999). It is not difficult to hypothesize that such mechanisms would appear as highly desirable tools of control and surveillance for those engaging in cyber stalking (Ogilvie, 2000).
Typology of stalkers:
Cyber stalkers can be categorized into 5 types. A multi-axial typology was developed by Mullen et al. (1999) who assessed convicted stalkers in an Australian mental health unit. The axes included an examination of the stalkers’ predominant motivation and the context in which stalking occurred, information about the nature of the prior relationship with the victim, and finally, a psychiatric diagnosis. They classified five types of stalkers:
· The rejected stalker has had an intimate relationship with the victim (although occasionally the victim may be a family member or close friend), and views the termination of the relationship as unacceptable. Their behavior is characterized by a mixture of revenge and desire for reconciliation.
· Intimacy seekers attempt to bring to fruition a relationship with a person who has engaged their desires, and who they may also mistakenly perceive reciprocates that affection.
· Incompetent suitors tend to seek to develop relationships but they fail to abide by social rules governing courtship. They are usually intellectually limited and/or socially incompetent.
· Resentful stalkers harass their victims with the specific intention of causing fear and apprehension out of a desire for retribution for some actual or supposed injury or humiliation.
· Predatory stalkers who stalk for information gathering purposes or fantasy rehearsal in preparation for a sexual attack.
The other types of stalkers are: (Bullyonline, 2002)
Stalkers motivation: (Indianchild.com, 2000)
1) Sexual Harassment
This should not surprise anyone, especially women, since sexual harassment is also a very common experience offline. The internet reflects real life and consists of real people. It's not a separate, regulated or sanctified world. The very nature of anonymous communications also makes it easier to be a stalker on the internet than a stalker offline
2) Obsession for love
This could begin from an online romance, where one person halts the romance and the rejected lover cannot accept the end of the relationship. It could also be an online romance that moves to real life, only to break-up once the persons really meet. Sometimes, this obsession stalking can even start from real life and then move over to cyberspace. One of the problems with obsession stalking is that since it often starts as real romance, much personal information is shared between persons involved. This makes it easy for the cyber stalker to harass their victim. Some users online enjoy "breaking hearts" as a pastime, and so may well set up obsessions for their own enjoyment - games that they may later regret having played. Sometimes, an obsession can also be a fixation by a stranger on another user for no valid reason. Since these obsession stalkers live in a dream world, it is not always necessary for the target to have done anything to attract her (or his) attention in the first place. Obsession stalkers are usually jealous and possessive people. Death threats via email or through live chat messages are a manifestation of obsession stalking.
3) Revenge and Hate
This could be an argument that has gone out of hand, leading eventually to a hate and revenge relationship. Revenge vendettas are often the result of something you may have said or done online which may have offended someone. Vendettas often begin with arguments where you may have been rude to another user. Sometimes, hate cyber stalking is for no reason at all (out of the blue)- you will not know why you have been targeted nor what you have done, and you may not even know who it is who is doing this to you & even the cyber stalker does not know you. In fact you have not been individually targeted at all - you have been chosen as a random target by someone who does not know you !! This stalker may be using the net to let out his frustrations online.
4) Ego and Power Trips
These are harassers or stalkers online showing off their skills to themselves and their friends. They do not have any grudge against you - they are rather using you to 'show-off’ their power to their friends or doing it just for fun and you have been unlucky enough to have been chosen. Most people who receive threats online imagine their harasser to be large and powerful. But in fact the threat may come from a child who does not really have any means of carrying out the physical threats made.
Victims of cyber stalking:
The Internet is becoming more of an entire
family communication center, which is opening up many more victims to be
stalked. The thing to remember is that a stalker is someone that wants to be in
control. A stalker is not going to pick a victim that is equal to them. This
keeps the victim submissive. The main targets are the "new to the
Internet", females, children, emotionally unstable, etc. Someone new to
being online is pretty easy to pick out of a crowd. They don't know the chat
room lingo, by their profile info, lack of Internet knowledge, etc. Also the
type of channel or chat room you enter may give it away that you are new.
(Newbie Chats, Getting Started Tour, etc.) These are things stalkers pick up on
pretty quickly. According Aftab (2004), 83% are
female, but men are also stalked. Being dominated by men, so many more males
than females online, and their quest for female companionship may be hard
sought. This may leave them with a hurt male ego and being jilted he may want
revenge (Aftab 2004). The
Our lack of knowledge also means that the harm suffered by victims of cyber stalking is often overlooked. Cyber stalking can involve behaviours that range from posting offensive messages to a victim, to physical attacks (Bocjj and McFarlane, 2002b). Sadly, some writers have suggested that cyber stalking is of little genuine concern and that those interested in the field are merely promoting hysteria. Petherick (1999), for example, seems to suggest that victims of cyber stalking suffer relatively little harm: "The effects of [cyber] stalking upon an individual may include behavioural, psychological and social aspects. Specific risks to the victim include a loss of personal safety, the loss of a job, sleeplessness, and a change in work or social habits." However, Bocjj, Griffiths and McFarlane (2002) describe several cases of cyber stalking that eventually resulted in some extremely serious outcomes, including murder.
The Characteristics of the victims of cyber stalking are:
¨ Male or female depending on the age group
– in 18 – 32 year olds, females predominate
¨ Often involved in a real or imagined romantic or sexual relationship
¨ May be a member of a targeted minority group or special group
– ethnic, racial and religious minorities
– gays and lesbians
– cancer or other patients with serious illnesses
– adoptive or birth parents
– political or special interest group
Research on Cyber Stalking:
The study of the demographics of stalking perpetrators provides some interesting information. For instance, stalkers are generally of a more mature age than other clinical and offender populations (Meloy, 1998; Harmon, Rosner & Owens, 1995; Mullen & Pathe, 1994; Zona, Sharma & Lane, 1993). Stalkers have usually attained a greater educational achievement than other types of offenders (Lloyd-Goldstein, 1998; Meloy, 1996) with 42% having finished some high school, 22% graduating high school, and 6% having graduated college (taken from the Harmon, Rosner & Owens, 1995 study). Ethnicity in this clinical population would appear to be predominantly non-white (52% black, 25% Hispanic, 9% unknown, and 0.4% oriental). Lloyd Goldstein (1998) states that perhaps as many as 10 % of stalking cases involve perpetrators who are foreign born; perhaps indicating that immigration is a risk factor in some stalking scenarios (Meloy, 1998).
The Centre for Disease Control conducted an
extensive telephone survey, funded by the National Institute of Justice, of
8000 men and 8000 women inquiring about their experiences with stalking. Their
results indicate that approximately 8% of [US] women and 2% of [
A study conducted by Aftab (2002) found that Cyber stalking is on the rise and women, senior citizens and children are the most likely targets. Women are also becoming a more likely cyber stalker, as well, with the percentage of known female cyberstalkers increasing from 25% to 40% in the last year. The other important finds of the study of Aftab (2002) are
¨ More women are cyber stalking others than ever before
¨ In some age groups, men are the greatest percentage of victims
¨ More children are cyber stalking each other
¨ Certain ethnic groups are being targeted,
especially from the
¨ More people are cyber dating, and becoming victims of cyber stalking when things don’t work out
¨ Technology, such as trojan horses, are used more often than before...giving the cyberstalkers a remote control to your own computer!
¨ Law enforcement is taking action more often
¨ Most states now have laws criminalizing cyber stalking and harassment, up from only 16 states in 1998. (wiredsafety.org, 2004).
Bocjj (2003) was the first researcher to study exclusively on the prevalence and impact of cyber stalking. In this study, a web-based questionnaire was used to collect data from a group of respondents who were recruited by snowball sampling via e-mail. A total of 169 respondents completed the questionnaire. The results of the study found that approximately a third of respondents might be considered victims of cyber stalking. Furthermore, when asked to indicate the level of distress felt as a result of their experiences, almost a quarter of respondents chose a value of ten on a ten-point scale. The study also suggests a number of differences between cyber stalking and offline stalking, for instance cyber stalking tends to take place over a shorter period of time than offline stalking and cyber stalking victims are less likely to know the identify of their harassers. These differences add weight to the argument that cyber stalking should be seen as a new form of deviant behavior that can be distinguished from offline stalking. The work concludes by emphasizing a need for further research.
As a part of a large study on sexual
victimization of college women, researchers at the
Analysis of Incidence of cyber stalking:
Although there is no comprehensive, nationwide
data on the extent of cyber stalking in the
It has been estimated that approximately
20,000 Americans are being stalked (D’Amico, 1997), and with somewhat more
liberal estimates ranging as high as 200,000 (Jenson, 1996). Australian data
from the Bureau of Statistics suggests that in 1997 more than 165,000 women
over the age of 18 were stalked (
· One percent of all women and 0.4 percent of all men were stalked during the preceding 12 months.
· Women are far more likely to be the victims of stalking than men - nearly four out of five stalking victims are women. Men are far more likely to be stalkers - 87 percent of the stalkers identified by victims in the survey were men.
· Women are twice as likely as men to be victims of stalking by strangers and eight times as likely to be victims of stalking by intimates.
Second, anecdotal evidence from law enforcement agencies indicates that cyber stalking is a serious - and growing - problem. At the federal level, several dozen matters have been referred (usually by the FBI) to U.S. Attorney's Offices for possible action. A number of these cases have been referred to state and local law enforcement agencies because the conduct does not appear to violate federal law.
In addition, some local law enforcement agencies are beginning to see cases of cyber stalking. For example, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office estimates that e-mail or other electronic communications were a factor in approximately 20 percent of the roughly 600 cases handled by its Stalking and Threat Assessment Unit. The chief of the Sex Crimes Unit in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office also estimates that about 20 percent of the cases handled by the unit involve cyber stalking. The Computer Investigations and Technology Unit of the New York City Police Department estimates that almost 40 percent of the caseload in the unit involves electronic threats and harassment -- and virtually all of these have occurred in the past three or four years. Third, ISPs also are receiving a growing number of complaints about harassing and threatening behavior online. One major ISP receives approximately 15 complaints per month of cyber stalking, in comparison to virtually no complaints of cyber stalking just one or two years ago.
Cyber-stalking has attracted much concern
Vicious on-line statements and rumors
may be used against the victim. Two especially nasty cases have reportedly
occurred in the
A Novell survey conducted in
It is estimated that there are about 2,00,000 real-life stalkers in
Jurisdictions across the globe are now beginning to take legal action against stalking behavior, recognizing it as a public problem which merits attention. The effects of stalking upon an individual may include behavioural, psychological and social aspects. Specific risks to the victim include a loss of personal safety, the loss of a job, sleeplessness, and a change in work or social habits. These effects have the potential to produce a large drain on both criminal justice resources and the health care system, and it is therefore in the best interests of the authorities to take swift action when cases are presented to them. While the behavior of stalking is not new, its recognition in legal and academic circles is still in its infancy. Only through the continued study of the problem will we be better equipped to deal with particular cases once they are presented. Through the continued study and exposure of stalking (and by extension, Cyber stalking), will investigators and clinicians be better prepared to deal with its consequences and effects (Petherick, 1999).
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
**Dr. K. Jaishankar
is a Lecturer
in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice,
***Ms. V. Uma
presently in the final year of the Master’s programme in Criminology and Criminal
Justice Science, at the Department of Criminology
and Criminal Justice,