Cyber Stalking: A Global Menace in the

Information Super Highway*

 

By K. Jaishankar** and V. Uma Sankary ***

 

Abstract

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.

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Key Words: Cyber stalking; cyber crime; trends and issues; typology; victims; stalkers

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Introduction:

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)

  • Delusional stalker: this one has a history of mental illness which may include schizophrenia or manic depression. The schizophrenic stalker may have stopped taking his or her medication and now lives in a fantasy world composed of part reality and part delusion which he or she is unable to differentiate. If they're not careful, targets of the delusional stalker are likely to be sucked in to this fantasy world and start to have doubts about their own sanity, especially if the stalker is intelligent, and intermittently and seamlessly lucid and "normal".
  • Erotomaniac: this stalker is also delusional and mentally ill and believes he or she is in love with you and will have created an entire relationship in their head.
  • Harasser stalker: some stalker types like to be the centre of attention and may have an attention-seeking personality disorder; they may not be stalkers in the strict sense of the word but repeatedly pester anyone (especially anyone who is kind, vulnerable or inexperienced) who might be persuaded to pay them attention. If they exhibit symptoms of Munchausen Syndrome they may select a victim who they stalk by fabricating claims of harassment by this person against themselves.
  • Love rats: These may not be stalkers in the strict sense of the word but they have many similar characteristics. Love rats surf the web with the intention of starting relationships and may have several simultaneous relationships. The targets of a cyber stalker may know little about the person they are talking to (other than what they've convincingly been fed) and be unaware of a trail of other targets past and present.
  • Troll. The Troll's purpose is to be given more credibility than (s)he deserves, and to suck people into useless, pointless, never-ending, emotionally-draining, ranting discussions full of verbal loops and "word labyrinths", playing people against each other, hurting their feelings, and wasting their time and emotional energy.

 

 

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 US Justice Department estimates there could be hundreds of thousands of victims.

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

 

The US department of justice and the National Center for Victims of Crime in United States suggests for the victims to:

  • Victims who are under the age of 18 should tell their parents or another adult they trust about any harassments and/or threats.
  • Experts suggest that in cases where the offender is known, victims should send the stalker a clear written warning. Specifically, victims should communicate that the contact is unwanted, and ask the perpetrator to cease sending communications of any kind. Victims should do this only once. Then, no matter the response, victims should under no circumstances ever communicate with the stalker again.
  • Victims should save copies of this communication in both electronic and hard copy for If the harassment continues, the victim may wish to file a complaint with the stalker's Internet service provider, as well as with their own service provider.
  • Many Internet service providers offer tools that filter or block communications from specific individuals.
  • As soon as individuals suspect they are victims of online harassment or cyber stalking, they should start collecting all evidence and document all contact made by the stalker. Save all e-mail, postings, or other communications in both electronic and hard-copy form. If possible, save all of the header information from e-mails and newsgroup postings. Record the dates and times of any contact with the stalker.
  • Victims may also want to start a log of each communication explaining the situation in more detail. Victims may want to document how the harassment is affecting their lives and what steps they have taken to stop the harassment.
  • Victims may want to file a report with local law enforcement or contact their local prosecutor's office to see what charges, if any, can be pursued. Victims should save copies of police reports and record all contact with law enforcement officials and the prosecutor's office.
  • Victims who are being continually harassed may want to consider changing their e-mail address, Internet service provider, a home phone number, and should examine the possibility of using encryption software or privacy protection programs. Any local computer store can offer a variety of protective software, options and suggestions. Victims may also want to learn how to use the filtering capabilities of email programs to block e-mails from certain addresses.
  • Furthermore, victims should contact online directory listings such as www.four11.com, www.switchboard.com, and www.whowhere.com to request removal from their directory.
  • Finally, under no circumstances should victims agree to meet with the perpetrator face to face to "work it out," or "talk." No contact should ever be made with the stalker. Meeting a stalker in person can be very dangerous (The National Center for Victims of Crime, 2003).

 

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 [US] men have been stalked at some time in their life. Also, that an estimated 1 million females and 0.4 million males are stalked in the US annually (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1997). Results of similar studies would suggest that the majority of stalking cases are heterosexual in nature, with less than 1% of these crimes occurring between homosexual persons. Meloy & Gothard (1995) found similar results among their study of forensic populations, with approximately 90% male perpetrators with female victims  

(Petherick, 1999)

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 Middle East

¨       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 University of Cincinnati conducted a national telephone survey of 4,446 randomly selected women attending two and four-year institutions of higher education. The survey was conducted during the 1996-97 academic year. In this survey, a stalking incident was defined as a case in which a respondent answered positively when asked if someone had "repeatedly followed you, watched you, phoned, written, e-mailed, or communicated with you in other ways that seemed obsessive and made you afraid or concerned for your safety." The study found that 581 women (13.1 percent) were stalked and reported a total of 696 stalking incidents; the latter figure exceeds the number of victims because 15 percent of the women experienced more than one case of stalking during the survey period. Of these 696 stalking incidents, 166 (24.7 percent) involved e-mail. Thus, 25 percent of stalking incidents among college women could be classified as involving cyber stalking (Attorney General Report, 1999). 

 

Analysis of Incidence of cyber stalking:

 Although there is no comprehensive, nationwide data on the extent of cyber stalking in the United States and other countries, some ISPs compile statistics on the number and types of complaints of harassment and/or threats involving their subscribers, and individual law enforcement agencies have compiled helpful statistics. There is, moreover, a growing amount of anecdotal and informal evidence on the nature and extent of cyber stalking. First, data on offline stalking may provide some insight into the scope of the cyber stalking problem. According to the most recent National Violence against Women Survey, which defines stalking as referring to instances where the victim felt a high level of fear: (US department of Justice, 1998)

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 (Lancaster, 1998). Further estimates suggest that as many as one in 20 adults will be stalked in their lifetime and that up to 200,000 exhibit a stalkers traits (Tharp, 1992). Evidence collected by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office suggests that of the 600 cases reviewed; roughly 20 % of them involved some form of electronic communication (L.A. Times, Saturday 23rd of January, 1999). Given the latter finding, there is sufficient evidence to warrant that electronic mediums are in fact providing the stalker with new avenues for the deliverance of their threat (Petherick, 1999).

In the United States, one out of every 12 women (8.2 million) and one out of every 45 men (2 million) have been stalked at some time in their lives.

·         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.

In the United States, there are currently more than 80 million adults and 10 million children with access to the Internet. Assuming the proportion of cyber stalking victims is even a fraction of the proportion of persons who have been the victims of offline stalking within the preceding 12 months, there may be potentially tens or even hundreds of thousands of victims of recent cyber stalking incidents in the United States (Cyber angels, 2003). Although such a "back of the envelope" calculation is inherently uncertain and speculative (given that it rests on an assumption about very different populations), it does give a rough sense of the potential magnitude of the problem.

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 in the US, and 17 states have reportedly passed laws against on-line stalking or harassment. The first temporary restraining order on an on-line stalker was issued by a court in Texas in October 1996; the individual had been harassing the employees of a Dallas-based ISP. And the first prison sentence for an e-mail hate crime was handed out in May 1998. A student in California was convicted of violating the civil rights of 59 students by sending racially-targeted threats to them in 1996; he was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment.

            Vicious on-line statements and rumors may be used against the victim. Two especially nasty cases have reportedly occurred in the US. In 1997, someone allegedly posted a child’s name, age and phone number on 14 pedophile chatrooms, giving false sexual messages which led pedophiles to call on the girl’s home. In January 1999, a Californian man was arrested after allegedly impersonating a woman (who had spurned his advances) on the Net. He, posing as she, is believed to have placed an advert on a bulletin board, seeking male partners to live out a gang rape fantasy and giving (the woman’s) name, address and telephone number, and even instructions on how to bypass her house’s burglar alarm. Several men responded to the advert with phone calls and visits to the woman’s home.

A Novell survey conducted in United Kingdom in 1998 (of 810 people using e-mail at work) found that half the sample had received unwanted e-mail from a persistent sender. 35% of the offensive messages comprised unsolicited pornography. To date, however, there have been no known criminal cases in the UK concerning cyber-stalking. However, as Net usage grows, NCIS assesses that occurrences of harassment will escalate. In an Australian case, an older male stalked a young boy, following him with a camera and placing updates of his activities on his personal website, including descriptions of his (the offender’s) pedophilia and of his potential dangerousness to those who threatened him. The offender was charged with stalking (R v Vose [1999] VSCA 200).

            In India's first case of cyber stalking, Manish Kathuria was recently arrested by the New Delhi Police.  He was stalking an Indian lady, Ms Ritu Kohli by illegally chatting on the Web site MIRC using her name. He used obscene and obnoxious language, and distributed her residence telephone number, inviting people to chat with her on the phone. As a result of which, Ritu kept getting obscene calls from everywhere, and people promptly talked dirty with her. In a state of shock, she called the Delhi police and reported the matter. For once, the police department did not waste time swinging into action, traced the culprit and slammed a case  under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code for outraging the modesty of Ritu Kohli (Indianchild, 2005). In an other case, an engineering and management graduate, facing prosecution in a dowry harassment case, was arrested by Delhi police for sending obscene e-mails in his wife’s name to several persons (Mishra, 2001) In June 2000, a man was arrested by the Delhi police for assuming the identify of his ex-employer’s wife in a chat channel an encouraging others to telephone net. The victim who was getting obscene telephone calls at night from stranger made a complaint to the police.  The accused was then located “on line” in the chat room under the identity of the, victim and later traced through the telephone number used by him to access the internet (Mishra,2001).

 

Conclusion:

It is estimated that there are about 2,00,000 real-life stalkers in United States alone. Roughly one in 1,250 persons is a stalker - and that is a large ratio. Of course, no one knows the truth, since the Internet is such a vast medium, but these figures are as close as it gets to giving statistics. Out of the estimated 79 million population worldwide on the internet at any given time, we could find 63,000 internet stalkers traveling the information superhighway, stalking approximately 4,74,000 victims. As the Internet continues to grow, problems like cyber stalking will continue to grow.  With the Internet being integrated into almost every part of human life, it is not a solution to simply suggest that turning off your computer will solve the problem.  Internet users must learn to protect themselves from the dangers of Internet based crimes, such as cyber stalking.  It is becoming apparent that anyone, including man, woman, or child can become a victim (Medlin, 2002). The more serious examples given within this paper have shown that cyber stalking may represent a serious threat to society (Boccj, 2002).

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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______________________________________________________________________*Revised version of the Paper presented in the 29th All India Criminology Conference, during 16-18, 2006 at Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, India.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

**Dr. K. Jaishankar is a Lecturer in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, India. He received his Ph.D. in Criminology from the University of Madras, Chennai, India. His research interests include Communal violence, Crime mapping, GIS, Cyber Crimes, Theoretical Criminology, Policing, Crime prevention, and Victimology. Please send correspondence to Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Abhishekapatti, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu 627 012 India. email: debajai@hotmail.com

 

***Ms. V. Uma Sankary is presently in the final year of the Master’s programme in Criminology and Criminal Justice Science, at the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli, India. Her current research interests include Victimology, Violent Crimes and Crime against women.

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