Cyberstalking Essay

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The term cyberstalking is used to describe stalking behaviors that (a) involve repeated threats and/or harassment, (b) use electronic mail or other information technology-based communication, or (c) would cause a reasonable person to be afraid or concerned for his or her safety. Cyberstalkers most commonly harass their victims through email, but may also use Web sites, chat rooms, discussion forums, and open publishing Web sites (e.g., blogs and online journals). Cyberstalking may involve direct harassment of a victim or may use indirect means such as email to employers or postings in online newsgroups. Cyberstalking may be part of a systemic pattern of online harassment and may include sending repeated email or instant messages that may or may not directly threaten the recipient; flooding a victim’s email box with unwanted mail; sending the victim files with a virus; using a victim’s email address to subscribe her or him to multiple listservs or to purchase books, magazines, or other services in her or his name; sending misinformation and false messages to chat rooms, Usenet groups, listservs, or places of the victim’s employment; stealing a person’s online identity to post false information; sending a victim’s demographic information and/or picture to sexually oriented or pornographic sites; or seeking and compiling various information that a victim may have posted on newsgroups with the intent to locate personal information and then use this information to harass, threaten, and intimidate the victim, either online or in the real world.

Reasons For Cyberstalking

Stalking has been viewed by some theorists as aberrant behavior involving obsessive behavior or personality disorder. Feminists, however, view stalking and cyberstalking as related to sexism, a means to gain power and control over a victim. Others believe stalking has a long history among the general public and is rooted in the romantic tradition in which a reluctant female must be wooed from “no” to “yes” by a persistent suitor. In any case, cyberstalking is an extension of the traditional stalking methods of following, making telephone calls, and writing letters. As with stalking in the physical world, cyberstalking can result from an attempt to initiate a relationship, to repair a relationship, or to threaten and traumatize a person. Recent research, however, found differences between real-world and cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is more likely to involve strangers and to take place over a shorter period of time than real-world stalking. In addition, cyber stalkers are more likely not to know their victims, to have multiple victims, and to have no history of criminality, substance abuse, or restraining orders.

The Internet medium itself may contribute to cyberstalking. The online environment can promote a false sense of intimacy and misunderstanding of intentions. People may feel in proximity to each other when they are online despite the actual physical distance involved. In addition, emotionally intensified interactions often develop in online communication. The limited nonverbal, historical, and contextual information available in online contexts may enable potential cyber stalkers to develop idealized perceptions of those with whom they communicate online and to misjudge the intentions of the messages they receive. In addition, the relative anonymity, the lack of social status cues, and the propensity for disinhibited behavior in the online environment may promote greater risk taking and asocial behavior by a greater number of people. The availability of free email and Web site space, as well as the anonymity provided by some chat rooms and newsgroups, has contributed to the increase of cyberstalking as a form of harassment. Finally, the ease of using a search engine to find someone’s alias, real name, or email address contributes to cyberstalking.

Extent Of Cyberstalking

There is no comprehensive national study of the extent of cyberstalking, but estimates have been made based on local research studies, reports of abuse to Internet Service Providers, FBI crime statistics, and reports to Web sites that provide online assistance to victims of violence. Cyberstalking has been described by the Department of Justice as a serious and growing problem. Cyberstalking can be just as threatening as stalking in the real world, and can lead to mental anguish and stress reactions including paranoia, panic attacks, chronic sleep disturbances, weight fluctuations, persistent nausea, increased usage of alcohol or cigarettes, headaches, depression, physical harm, and even homicide. Cyberstalking may occur in combination with real-world stalking, and research indicates that this occurs in approximately one in five cases of reported stalking or cyberstalking. Research suggests that the majority of cyber stalkers are men and their victims are women. There have been reports, however, of women cyberstalking men and of same-sex cyberstalking. Studies are very difficult to compare due to differences in the definition of cyberstalking and research methods employed. Several studies have used surveys of college students to estimate the extent of cyberstalking since almost 100% of this group is online and they are the age at which stalking is most likely to occur. College samples estimate that between 13% and 25% of women have experienced cyberstalking or online harassment. Estimates from Internet safety groups such as Working to Halt Online Abuse, Safety Ed, and Cyber Angels reveal an increasing number of cyberstalking reports, with 50 to 500 requests per day for help from victims of cyberstalking. It is likely that research underestimates the true extent of cyberstalking since many cases go unreported and the number of people online is increasing each year.

Legal Issues

Both federal and state laws have addressed some forms of cyberstalking. Federal law makes it a crime to cross state lines to injure, harass, or intimidate a person. Certain forms of cyberstalking may be prosecuted under federal communications laws (47 U.S.C. 223). Section 113, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 5, 2006, amends 47 U.S.C. 223 to prohibit anyone from using a telephone or a telecommunications device “without disclosing his identity and with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass any person.” It includes “any device or software that can be used to originate telecommunications or other types of communications that are transmitted, in whole or in part, by the Internet.” While this law may cover some aspects of cyberstalking, it does not cover harassment in which no explicit threat has been made or harassment in which messages are sent to third parties. In addition, Title 42 of the Civil Rights Act has been interpreted to prohibit sexual harassment in work environments. Conduct producing a hostile environment is specifically included in this statute. Sexual harassment via email may therefore be prosecuted under this statute.

Currently all but four states (Idaho, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Utah) have laws prohibiting harassing conduct of adult victims through the Internet, email, or other electronic means. Laws vary by state in terms of specificity, prohibited behavior, and consequences. For example, in Massachusetts, a perpetrator must have intent to cause “imminent fear,” while in Arizona the standard is that the victim is “seriously alarmed” or “annoyed.” In some states, such as New York, cyberstalking is part of the general stalking or harassment laws, while other states, such as North Carolina, have a separate section under special computer crime legislation. The patchwork of laws and recent definition of the problem make prosecution of cyberstalking confusing and more difficult for law enforcement.

Survival In Cyberspace

Socialization for survival in cyberspace was not part of the normal growing-up experience of most people. For their safety, people who use the Internet, especially those who have been victims of violence or are emotionally vulnerable, need education about the kinds of victimization that can occur online, how best to prevent it, and what to do if victimization occurs. They need information about password protection, encryption software, blocking and filtering software, anonymous remailers, alternate email receiving sites, chat room and newsgroup safety, the potential for misinformation, how privacy may be lost, how to deal with online harassment, policies and laws regulating interactions in cyberspace, and where to get help if victimization occurs. Several Web sites are currently dedicated to providing education and assistance regarding cyberstalking.


  1. Finn, J., & Banach, M. (2000). Victimization online: The downside of seeking services for women on the Internet. Cyberpsychology and Behavior, 3(2), 776–785.
  2. Fisher, B. S., Cullen, F. T., & Turner, M. G. (2002). Being pursued: Stalking victimization in a national study of college women. Criminology & Public Policy, 1(2), 257–308.
  3. Lee, R. (1998, Spring). Romantic and electronic stalking in a college context. The College of William and Mary Journal of Women and the Law, pp. 373–409.
  4. S. Department of Justice. (1999). Cyber stalking: A new challenge for law enforcement and industry—A report from the attorney general to the vice president. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved April 16, 2006, from cyberstalking.htm
  5. Valtek, H. A. (2002). A guide to the maze of cyberstalking laws. Retrieved May 27, 2017, from
  6. Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHO@). (2006). Online harassment statistics. Retrieved May 27, 2017, from
  7. SafetyEd International:
  8. Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHO@):

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