Using computers, stalkers—who are more appropriately called cyberstalkers—repeatedly deliver unwanted, threatening, and offensive email or other personal communications to targeted individuals. Death threats may even appear online. The targets are often those who refuse to enter into an interpersonal relationship with the perpetrator or have ended a relationship with the perpetrator. As with stalking, cyberstalking is a recognized crime in the United States, in Canada, and elsewhere—following the passage of anti-stalking legislation in the early 1990s. As can stalking, cyberstalking, can result in imprisonment for perpetrators of such acts.
Despite overt requests from the target to be left alone, cyberstalkers are typically intent on getting their way. It is estimated that in Canada alone, at least 80,000 people are cyberstalked annually.
Police have warned children, in particular, that they could be vulnerable to being targeted by cyberstalkers in three areas: live chat or IRC (Internet Relay Chat) rooms (where individuals talk live with others—allegedly the most common place for cyberstalking); message boards and newsgroups (where individuals interact with others by posting messages, thereby holding an online conversation); and email boxes (where individuals can write anything offensive or nice and can even attach files to the targeted email box).
Here is an example of a real-world cyberstalking case. A female, unmarried clerk was being pursued by an obsessive male network administrator who had access to the company’s computer systems. Though she declined his advances, the network administrator would not leave her alone. Because of his persistent, rude online comments about her and his repeat face-to-face stares at her, he was eventually fired from the company where they both worked—a point that further infuriated him. After his termination from the company, the network administrator cracked into his previous employer’s network, assumed several identities, and sent embarrassing emails about the clerk target to others in the firm in which she was still employed. He stole secret documents from his previous employer and, posing as other company employees, made veiled threats to release confidential information about her to the public. Without the target’s knowing it, at one point he tried to arrange to get the employer to give her a $130,000-a-year-raise—as a result of cracking the company’s computer system. Even more interesting is that the perpetrator sent most of his emails from his new employer’s computer, where, in the end, the logs provided strong evidence that eventually led to his arrest and conviction.
In 1999, the first successful prosecution under California’s cyberstalking law took place. Prosecutors got a guilty plea from a 50-year-old male ex-security guard who had used the Internet to encourage the sexual assault of a 28-year-old woman who rejected his romantic advances. The charges included one count of cyberstalking and three counts of soliciting sexual assault. The security guard terrorized the female target by pretending to be her in various Internet chat rooms and online bulletin board systems (BBSes), where he gave out her telephone number, address, and messages saying that she fantasized about being sexually assaulted.
In addition to recently enacted state laws fighting cyberstalking in the United States and in other jurisdictions in Canada and Australia, a number of cyberstalking resources exist online to help targets manage their distressing situations and get protection and prevention advice. These online resources include, among others: the CyberAngels, the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists, GetNetWise, the National Center for Victims of Crime, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, the National Cybercrime Training Partnership, and Search Group, Inc.
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