Cyberstalking, cyberharrassment and cyberbullying are three similar and very prevalent criminal offenses that have developed overtime as technology continues to advance. While they sound interchangeable, some states have defined these three offenses in their laws. For instance, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, cyberstalking is “the use of the Internet, email or other electronic communications to stalk, and generally refers to a pattern of threatening or malicious behaviors.” Cyberharrassment typically does not involve a credible threat, but “usually pertains to threatening or harassing email messages, instant messages, or to blog entries or websites dedicated solely to tormenting an individual.” Cyberbullying is “electronic harassment or bullying among minors within a school context.” All of these offenses can be punishable under law.
Did you know…
1 in 20 women will be stalked in their lifetime
79% of stalked women know their stalkers
50% were in an intimate relationship with their stalker
80% of those relationships were abusive
(Statistics provided by the National Institute of Justice, the National Violence Against Women survey conducted by the Center for Policy Research, and the National Center for Victims of Crime)
Okay, enough with the technical stuff. I want to talk about the everyday layman’s jargon. We pretty much call everything “stalking.” This term can cover everything from you doing preliminary surveillance on MySpace of a guy your best friend is interested in, to that creepy dude sitting in his car across from your house. How about the person that pays some bootleg company to hack your email account password? What about someone Google-ing your name to monitor your online presence, watch your Facebook and Twitter accounts, and read your blog? Any-hoo I digress…
It seems that most women (and men) that I know consider any unwanted attention that makes them uncomfortable to be some form of stalking. Ask anyone who has ever experienced a “crazy” girlfriend or boyfriend.
Now, my issue is this…the stalking and cyberstalking laws stipulate there must be the presence of threatening acts, malicious intent and bullying. What do you do when that perpetrator is just obsessed? Someone who just can’t let go, is snooping, or is just plain nosy? They don’t want to hurt you, they want to catch you in the act, or in a lie, or they just want to keep tabs on you. What recourse do you have? Their actions make you uncomfortable and it’s creepy. You think that they are weird and a little sad, but what can you do? Sure, you can block them from your Facebook or MySpace and change your privacy settings. You can block them from your Twitter account.
What about your blog? If you don’t have the capability to block them from reading your blog, do you censor what you write? Do you shut down your blog? Change your blog’s title and start over? Some would say that by putting yourself “out there” writing a blog, you are leaving yourself open to attention, wanted or unwanted. I guess that is true to a certain extent. We as bloggers feel that we have something to say, and we have chosen a very public forum to do so.
First, refer to your state laws. In some states, your being made uncomfortable or fearful is enough to constitute a crime. Unfortunately in other states, you have to be made to feel unsafe. But do keep in mind, that frequently, benign actions can and do escalate to violence. Document, document, document. If you don’t have incidents documented, they may as well not exist. If ever you feel threatened or endangered, report incidents to the proper authorities. Don’t wait to see if your offender cools off. So block who you need to block, write like there’s no tomorrow, and blog like no one is watching. Even though you know someone is…
(To the lurker: You’re so vain, I bet you think this blog is about you…)