Cyberstalking: Crime, or Just Being Plain Rude?

by Michelle on October 19, 2012

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USlegal.com defines stalking as behavior that threatens or harasses another person continually, so that the victim sincerely believes the perpetrator will hurt him or her. Cyberstalking includes the element of using any type of electronic means to stalk a person. The crime differs slightly from cyberbullying, which occurs among students at a school.

Cyberharassment v. Cyberstalking

In most cases, cyberharassment is considered a lesser crime than cyberstalking. Cyberharassment lacks the threat of violence toward the victim. This behavior is often rude and annoying, but is not dangerous. However, the courts often view cyberharassment as disruptive to a person’s life and still consider it a crime. All 50 states have laws on either stalking or harassment or both, which differ among jurisdictions. Some states group cyberharassment and cyberstalking  with traditional harassment and stalking crimes.

While stalking has gained the public’s attention in recent years because of those who target celebrities, a stalker or cyberstalker usually knows their victim. Often, the two have had a previous relationship that was possibly sexual. Rude or obnoxious behavior crosses the line into cyberharassment when the victim perceives that the actions are a serious problem.

Underreporting the Crime

Dee Dee Rominger, the captain of investigations with the Watauga, N.C., Sheriff’s Department, accurately summarizes the feelings of many on cyberharassment and cyberstalking. She states that these crimes are often underreported, as the public does not fully grasp the severity of the crime. In some cases, people may not know that a crime has been committed against them. Law enforcement personnel may not be fully educated regarding these crimes, which adds to the confusion.

Tie in with Domestic Violence

Domestic violence advocates understand that abusers often send threatening texts, leave intimidating voice messages or harass their victims with emails. They can control others electronically. The public needs to be aware that domestic violence includes a wide range of behaviors, such as verbal and electronic abuse. Social media venues add another platform for harassment and stalking.

First California Cyberstalking Case – 1999

A man pled guilty in April 1999 in the first successful cyberstalking case in California . The defendant illegally accessed her email account and posted messages over a five-month period, claiming she dreamt of being raped. Men came to her door at least six times to do just that. He received a sentence of a maximum of six years in custody.

Cyberstalking Case Using Social Media – 2012

A case from May 2012 provides an excellent example of social media and cyberstalking. The defendant received a 10-year sentence for a total of 19 counts, including nine counts of cyberstalking. He illegally accessed a woman’s account, asked her friends to send him nude photographs, and blackmailed the women into having sex with him. He threatened to expose them if they broke off the relationship. While the defendant’s crimes quickly escalated into illegal physical behavior, this case demonstrates just how serious the courts are now taking cyberstalking.

Reporting the Crime of Cyberstalking

Law enforcement personnel will want to know what steps an alleged victim has taken to discourage or prevent cyberstalking. The victim needs to clearly tell the person to leave them alone. They should keep documentation of all contacts and of all the efforts they have made to dissuade the stalker. The victim can block the user or contact the internet provider directly. Anytime the victim is in fear of physical harm, they should immediately contact the police. The police will consider physical evidence and documentation, phone records, witness statements, photographs, fingerprints and suspect statements.

Conclusion

Cyberharassment is often in the eye of the beholder. In other words, if the alleged victim feels threatened or pressured because of someone’s online comments, the courts might side with the victim even if the defendant did not intend to bother the victim. If the pursuer continues to contact someone even after that person has asked them to stop, the courts could consider that cyberharassment.

Michelle Schwarz is a blogger who knows that protecting yourself online can be a a daunting task. There are many firms that specialize in protecting online consumer rights.

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