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Until the advent of the Internet as it is known at present, most victims of stalking endured physical threats, often in the form of unwanted phone calls and letters or actual harassment by the stalker (e.g., the stalker sitting in their car outside the victim’s home or workplace). However, the Internet gave the stalker another venue by which to harass their victim. Now the stalker could sit in the comfort of their own home and send the victim threatening emails and other digital media. The growing popularity of social media platforms allowed the stalker to spread rumors about their victim, not to mention track the movements of their victim. Stalkers can even commit electronic sabotage like spamming or hacking and identity theft against their victims (Dreßing, Bailer, Anders, Wagner, & Gallas, 2014). The very nature of the Internet means it is much easier for the stalker to harass their victim: not only can an Internet-savvy stalker use technology to mask their identity, the anonymous nature of online screen personas seems to enable stalkers to be particularly threatening and malicious (Shimizu, 2013).

Some observers may not regard cyberstalking as serious as in-person stalking. After all, these observers may state, there are privacy measures that victims can take that can protect them. Furthermore, if a stalker is in, say, Washington State and their victim is in South Carolina, what’s the big deal? It is not as if the stalker is sitting in their car outside the victim’s home or following the victim around as they run errands. However, the reality is that cyberstalking can take a significant toll on the victim in several ways including mentally/psychologically, physically, and economically. Consequently, it is therefore critical that legislation be established, at both state and federal levels, which may dissuade individuals from engaging in cyberstalking behaviors through significant penalties; which provides law enforcement with the tools with which to pursue cyberstalkers; and which provides victims with recourse against their stalkers.

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To appreciate the necessity of the aforementioned legislation, it is critical to appreciate the impact that cyberstalking has on the victim. This can be framed by the scope of the problem: in 2016 about 27% of Internet users reported that they had witnessed online harassment (Marshak, 2017). Many victims of cyberstalking are women under 30 years of age, who are three times more likely to become victims of physical harm or harassment following the escalation of online harassment (Marshak, 2017). Online harassment has taken similar forms to real world harassment and stalking, including physical threats and sexual harassment (Marshak, 2017). The impact of these experiences is threefold: mental/psychological; physical; and financial. Mental/psychological impacts include depression, anxiety, anger, feelings of helplessness, social withdrawal, feelings of inner unrest, mistrust of people, and trauma (Dreßing et al., 2014; Marshak, 2017). Physical impacts include loss of sleep or disordered sleep; the threat of physical harm and violence should the stalker escalate; headaches; nervous stomach; and concentration issues (Dreßing et al., 2014). Financial or economic impacts include the loss of business, either as a consequence of physical or psychological ailments or negative impact on potential or existing clients (Marshak, 2017). Victims of cyberstalking may disconnect from common forms of social media (such as email) or having phone service (for fear of being harassed that way) which may curtail their ability to attract work (Marshak, 2017).

These impacts should not be underestimated. Several state and federal statutes related to stalking currently exist that can be used for cyberstalking as well, especially when the perpetrator is known to the victim (Marshak, 2017). Legislation related to domestic violence has likewise been used successfully to prosecute cyberstalkers (Shimizu, 2013). There are civil means for addressing the issue of cyberstalking. However, it may be difficult owing to constitutional issues “implicated by cyberstalking” which need addressing (Shimizu, 2013, p. 137).

  • Dreßing, H., Bailer, J., Anders, A., Wagner, H., & Gallas, C. (2014). Cyberstalking in a large
    sample of social network users: Prevalence, characteristics, and impact upon victims. Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 17(2), 61-67. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0231
  • Marshak, E. (2017). Online harassment: A legislative solution. Harvard Journal on Legislation,
    54(2), 501-531.
  • Shimizu, A. (2013). Domestic violence in the digital age: Towards the creation of a
    comprehensive cyberstalking statute. Berkeley Journal of Gender, Law & Justice, 28(1), 116-137.

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