Cyber-stalking in the Internet (and Cell Phone, and GPS, and Digital Camera…) Age

In an age where optimism is hurriedly attaining an obsolete status amidst the ruins of the economy and the travesty of the health care system, technology—at least—provides a private escape into wonderment. On a daily basis, the accomplishments of technology supply a brief respite of awe at the capabilities of human advancement. Unfortunately, with all of the benefits, the perils slowly reveal themselves as well…

In the latest edition of the Domestic Violence Report, Joan Zorza, Esq. provides enlightening statistics on the prevalence of the latest phenomenon in stalking—cyberstalking. The latest study (PDF) done by the Supplemental Victimization Survey and Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women revealed shocking data about the general stalking practices, including the higher victimization of women between the ages of 18 and 24, as well as evidence of the disconcerting feelings resulting from the harassment. Zorza summarized that, “Over two-thirds of stalking victims reported feeling annoyed or angry, approximately half were anxious or concerned, over 40% were frightened, almost a quarter felt helpless, approximately 15% said they were depressed, and almost 15% reported feeling sick.”

But the most appalling statistics occurred when victims were asked about technology. Zorza explained, “Cyberstalking was a factor that more than a quarter of victims reported: 83% received unwanted e-mail messages and 35% received unwanted instant messaging. One in 13 victims knew that the stalker used electronic monitoring and of these, 46% used video or digital cameras, 42% used listening devices or bugs, and about a tenth used GPS technology to monitor them.”

And as technology progresses, stalking methods only follow suit. A recent article in the Buffalo News by Stephen T. Watson reveals the daunting means available to the cyber-age stalker. Not only is today’s abuser equipped with far superior modes of tracking, but he also holds the tools to further mask his own identity, whereabouts, and activities from victims or law-enforcement officials. Furthermore, new electronics are becoming cheaper and more accessible; no longer are these devices solely for police use. In the article, Marc Rotenberg of Electronic Privacy Center explained, “The problem with so-called stalking technology is that there’s very little that victims can do to identify or stop this covert tracking.”

Recently, the media has given credence to several cyberstalking cases. The Kansas City-Star has been following the case of a woman whose ex-boyfriend placed sexual ads with her contact information on the Internet, in addition to sending her numerous disturbing emails. In the Buffalo News article, Watson gives details concerning several different cases, including one in which a woman was murdered as a result of the perpetrator’s ability to buy information about her whereabouts and daily routine from a company that deals in selling what people would rather keep private.

One can only hope the technology the villains are using can work for the good guys too. Those released on parole can still be tracked via GPS, and websites that allow wary parents to discover child molesters living in their area pervade the internet. Still, it doesn’t hurt to be safe. For more information on cyber-stalking and prevention tips, go to http://www.feelsafeagain.org/cyberstalking.html.

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