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  • Writer's pictureApril Hardy

Cyber Harassment

Cyber Harassment is an umbrella term that covers offenses such as Cyber-Bullying, Cyber-Stalking, Identity Theft, Slander, etc.  It often blossoms within people addicted to the internet who, under the shroud of anonymity do and say things they might never do/say face to face.  The transfer of our lives  from offline to online through social media platforms and instant messaging has encouraged and promoted Cyber Harassment.   The easy access to us, easy access to personal information about us, and the ability to publicly  degrade, control, humiliate, or emotionally batter victims on a much bigger scale is a temptation many predators can't pass up.

Given the speed of progress on the technological front, statistics and laws dealing with this Cyber Terrorism are lacking.  ThoughtCo. author Alexis Moore says, "What stats there are reveal millions of potential and projected future cases." 

Although in-person stalking is perpetrated largely by males (87%), and national statistics suggest that females 18-28 years old are most likely to be victims of cyber stalking, surveys at the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers University revealed that 45% of Stalkers were female and 40% of victims were male.

Globally, 30% of  Cyber-Stalking has been reported to originate from FaceBook and another 30% from email. (Data from 2013)  In the US it has been gathered that over 9.3 million people are victims of Identity Theft. 

In the US, laws are slowly being created to protect people from Cyber-Crime.  The US Federal Anti-Cyber Stalking Law was introduced in 1999 stating that anyone who sends threats to injure another person via electronic communications may be found guilty of a federal crime.  As far as state laws go, many require a threat of violence from the stalker, the use of obscene language or an immoral act via an electronic medium before being considered a crime while others require even more threatening tendencies to be considered a crime. 

Various penalties exist for those convicted of this offense including up to $250,000 in fines and/or up to 5 years in prison.  For example, in California, fear-inducing threats and first-time offences are considered misdemeanors while frequent perpetrators and harm-causing threats are considered felonies.  As part of the verdict, counseling and restraining orders are delivered in an attempt to encourage victim safety.  Additionally, civil liberties can be charged against institutions in which those incidents frequently occurred unaddressed (offices or schools for example).  

Some Cyber-Bully and Cyber-Harass people based on their sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, etc. and these can (in some places) be considered hate crimes.  In strengthening its hate crimes laws, the UK recently contrasted the US's First Amendment (which allows absolute freedom of speech as long as it has no immediate harmful effect on another person).  The Crown Prosecution Service has empowered courts to dole out strict penalties to people found guilty of Cyber-Bullying/Harassing through hate inducing posts on diverse platforms.

While the Shepard Byrd Act (the most recent US hate crimes act) has added the victim's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity to the list of qualifying motivations for a hate crime (others include: actual or perceived race, color, national origin, actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, or disability), it seems to be limited to "willfully cause bodily injury, or attempt to do so using a dangerous weapon, because of the victim’s _________ (enter qualifying motivation).  In true US law fashion, it adds further red tape... "of any person, only where the crime affected interstate or foreign commerce or occurred within federal special maritime and territorial jurisdiction."  As you can see, US hate crime law does not include Cyber Terrorism.

Find a supportive person to talk to about what is happening and how you are feeling.  As with other traumas, unconditional support is important.  This is not something to try to deal with alone.  Take screen shots and email them to yourself (so that they can be accessed from any location, with or without your phone).  If you can email them to someone else that you trust as well, you should consider that too, in case someone is able to hack into your email.  Document conversations and any other unwanted contact/behaviors.  Review your privacy settings.  If someone is bullying you, you can attempt to block them.  However, be aware that some predators will create alternate accounts to get around this defense.  If you are being stalked, it is better to leave the line of communication open and not respond.  This way, they can continue to contact you and build a case against themselves.  You can open an alternative account and get an additional phone/phone-number for the people that are close to you so that they don't know you're not seeing their messages regularly.  Also, report it.         

You can engage cyber investigation specialists or lawyers for legal defense and report their activities to the website/platform and you local law enforcement.

Be careful about sharing your private information with other people.  People online may not be who they claim to be.   Furthermore, it's advisable to not even give people that you know in person passwords and such to avoid a backlash Cyber-Stalking/Cyber-Bullying/Harassment type of situation should your relationship go sour in the future.   

Given dropping technology prices and the dramatic rise of social platforms, we are faced with a very hazardous situation as motivated perpetrators can not only gain access to our lives, but can utilize these tools to intimidate and destroy the lives we've spent years building within days, often leaving the legal system in the dust.  



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