Stalkers Using New Technology to Their Advantage

January 15, 2009 01:39 PM
by Cara McDonough
The most comprehensive study to date on stalking reveals that tens of thousands of Americans are victims. Is stalking becoming easier in the Internet age?

Stalking Gets Easier; Victims Suffer Lasting Effects

The federal survey analyzing the scope and varying forms of stalking was the first of its kind, reports the Associated Press. The numbers, compiled by the Justice Department, revealed that stalking continues to affect victims far beyond the crime itself. Victims flee their homes, lose their jobs and are in constant fear of their safety, the report indicates. Stalking affects roughly 3.4 million Americans a year, according to the report.

The study, conducted during a 12-month period in 2005 and 2006 using data from the National Crime Victimization survey, also analyzed some of the tools stalkers use, showing that electronic methods such as text messages and e-mails are on the rise. While the tools don’t necessarily mean stalking incidences are increasing, they do make things easier for stalkers, said Cindy Dyer, director of the federal Office on Violence Against Women. “The prevalence of these electronic devices gives stalker another tool in his tool kit, makes it easier to stalk and increases victims’ fear,” she said.

A story in the Southeast Missourian addresses the fact that while technological advances have made solving many crimes easier, they have also made it easier for stalkers to keep track of their victims. Stalkers now use GPS systems and wireless cameras, among other tools. “Unfortunately because of technology the abuser has such an advantage,” said Mindy Denson, education and outreach coordinator for the Safe House for Women, a shelter in Missouri. Women, according to the new study, are twice as likely to be victims of stalking.

However the stalking is being conducted, it can have a huge effect on a victim’s life. About 13,000 victims had been fired or asked to leave their jobs because of conflicts related to their stalking. The report also showed that stalking can last for years, with 11 percent of respondents saying they had been stalked for five or more years. Furthermore, 75 percent of victims know their stalker, “most commonly a former spouse or ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, sometimes a relative or coworker,” reports the Associated Press.

Opinion & Analysis: Stalking: an account

Layla Lair shared her terrifying account of being stalked by an ex-boyfriend with Associated Content in November 2007. She remarked on her stalker’s seemingly unbelievable ability to follow her constantly: “He stalked me it seemed everywhere. He would remark on things such as he liked the blouse he saw me buy at the mall. On one occasion, he stopped by my job just to tell me he was not aware that I liked a particular entree that I ordered when at a restaurant.”

With those years safely behind her, Lair encourages anyone being victimized by a stalker to “be proactive” and take steps to end the abuse.

Related Topic: Cyberbullying

The Internet is not only a boon for stalkers intent on keeping track of their victims, but works for bullies, too. In a now-famous case that occurred last year, Missouri resident Lori Drew was indicted for using a fake profile on the social networking site MySpace to bully 13-year-old Megan Meier, who later committed suicide.

Salvador Hernandez, the assistant agent in charge of the Los Angeles FBI office, said at the time that Drew was responsible for Meier’s death, even if she didn’t know that her actions would cause Meier to commit suicide. “The Internet is a world unto itself. People must know how far they can go before they must stop. They exploited a young girl’s weaknesses,” he told the Associated Press.

The Meier case and other cases caused some to question Missouri’s “cyberbullying” laws and whether or not they needed to be reevaluated. Some believe stricter laws must be put in place to punish cyberbullies, whereas others believe such laws could extend to behavior that should be legal and would violate Internet users’ First Amendment rights.

Reference: Stalking Resource Center; safe online dating


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