Stalkers in Cyberspace Can Cause Irreparable Damage

Modern Day Stalking

The technology age has a dramatic impact on all aspects of our lives. Being a victim of harassment is no exception. In a previous era, it took a great deal of effort on the part of a stalker who generally followed his target around from place to place by various modes of transportation, whether or not there was any face-to-face interaction. Today, however, you can stalk or bully someone “from the comfort of your own bedroom.” Have you ever been the subject of cyberstalking?

Psychological Impact of Online Harassment

According to data presented by psychologists at this year’s APA convention, the effect of e-harassment (in any of its various forms) is more devastating to victims than being harassed in real time and place. It might be due to the round-the-clock access a stalker has to the victim, or the fact that you cannot get away from her without cutting off access to meaningful things in your life—friends, family, job, etc. Besides, access for cyber-harassment is through multiple platforms, e.g., email, blogs, online message boards, voicemail and text messages on cellphones, Facebook and other social networking sites, and Twitter. Victims report fear, anxiety, shock, depression, nightmares, sleeplessness, weight loss or gain, withdrawal, and feelings of helplessness, as well as various physical symptoms. You have likely seen news reports of tragic consequences of young people bullying or being harassed via electronic devices, e.g., assaults, fights, and suicides.

Demographics and Other Statistics

As was true in old fashioned offline stalking, most targets of e-stalkers are female. However, what has changed since the widespread use of personal technology devices is that females are becoming online stalkers and/or bullies themselves in increasing numbers, whereas—before the Internet age—it was almost exclusively males who engaged in stalking behavior (unless you count those obsessed women in “Play Misty for Me” and “Fatal Attraction”). What do you think the reason is for this shift?

Most e-harassment is carried out by teens, college-age individuals, and young adults. It is sometimes the result of vengeance or just simple meanness on the part of a person who is one half of a romantic couple that has broken up; or it can even be merely the result of a “date gone bad.” U.S. Department of Justice reports that 34% of female and 14% of male college students have broken into the email account of their romantic partner.

Being a Victim

Response to cyber-bullying is individual in both mode and intensity. People who are prone to depression or to obsessing (e.g., OCD) appear to be affected the most. Research shows (just as it happens with other forms of abuse) that a victim of e-harassment is likely to subsequently harass or bully other people through cyberspace. Have you been a victim of virtual bullying or harassment? If so, were you later tempted to take out any frustration you might have experienced on someone else via electronic means? What can you do to ensure you will react to e-bullying in ways that promote psychological health and safety for you and others?

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