Friday, October 24, 2014

Cyber-Stalking Is Not About Sex

By David Simms, Senior Contributor
The Global Institute for Cyber Safety and Standards 

The psychology of cyber-stalking remains largely misunderstood with many incorrectly assuming it involves an element of sexual obsession. Research findings point to other factors. It is seen as motivated by hostility and aggressive behaviours stemming from power and control issues rather than material gain or sexual obsession. Cyber-stalking is fueled by rage and anger that, in many cases, is triggered by a victim’s action or inaction. The research suggests the number of cyber-stalking incidents will continue to mount, in part, because the internet presently provides a safe-haven in which an offender can theoretically hide and conceal their identity behind a shroud of anonymity. This is one of the primary differences between real-world stalking and that of the cyber-variety. Because these stalkers typically have a high level of computer proficiency and aptitude, they can be more skilled at avoiding or evading detection and therefore, accountability. Also, whereas in traditional stalking cases the offender and victim often live or work within relatively close proximity, cyber-stalkers could be harassing their victim from next door, a library in the next state, or even another country. 

Cyber-stalking rarely involves direct physical contact and so, unfortunately, most police officers intaking reports of this crime tend to minimize their seriousness and dismiss the victim’s fears as a nuisance. This is beginning to change in the UK for example as stricter more serious resolutions are passed, but in the US this is still much the case. In reality, cyber-stalking cases can easily escalate to other more dangerous and disturbed behaviours, some ending in violence and death.

An oft overlooked aspect to cyber-stalking is that it doesn’t necessarily include one perpetrator. Even though most stalkers act alone, the internet has made it much easier for cyber-stalkers to conspire and incite third-parties to harass victims in chat rooms, discussion boards, and other social networking platforms. In fact, researchers have coined the term ”stalking by proxy” to describe the process by which cyber-stalkers lure others such as family members and friends to aid in harassing the victim. Some cyber-stalkers have even been known to hire private investigators to follow and report on the victim’s daily activities and whereabouts. 

There is no doubt cyber-stalking continues to evolve at an astonishing rate in all parts of the world. With each new development in technology, a new avenue for cyber-stalkers opens up. Part of the solution must come from the allowance of law agencies everywhere to use the same technologies being developed, to swiftly identify and act. At current trends, this is becoming vitally necessary – and something, by the way, that supersedes any bickering about free speech as is bandied about so much in America in particular due to their constitutional documents their society is based upon.