Stalking behavior over the Internet

Federal stalking laws in the US

California was the first state to enact laws in relation to stalking in 1990. It was also the first state in 1999 to enact cyberstalking laws. Since then there are many other states that have followed suit, but not all. USA Federal stalking laws consider it a federal crime with punishment of years in prison and payment of a fine. Many of the state laws have been enacted as a result of an unfortunate ending to a cyber stalking event. Stalking is generally an obsessive behavior, which include repeated following, phoning, making threats. The intent of the stalker is to intimidate the victim.

Federal stalking laws pertain to Interstate domestic violence, which means that an individual who travels between states to intimidate, harass, injure or kill someone who is a date or a spouse, is performing a criminal act. The person may also be found guilty of causing the victim to travel across states or leave the country. The law also includes stalking that takes place within the state and stalking over the Internet. Cyber stalking law can be found under 47 U.S.C. 223 of the law.

Originally, the methods of stalking included following victim, sending messages and using the telephone to contact the victim repeatedly, however, now it can be done through the internet. Online stalking is called cyber stalking and takes on an additional intention of not just intimidating but causing damage to the victim’s reputation.

The Internet allows for global communication and sharing of information. Also called the World Wide Web, it is a means of connecting people all over the world. While most do not fully understand how the Internet works, there are billions using it on a daily basis. There are also many people abusing it. The Internet now presents another way for individuals to commit crimes, such as cyber stalking and identity theft and other types of fraud all of which can affect an individual’s social image and as a result affect many areas of the victim’s life.

Stalking behavior over the Internet usually involves an attack on the victim’s reputation. The cyber stalker will, therefore, circulate lies about an individual or even circulate an embarrassing truth, for example, an arrest record or a mug shot. The fact that this information is already in the public domain may mean that there may be a problem proving that the behavior being expressed is indeed stalking. Internet stalking may also include hacking into the victim’s computer or other web-enabled device to get private information that can be used to hurt the individual’s reputation. With Social networking sites, the information is spread instantly and quickly. With the ability for individuals to share the information with friend and associates quite easily, it becomes even more detrimental to a person’s reputation. It may take the form of embarrassing pictures. Alternatively, even embarrassing videos may be shared. With the ability for a video to go viral, a term normally used when many individuals have seen a video, the negative information could spread quickly. The person’s computer may have been hacked to get a hold of this information. Many have become so comfortable while using the Internet that they share the information with friends without the thought that unscrupulous individuals may intercept the communication. There have been cases where as a result of cyber stalking or rather bullying a person may commit suicide.

While it can be said that all states have laws in relation to stalking a victim, not all state have laws enacted specifically for stalking through the Internet. The definition for cyber stalking also includes the use of other electronic means.

What is even more worrying for the victim is that the information cannot be removed. However, it may be hidden .

Stalking in all its forms may prove to have lifetime effect on the victim. It is a considered a form of mental abuse and may even end in physical assault. It is a serious issue and should be reported as soon as it becomes evident the individual is being stalked. The reputation damaging effect of stalking may also last a lifetime.

How do you address the problem?

While state and federal laws are put in place to help to you may need to take action to protect yourself.

  • If it is an arrest record that is being used against you, you may have the record expunged or sealed if it is possible within the state in which you reside. To expunge a record is to have the documented details of the case destroyed. To seal the record involves hiding it so that the public no longer has access. Not all records are eligible for expungement and even if they are eligible, it does not mean that expungement is automatic; it is at the discretion of the judge that will hear the case. On hearing that expungement is a legal process, many may draw the conclusion that a lawyer is needed, however, that is not the case. The individual can simply obtain an expungement or sealing kit.
  • The other step that a victim of cyber stalking can take is monitoring varying sites to see if and when negative information is posted about them.  The software also hides the negative information so that it appears on the results pages not often visited by researchers. There is a relatively minimal fee attached to the service.
  • Identity theft is a growing problem that can lead to a damaged reputation. The thief will use personal information like the victim’s social security number to steal money and to purchase embarrassing items in their name. There are monitoring services that can quickly detect and alert you of instances of possible identity theft.

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