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Cyberstalking Demystified

“The man who victimized our daughter began his quest in 2012 and was 37 years older than her… He created a three-year plan to be with her, marry her and bear his children; posting daily about his intentions, and made no secret that he was coming to her on her 18th birthday, all while under probation for stalking her at the age of 13. He knew every aspect of our daughter’s life, even when her accounts were private. He used her friends accounts and their friends-friends accounts to search for anything related to her. This perpetrator hid behind social media and posted over 15,000 times, detailing what he wanted to do to her and how they would be forever together.  He insisted that no one would ever stop him from being with her.  It was by luck we found all of these posts in September 2016 but wasn’t until November 2016 that this man was arrested.”  – Erin Zezzo, mother of a cyberstalking victim

Stalking is recurrent contact that makes you feel fearful or harassed – whether in person or online. It is a crime that impacts 7.5 million people annually – including children. At any age, stalking and cyberstalking are genuine issues – and crimes women are more than twice as likely to encounter than men.

What can be done to deter Cyberstalking?

In Congress, Brian Fitzpatrick is advocating for increased criminal penalties for stalkers of minors and an evaluation of Federal, State, and local efforts to enforce laws relating to stalking and identify elements of these enforcement efforts that represent best practices. The House passed his bipartisan Combat Online Predators Act [H.R. 4203] and it’s awaiting action in the Senate. Read more here.

Stalking Defined

Stalking is any repeated and unwanted contact with you that makes you feel threatened. You can be stalked by a stranger, but most stalkers are individuals you know – even an intimate partner. Stalking may become worse or get violent over time. Stalking can also be an indication of an abusive relationship.

Someone who is stalking you may threaten your safety by telling you they want to harm you. Some stalkers harass you with less threatening but still unwelcome contact. The use of technology to stalk, also known as “cyberstalking,” includes using the Internet, email, or other electronic communications to stalk someone. Stalking is illegal.

Stalking and cyberstalking can cause sleeping problems or problems at work or school.

Examples of Stalking
  • Following you around or spying on you.
  • Sending you unwelcome emails or letters.
  • Calling you often.
  • Showing up unannounced at your house, school, or work.
  • Giving you unwanted gifts.
  • Ruining your home, car, or other property.
  • Threatening you, your family, or pets with violence.
Examples of Cyberstalking
  • Sending unwelcome, frightening, or obscene emails, text messages, or instant messages (IMs).
  • Harassing or threatening you on social media.
  • Tracing your computer and Internet use.
  • Using technology such as GPS to pinpoint your location.
Does the law prohibit stalking?

Yes. Stalking is illegal. Read about the laws against stalking in your state at the Stalking Resource Center. If you are in immediate danger, contact 911.

You can file a complaint with the police and request a restraining order (court order of protection) against the stalker. Federal law states that you can get a restraining order for free. Don’t be afraid to take action to stop your stalker.

How can I protect myself if I think I’m being stalked?

If you are in imminent danger, contact 911. Find a safe place to go if you are being followed or believe that you will be followed. Head to a police station, friend’s house, domestic violence shelter, fire station, or public area.

If you’re being stalked, take these precautions:
  • Secure a restraining order. A restraining order necessitates that the stalker to stay away from you and not contact you. You can learn how to get a restraining order from a domestic violence shelter, the police, or an attorney in your area.
  • Document every incident. Include the time, date, and other important information. If the incidents occurred online, keep screenshots for your records.
  • Keep evidence such as videotapes, voicemail messages, photos of property damage, and letters.
  • Get names of witnesses.
  • Get help from domestic violence hotlines, domestic violence shelters, counseling services, and support groups. Keep these numbers in your phone in case you need them.
  • Tell people about the stalking, including the police, your employer, family, friends, and neighbors.
  • Always have your phone with you so you can call for help.
  • Consider changing your phone number (although some people leave their number active so they can collect evidence). You can also ask your service provider about call blocking and other safety features.
  • Safeguard your home with alarms, locks, and motion-sensitive lights.
What can I do if I have a Cyberstalker?
  • Send the person a concise, written warning not to contact you again.
  • If they contact you again after you’ve told them not to, do not respond.
  • Print out copies of evidence like emails or screenshots of your phone. Keep a record of the stalking and any contact with police.
  • Report the stalker to the authority in charge of the site or service where the stalker contacted you. For example, if someone is stalking you through Facebook, report them to Facebook.
  • If the stalking doesn’t cease, get help from the police. You also can contact a domestic violence shelter and the National Center for Victims of Crime Helpline for support and recommendations.
  • Block messages from the harasser.
  • Change your email address or screen name.
  • Never post online profiles or messages with details that someone could use to identify or locate you (such as your age, sex, address, workplace, phone number, school, or places you frequent).

For more information or emotional support, contact the Stalking Resource Center National Center for Victims of Crime Helpline at 800-FYI-CALL (394-2255), Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.