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Cyber Stalking.Are you at Risk?
Cyber Stalking.Are you at Risk?
Make no mistake: this kind of harassment can be as frightening and as real as being followed and watched in your neighborhood or in your home," says Vice President Al Gore.
This relatively new form of harassment is known as cyber-stalking, and it can affect virtually anyone. Cyber-stalking refers to the use of the Internet, e-mail, or other electronic communications device to stalk another person.
"Stalking generally involves harassing or threatening behavior that an individual engages in repeatedly, such as following a person, appearing at a person's home or place of business, making harassing phone calls, leaving written messages or objects, or vandalizing a person's property," states Attorney General, Janet Reno.
Even though cyber-stalking does not involve physical contact, it is just as threatening as physical stalking. A potential stalker may be unwilling or unable to confront a victim face-to-face, but will not hesitate to send harassing or threatening electronic communications to the victim.
There are many similarities between both types of stalking. The majority of cases involve stalking by former acquaintances, although there are several instances of stranger stalkings. Most of the stalkers are men, and the majority of victims are women.
Whereas offline stalking generally requires the perpetrator and the victim to be located in the same geographic area, cyber-stalkers can be located next door, or clear across the country. A cyber-stalker can also encourage third party harassment of the victim by using bulletin boards and chat rooms. Computers offer another advantage to stalkers- they do not need to physically confront the victim.
A single push of a button and a cyber-stalker is able to send repeated, threatening, or harassing messages at regular or random intervals, even if he is not physically present at the computer. Due to the anonymity of the Internet, a perpetrator's identity can be completely concealed. Armed with this knowledge, some cyber-stalkers might be willing to carry the harassment further, contacting the victim at home or work utilizing information gleaned from the numerous websites that offer personal information.
Cyber-stalking has become a growing problem in the United States. Based on the current information available for offline stalking, and the fact that currently more than 80 million adults and 10 million children have access to the Internet. "Assuming the proportion of cyber-stalking victims is even a fraction of the proportion of persons who have already been the victims of offline stalking within the preceding 12 months, there may be potentially tens or even hundreds of thousands of victims of recent cyber-stalking incidents in the United States," says Ms. Reno.
Cyber-stalking presents a new challenge for law enforcement officials. Perpetrators are able to exploit the anonymity of the Internet to avoid accountability for their conduct. Very little public attention and resources have been committed to addressing this crime.
"Cyberspace has become a fertile field for illegal activity. By the use of new technology and equipment, which cannot be policed by traditional methods, cyber-stalking has replaced traditional methods of stalking and harassment. In addition, cyber-stalking has led to offline incidents of violent crime. Police and prosecutors need to be aware of the escalating numbers of these events and devise strategies to resolve these problems through the criminal justice system," states Linda Fairstein, Chief of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.
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