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8/20/2004
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Understanding The Cyberharassment Problem

Here are some FAQ's to help understand the cyberharassment problem.

Is cyberstalking illegal? What about cyberharassment?
The laws tend to lump the two types of cybercrimes together. For the purposes of this guide, other than when there is a legal distinction, both cyberstalking and harassment are discussed under the heading cyberstalking. While at least 46 states in the United States have various types of cyberstalking or harassment laws on the books, there is no U.S. federal cyberstalking or harassment law (except when children under 16 are involved and being targeted for sexual harassment). Many Western European countries have cyberstalking or harassment laws, but they're the exception rather than the rule. Few Asian countries have cyberstalking or harassment laws.

If I can't file criminal charges against the cyberstalker or harasser, what can I do to them?
Often the victims of cyberstalking and cyberharassment are limited to civil litigation (suing the stalker or harassment) or reporting the cyberstalker or harasser to their ISP and trying to get their accounts revoked, or Web sites shut down. (WiredSafety's WiredPatrol Cyberstalking and Harassment Team has been successful in having accounts revoked and Web sites shut down under these circumstances.)

What about cybertalking or harassment in the workplace?
Cyberstalking and harassment also frequently occur in the workplace, either because the perpetrator is unhappy with management or a fellow worker, or because they've been fired or not hired in the first place. Many cases occur when an employee feels they've been passed over for a promotion or raise, or denied a vacation, personal day, or other perk. We've also seen situations where a business or employees acting on its behalf (with or without approval) have targeted a competitor or its employees. These are typically treated as commercial crimes and are often the subject of litigation between the competitors. It may also become the basis for regulatory agency actions such as securities market regulators and trade or consumer commissions like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, or state consumer protection agencies in the United States.

Are there different types of cyberstalking or harassment situations?
There are three different kinds of cyberstalking situations:

  • Online cyberstalking and harassment that stays online;


  • Online harassment and stalking that ventures offline or encourages offline actions; and


  • Offline stalking or harassment that moves online.


It doesn't make any difference whether or not the victim has even used the Internet. The distinction between online and offline is dependent on the medium used by the perpetrator.

For example, online stalking or harassing is usually defined as "repeated, unsolicited contact by electronic means" with the intent to "terrify, intimidate, or harass" another. The medium in this instance can include computers, fax machines, telephones, etc. Offline stalking or harassment involves the same type of behavior, but in real life. This includes everything from repeatedly following a victim to actual physical contact between a stalker and his or her victim. Although each of the three situations above include some form of online attack, and can be terrifying for a victim, only those that have an offline component are physically dangerous. Note that the laws in your jurisdiction may only cover offline stalking and harassment, or those with an offline component.

What's the profile of a typical cyberstalking or harassment victim?
Cyberstalking occurs more often with women as the victim, although that's gradually changing. Our most recent surveys at WiredSafety.org disclose that men are being cyberstalked and harassed more frequently by women than ever before.

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