The Rise of Cyberstalking

The Rise of Cyberstalking

Carsten Maple, Kristiana Wrixon
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch669
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Until 25 years ago the term stalking was principally associated with hunting deer, now the word is increasingly used to describe a serious, life-altering, and sometimes life-ending crime in which a person is obsessively pursued by another. This change began in the late eighties after a series of high profile stalking cases that ended in tragedy. The most often cited case is that of Rebecca Shaeffer, a young American actress who was stalked and murdered by a male fan. Following her death California, the State in which Shaeffer lived, became the first to legislate against stalking and within a matter of years every American State had a law prohibiting the behaviour.

The first law in the UK to deal with stalking behaviour, the Protection from Harassment Act (England and Wales) was passed in 1997 after a successful campaign lead by survivors and charities. During the campaign, advocates successfully argued that the new law should be drafted to prohibit patterns of behaviour that cause distress and/or fear rather than contain a rigid list of specific behaviours that could constitute stalking. It was argued that stalkers would find ways around the list thereby protecting themselves from criminal prosecution whilst continuing to cause distress to the victim, and rendering the law ineffective. This proved to be an important decision in protecting future victims from stalking, especially those targeted online.

In 1998, the first full year since the implementation of the Protection from Harassment Act (PHA) 1997, only 9% of Great Britain’s households had access to the Internet (Office National Statistics 2008; Maple et al., 2012). By 2012, 85% of Great Britain’s households had used the Internet in the last three months (Office National Statistics 2012). Given that that the Internet is now so embedded into UK culture it is unsurprising that criminals have found numerous ways to use the Internet to commit crimes such as financial fraud and identity theft (Fafinski et al., 2009), and that stalking has evolved to make use of the Internet. The phenomenon of using technology or computer assisted means to stalk has become known as cyberstalking.

Researchers have debated whether cyberstalking is an entirely new phenomenon (Pittaro, 2007; Bocij, 2002; Bocij & McFarlane, 2003) or whether it is another tool in a stalker’s arsenal (Ogilvie, 2000; Sheridan & Grant, 2007; Haron et al., 2010). In many cases stalking will not consist of purely online or offline behaviours but will be a combination of both (Sheridan & Grant, 2007; Maple et al., 2011). As such it should be asserted that cyberstalking is an evolution of stalking and that there are more similarities than differences between the two types of crime.

However differences do exist and it is therefore important to develop a more comprehensive picture of how stalking has evolved. In the absence of this new understanding it will be difficult to successfully investigate the crime, prosecute offenders and support victims. This article will show how, whilst stalking is not a new phenomenon, the rise of the Internet has meant stalking has become more pervasive and harder to detect.

Research into victims of stalking has predominantly found that men will account for 10-20% of victims (Sheridan & Grant, 2007; National Stalking Helpline, 2013; Mullen, Pathé, & Purcell, 2008). However research into cyberstalking has found that between one third and a half of victims are male (D’Ovidio & Doyle 2003; Finkelhor et al., 2000; Alexy et al., 2005; Maple et al., 2011). Maple et al. (2011) also found that male and female victims of cyberstalking report different primary fears, with women primarily being fearful of physical assault whilst men report being most fearful of loss of reputation.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Stalking: Stalking occurs when an individual becomes obsessively fixated on another and when that pursuit manifests through repeated attempts to contact that person or intrude upon their life which causes the recipient to experience distress or fear.

Sex: Sex refers to the biological and physiological differences of being male or female.

Online Anti-Social Behaviour: Online anti-social behaviour is activity undertaken through electronic means which indicates a lack of consideration for others and is likely to cause a person to suffer alarm or distress to another.

Internet use: An individual’s Internet use refers to all the things they do which require them to have an Internet connection.

Cyberharassment: Cyberharassment is behaviour conducted by an individual or group utilizing electronic means which causes another individual or group to feel upset, angry or distressed.

Cyberstalking: Cyberstalking occurs when an individual(s) becomes obsessively fixated with another and pursues them through a course of action that involves more than one incident perpetrated through or utilising electronic means that cause distress or fear.

Gender: Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, attitudes and behaviours that are generally considered to be socially appropriate for men and women.

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