To some, the concept of cyberstalking may seem new, but cyberstalking has been happening since the dawn of the internet. However, as the internet, and its users, become more sophisticated, the number of people falling prey to cyberstalkers continues to increase. In many cases, children and teens become victims of a cyberstalker, and as is the case with “real life” stalking, no matter the age, the victims are usually women, and the cyberstalkers are usually men. As is also true with close proximity stalking, a large percentage of cyberstalking victims know their stalker. Just as stalking is a crime, so is cyberstalking, because its effect on the victims are just as damaging, even if the stalker is not right outside your door, but rather, clear across the country.
I recently became aware that I am being stalked via the internet. I am not going to go into great detail, and let me just say that any resemblance of persons mentioned in this article to anyone, living or dead, is hopefully vague enough to go completely unnoticed. Cyberstalking is defined as threatening behavior, or unwanted advances directed at another person using the internet, or some form of computer generated communication. This means emails, in chat rooms, on message boards, and blogs, and also tracking your movements, and using the internet to gain personal information about an individual. I know my stalker, and I certainly noticed the unwanted emails, and I noticed that they just kept coming, even when I asked the person to not contact me again. At that point, it was a mere annoyance, and stalking had not entered my mind.
Within the context of other life events I became aware that a certain party had a great deal of personal information about me in his possession and it was certainly nothing I had ever shared with him. I also knew that the memory of the other party was not strong enough for him to have held all of this information that was being used to discredit me in a very serious matter. It was only after the matter was concluded that I got a phone call from my stalker to verbally harass me. It was then that it came out. He knew what he knew about me from reading the articles that I write.
Aha, you say! You put it out there, so you asked for it! Maybe, but probably not. Certainly, I do not write about what I want kept a secret, but I do write to help people, (and to earn valuable cash dollars). My openness when I write is with that intent, and because I am just that trusting, I never, in my wildest dreams, thought that my writing would be used against me. My articles were not the only source of information. A social networking site was also employed, though I had wisely “unfriended” that friend months ago–a completely different person, who I really did feel was a friend. Ouch! That hurt.
Enough background. Because I am well aware that I am no Nora Ephron, while I take my writing very seriously, I also did not think that too many people cared all that much. Yes, I have fans, but fans are one thing. A stalker is all together different. Just as stalking in the traditional sense has emotional and physical affects on the victim, so does cyberstalking. Things that victims of cyberstalking might experience include changes in sleeping and eating patterns, nightmares, anxiety, hype vigilance, fear, and shock and disbelief. These are many of the same symptoms involved PTSD, and they are real, and they can be disabling for the victim.
In my case, shock, disbelief and anger came first. A “How dare they?” feeling, along with a new sense of respect for The First Amendment. Fear, anxiety, and hypervigilance followed quickly. Suddenly, I was afraid to write anything, and began to question how damaging my every topic idea could be. Most of my assignments request that I “use personal experience,” and that I do, but now I was afraid to write about anything more far reaching than my thoughts on drinking bleach–don’t do it! I thought of changing to a pen name, but knew that would not stop them, and I knew that they were also trying to stalk a friend electronically. I couldn’t sleep, and since I was wide awake, I had plenty of time in the middle of the night to consume peanut butter cookies, and such.
I was looking over my shoulder everywhere that I went, and yes, I was anxious. I rallied back fairly quickly, probably because they have now set their sights on harassing another victim. Oh, I know that they are still stalking my writing, but I simply do not care. (Wiggling fingers of my right hand in a friendly, wave-like manner) These people are dangerous people, and is the case with most cyberstalkers, they want power and control. I am sorry. They simply cannot have power over me. I have an attorney, and I am not afraid to use him.
The real problem is that, every year, many women are victims of cyberstalking, and suffer all of the physical and emotional consequences, afraid to step forward, or to get help to recover. Unfortunately, as so often happens when someone is stalked, the victim is embarrassed, wondering what she did to bring this on herself. While it is very true that we all need to be careful about what we put out onto the internet, we cannot accept the ‘blame the victim” mentality.
There are cyberstalking laws to protect you if you are being harassed. There are also support groups, and health care professionals, ready to help you if you need help getting past your experience. With the internet, the world has gotten a lot smaller, and for the most part, that is a good thing. However, when someone uses the internet as a tool to control, frighten, or harass someone, it is abuse, and if you are a victim, you need to treat it as such. Get help to stop the stalking, and do what you need to do to heal.