Cyberstalking: How do I stay safe online?

Wednesday January 9, 2013

A new type of stalking that is coming to light in the technological age is "cyberstalking." Many have heard the term and, unfortunately, some have experienced this type of harassment and abuse. What exactly is cyberstalking and how can you stay safe from potential cyberstalkers?

Stalking generally refers to a way of acting that is directed at a specific person. It often involves actions such as the stalker repeatedly putting himself in visual or physical proximity to his victim; nonconsensual communication with the victim; verbal, written, or implied threats by the stalker; vandalism; or unsolicited contact with the victim's friends, family or co-workers;. The stalker will use one or more of these tactics with the intent of causing fear in the victim. Like domestic violence, stalking is a crime of power and control.

With cyberstalking, you add the element of technology. The cyberstalker is stalking his victim using such outlets as social media, email contact, posing online as the victim, or posting negative, inaccurate, or inappropriate information about the victim on the Internet. The use of technology also allows the stalker to stay fairly anonymous, using the computer as a screen, literally and figuratively, to hide behind. Victims can find it difficult to track a cyberstalker and even more difficult to stop what they're doing.

Again, the motives of a cyberstalker are primarily driven on power and control. While identity thieves are focused on making money, cyberstalkers are deliberate and focused on the victims and what consequences the victim will experience as a result of their actions.

Stalking and cyberstalking can happen between intimate partners or casual acquaintances. It is widespread in the United States, and is often associated with lethal abuse. Stalking is a legal crime in all 50 states, and the District of Columbia. However, cyberstalking is a relatively new form of stalking and it may be difficult for victims to find help.

This type of stalking should be taken seriously. Many stalkers -- cyber or not -- are motivated by an obsessive desire to control their victims. It is not uncommon for cyberstalking to progress to physical stalking and violence.

The U.S. Department of Justice-Office of Justice Programs estimates that more than 1,006,000 women and approximately 371,000 men are stalked annually in the United States. The average stalking lasts about two years. Approximately 87 percent of stalkers are male.

Here are a few things you can do to help protect yourself from a cyberstalker: perform regular Internet searches using your name and phone number; never give out your home address or social security number to ANYONE online; and be sure to use passwords that are not easy to figure out.

Victims of stalking may experience some difficult emotions such as embarrassment, anxiety, depression, insomnia, or other social difficulties. If you feel someone is stalking you, get support. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. In the Bennington area, you can call PAVE at (802) 442-2111.

For women in their 40s who are in the dating world, find out more about midlife dating and safety by joining SVHC's Wellness Connection for their three-part series, "Decoding the Confusion of Midlife Dating." I'll be doing a session about dating safely in the twenty-first century, "Fifty Shades of Dating Realities." You can find out more about the class and series at

Mary Grey is a local counselor with experience in domestic violence. "Health Matters" is a weekly column from Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC) meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care. To learn more about SVHC, visit


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