Because It Could Happen To YOU...

IST 432 Group 2 : Pedro Arocho, David Bittle, Ian Bucher, Robert Nelson, Matthew Robuck

I. Abstract

Stalking is a pattern of behavior that is measured over time in which an individual seeks to gain access to, or control, an unwilling victim. Cyberstalking is defined as making these advances through online and other computer communication arenas. These behaviors can range from benign longing for the victim to malicious, sexual attacks which cause emotional distress and physical harm to the victim. As technology grows on a daily bases the "arenas" where stalking can take place grows at the same rate. Cyberstalking has created new challenges for the detection, prevention, and prosecution of stalkers in the virtual world and traditional methods of detection and enforcement often are inadequate. Thus, the best way to prevent cyberstalking is for technology users to be educated on cyberstalking and take preventative measures to avoid a stalker in cyberspace. In this paper we discuss the differences between stalking and cyberstalking, the physiology of a stalker, current law enforcement measures and most importantly, how to prevent becoming a victim of cyberstalking. (Mullen, 2000)

II. Introduction

Cyberstalking is a fairly new term. Therefore, there is no universally accepted definition for the word. According to The National Center for Victims of Crime, cyberstalking is defined as making threats and unwanted advanced towards another person through online and other computer communications.

In 1990, California was the first state to pass laws that criminalized offline stalking. By the end of the twentieth century, all fifty states outlawed stalking. However, cyberstalking laws are in their infancy. The law is behind in combating cyberstalking and law enforcement authorities are not properly trained or equipped to handle cyberstalking cases. Due to this, it is very difficult for law enforcement authorities to arrest cyberstalkers before any physical harm has been caused (Cyber Criminals Most Wanted, 2007).

Cyberstalking was covered extensively in a Department of Justice report entitled, "Cyberstalking: A New Challenge for Law Enforcement and Industry". The report argued that easier access to the personally identifiable information of internet users has made cyberstalking easier for predators. The evolution of personal blogs and social networking websites has provided more locations for internet users to share information such as their name, location and their phone number. These websites can be breeding grounds for cyberstalking activity.

The article also makes a strong connection between cyberstalking and offline stalking. Cyberstalking can serve as a way to gather information about a victim. That personal information can be taken off of the internet and can allow a predator to stalk victims offline as well. This can lead to physical confrontations and more serious crimes such as rape and murder. Cyberstalking is showing no signs of decline. In 1997, the Department of Justice reported that one in twelve women and one in forty-five men will be cyberstalking victims.

III. Stalking vs Cyberstalking

There are many similarities and differences between offline and online stalking. Although cyberstalkers may prey upon total strangers, stalking victims normally know who their predator is and have had personal contact with the predator in the past. Just like offline stalking, evidence has shown that the majority of stalkers are men and that most of the victims are women. In offline and cyberstalking, the main motive of the predator is to control and dominate the victim.

In the case of strictly offline stalking, victims have to be within the vicinity of the stalker. This is not the case for cyberstalking. Through the use of computer technology and social networking sites such as MySpace, cyberstalkers have the potential to prey upon victims who live hundreds of miles away. Because of an increase in the predator's accessibility, he can easily access third parties and use them to harass victims. Unlike offline stalking, cyberstalkers do not have to reveal their identity to have an effect on their victims. Furthermore, they do not have to physically confront the person to stalk them.

IV. Laws & Landmark Cases

With the rise of the technology and cyberstalking, there has been a rise in the importance to catch these predators. The penalty for this crime is very severe and should not be taken lightly. Everyone has heard about the Dateline NBC cases as documented by Chris Hanson. Most of the people caught on the show faced large fines, but some faced multiple years in prison based on the extent of the stalking/sexual solicitation. There have been other cases involving cyberstalking/online sexual abuse where the consequences were a lot worse. These cases will be described in this section.

The first person charged with cyberstalking was Robert James Murphy. He violated Title 47 of the U.S. Code 223 which prohibits the use of telecommunications to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass anyone. Murphy was sending obscene messages and pictures to his ex-girlfriend for more than 4 years. The woman, Joelle Ligon, was deleting these e-mails at first but then started collecting them as evidence. Murphy pleaded guilty to two counts of cyberstalking (Fisher, 2004).

In 1999, a 50 year old security guard used the Internet to solicit rape of a 28 year old woman. This was the first prosecution under California's new cyberstalking law. The defendant impersonated the victim in chat rooms and online bulletins where he gave out her contact information and posted messages of how she had a fantasy of being raped. The reason the defendant was doing this was because the woman rejected the man's sexual advances. The fake messages posted online led to random men knocking on the woman's door saying how they wanted to rape her. The defendant pleaded guilty in April of 1999 to one count of stalking and three counts of solicitation of sexual assault. He was sentenced to six years in prison (Attorney General, 1999).

A male graduate from University of San Diego stalked five female students on the Internet for over a year. The female students were receiving hundreds of threatening e-mails, as many as five a day. The defendant pleaded guilty and faces up to six years in prison. He stated that the reason for the threatening e-mails was because he though the women were making fun of him when they actually had never met the man (Attorney General, 1999).

In 2004, a South Carolina male was sentenced to five years probation, 500 hours of community service, and fined 12,000 dollars after pleading guilty to multiple counts of cyberstalking. He was sending dozens of e-mail messages and fax messages to a woman that broke up with him 14 years ago (Caslon Analytics, 2007).

As you can tell, the penalties for cyberstalking can be very severe ranging from fines to many years in prison. This can mean different things for different people. For a person involved in some sort of cyberstalking, they might want to think about the consequences before doing anything drastic. It may not seem like a big deal at the time to be sending out multiple e-mails or pretending to be someone you are not, but it could turn out very badly. Also, a lot of people seem to think that they are invisible behind a computer screen and feel that nothing will happen to them because of this. These cases prove this theory wrong as someone of this nature could be spending the next 6 years behind bars.

For a person being cyberstalked, these cases can show them how extreme this situation is. The penalties for it are very severe and if someone is being cyberstalked, they should let the authorities know about it. Let the prosecution to them and let them determine the seriousness of the crime that is being committed. Cyberstalking is fairly new so a victim may not know how serious the law enforcement is and may take matters into their own hands. This is not a good idea. Instead they should let the authorities deal with the situation.

V. Psychology of Cyberstalking

The "normal" stalker might be what you expected, generally single, lonely, males, in their late 30's. In a study done by Paul Mullen M.B.B.S and Michele Pathe M.B.B.S published in the American Journal of Psychiatry they found that, 79% of stalkers identified in the study were male. Their ages ranged from 15 to 75 years, with a median of 38 years. Over half of the stalkers had never had a long-term relationship; another 30% were currently separated or divorced. Unemployed stalkers, which were 39% of the study, made up a substantial proportion of the group, although the majority, 56%, were employed. The study found that 8% of the identified stalkers occupied professional and senior management positions, less than 1% were students, and well under 1% described themselves as a housewife. (Mullen & Pathe, 1999)

Mullen & Pathe's research went on further to identify the modus operandi (MO) of each stalker identified in the study. The research discovered that the duration of stalking varied from 4 weeks to 20 years with an average of 12 months. Although some stalkers favored one particular form of harassment medium (internet only, phone calls, physical stalking), only 2% confined themselves to a single approach. In 45% of the cases, between three and five methods were employed, and 10% of the stalkers used seven different forms of harassment.

One scary aspect of stalking is that a seemingly harmless obsession can quickly turn to violent thoughts and actions if the stalker does not feel they are achieving the result they want. Threats were made to the victim by 58% of the stalkers and to third party acquaintances of the victims by 39% of the stalkers. 25% threatened only the victim, 6% only third parties, and 33% of the stalkers threatened both the victim and at least one third party acquaintance. Stalkers, even in cyberspace, often turn to a physical pursuit by the stalker. In the research, physical property was damaged by 40%, the most common target being the victim's car. Even scarier is physical harm caused by the stalker which occurred in 36% of the cases where the stalker attacked the victim, and 6% assaulted third parties. The physical injuries were largely confined to bruises and abrasions. Sexual attacks happened in 4% of the assaults.

It is seen in most stalkers that some form of a physiological disorder preexisted to the stalking including but not limited to, axis I diagnoses, delusional disorders, morbid jealousy, schizophrenia, erotomanic delusions, bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety disorder, and other different forms of personality disorders. 39% of the stalkers in the study also had previous criminal convictions, where most of the convictions stemmed from violence or sexual assault, but very rarely did the stalker have a previous stalking conviction.

The basis behind the research was to alert potential victims of the generalizations of stalkers. Obviously, stereotyping is not advocated here, but it is always important no matter what aspect of life to always be on the lookout for dangerous situations and to be able to compile information and protect yourself. If a victim better understands their potential attacker, this allows for the victim to have a better chance of removing themselves from a potentially dangerous situation. (Mullen, 1999)



Resentful stalkers are motivated by the want and need to scare their victims and the add stress and despair to the victims life. The stalkers in this category are well aware of the damage that they are doing to the individual victim. The reason for the stalking comes from a desire for retribution against a person they believe has harmed or caused the stalker loss in some way. Their MO can be the most obsessive and enduring type of stalker and the most likely to verbally threaten their victim. This category is least likely to cause physical harm to the victim through assault. Also, this type of stalker is likely to stop stalking if they are confronted with legal sanctions in the beginnings of their stalking, the longer the stalking continues, the less effective legal sanctions can be. (Texas, 2006)


These types of stalkers begin stalking with the goal of beginning a relationship with a person who has engaged their affections, or with victims that the stalker believes actually has affections for the stalker. They are in "love" and give their victims unique and desirable qualities. They persist in their pursuit despite the reactions of the victim. This category's MO consists of actions such as if the stalker recognizes they are being rejected by the victim, they may become threatening or violent. This type of stalker may also engage in behaviors such as: Writing letters to the victim, Calling the victim on the telephone, and sending gifts to the victim. Intimacy-seekers may become jealous if their victim if they enter or continue a romantic relationship with another individual. These stalkers are among the most persistent type of stalker, with the period of harassment lasting longer than any type except for the rejected stalker. This type of stalker is also usually unresponsive to legal actions because they view them as challenges to overcome that demonstrate their love for the victim. (Texas, 2006)


Incompetent stalkers pursue people to who they are attracted to in a manner that warrants fear and distress from the victim. Their targets are usually casual contacts or strangers, never being someone that they know well. They are motivated not by love, but by the want/need to make contact, usually simply seeking contact or a date.

This type of stalker typically engages in behaviors such as: Repeatedly asking for dates, even after being rejected, repeatedly calling on the phone, and trying to hold the victim's hand or kiss the victim. They also stalk for shorter periods than other types of stalker and they are likely to have stalked numerous other victims in the past. (Texas, 2006)


This type of stalker is stalking purely for the sexual assault. The initial motivation is to gather information about the potential victim and gain access to their life. The stalking is often extended far beyond the acquisition of information, and takes pleasure derived from the voyeuristic elements, from fantasies of the planned attack and from the sense of power over the victim. This is to most dangerous type of stalker.

This type of stalker is clearly out for physical harm however they usually do not harass or try to contact their victim while they are collecting information. They are unlikely to provide any kind of warning for the attack. Predator stalkers engage in behaviors such as: Surveillance of the victim, obscene phone calls, Exhibitionism, Fetishism, Voyeurism (Peeping Tom), Paedophilia/hebephilia, Sexual masochism and sadism, Paraphilic asphyxia. Also, these stalkers may stalk for a shorter period of time than the other categories. This stalker is more likely to have prior criminal convictions, most often sexual, than other types of stalkers. (Texas, 2006)

These stalker categories blanket both stalkers and cyberstalkers. The premise of these categories is that it represents the mind of the stalker and the stalkers actions not necessarily the arena in which the stalking takes place. However, we have found through our case-study research that the intimacy-seeking stalker appears to be the category of stalker that commits the most cyberstalking. This is due to the large social networking sites, such as and MySpace. So far, the internet has provided the arena that best suits intimacy-seeking stalkers. However, in the future with new implementations of technology this could change very rapidly. We will not be able to forecast these changes until new technologies become widely used on the internet.

VI. Law Enforcement

Law enforcement is definitely still behind the times. With most of their time taken up deterring cyber terrorism and hunting down child pornography offenders, law enforcement just does not have the resources to seek out cyberstalkers. Also, cyber law is a very new topic as well and laws are in the process of being developed as we can see in the US Anti-Cyber-Stalking laws found in 47 USC sec. 223. Currently, section 223 title 47 USC protects users from any comment, request, suggestion, proposal, image, or other communication which is obscene, child pornography with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass another person through means of telecommunications devices. This law also discussions actions to be taken against such actions. The law is constantly being reformed and these laws are not by any means complete and will be a constant work in progress for at least the next decade as technologies evolve.

In many cases law enforcement agents are simply telling the victims to avoid the sites on the internet where they are being stalked, harassed or having their privacy violated. Victims will oftentimes find reprieve by contacting the web host companies (if the action is taking place on a website) or the ISP of the stalker. Victims have found that persistence is the key to their voices being heard as this is such a new environment for stalkers, victims, and law enforcement alike. This is a rapidly growing issue and law enforcement will need to take the appropriate measures to keep up with the times and technology, it is our fear however that many serious cases will first have to occur before major steps are taken. (Cybertelecom, 2007)

VII. Preventing Cyberstalking & Getting Help

Preventing cyberstalking is not such a difficult task. It starts with the user, and unfortunately, there are a good number of users who do not know the consequences of posting their information online or giving out their information to people they dont know very well. It is important to realize how this information can be used if in the hands of the wrong person and try to keep that information as secret as possible. There are some tips to keeping yourself safe online, outlined below.

Also see Figure 1.

- Do not post your personal information online. Simple, right? This is the most obvious method to keeping yourself safe online, yet if you look on so many Facebook or Myspace pages, you will see various people's contact information, such as phone number and even their address. The line between what is personal information is not very clear. Theoretically, something as simple as your interests and favorite things, when combined with other information such as your AIM screen name, could make you a target for cyberstalking. Interests, favorite movies, your birthday; these are all things that seem like harmless information. A stalk, however, can use this information to get close to you, gain your trust, and possibly put you in a bad situation. That is why you need to be very careful what information you put online and how you interact with people who can view that information.

- Do not use your real name as a screen name. This mainly applies for using your full name or using any combination or your first or last name if it isn't common. This gives cyberstalkers an opportunity to Google you (or use more advanced searching methods such as the criminal record website we were showed in class) [get the actual site name], possibly finding out information about you that you didn't even know was available. You should also make sure your screen name doesn't give away personally identifiable information.

- Find out if your chat client or ISP network has a policy against cyberstalking. Nowadays, most ISP's have policies against cyberstalking and third party chat client and instant messengers such as AIM, Yahoo, or Windows Live Messenger all have policies against cyberstalking stated in their user agreements. If someone is going to cyberstalk you, a user agreement (which no one reads anyway) probably isn't going to stop them, but it will make things easier when taking legal action against them.

- Even if it has not gotten to the point of cyberstalking, if you don't feel comfortable talking to someone, log off and surf elsewhere. If a person continues to try to talk to you, block them from your contact list.

- Be careful about meeting friends that you have talked to online. They may seem harmless online but, because you cant tell what they are really thinking about, it is best to be cautious. If you do decide to meet someone you've talked to online, meet them in a public place with lots of people around, preferably in the day time. Cyberstalkers are less likely to do any harm to you in a public setting where people can see them.

If you find yourself being cyberstalked by someone, there are some things to do in order to first help yourself, and then seek appropriate action against the individual. The first thing you should do is make it clear to the stalker that you do not wish to be contacted anymore. In some cases, this will be enough for the cyberstalking to stop. Some people only wanted to have a little fun but are not into it enough to suffer the consequences. There are others, however, you cannot control themselves and it is necessary to take more action. In these situations, it is important that you save all communications between yourself and the individual; either in paper (print out) or electronic format; to be used as evidence. As mentioned before, if you haven't done so already, block the user from your contact list so they cannot email you or send you messages. If harassment continues (user may create another screen name with which to send you messages), contact the stalker's ISP. Most ISP's have policies that prohibit cyberstalking and most ISP's can track where the messages are coming from in order to close the account or contact authorities. Contact the police in extreme cases. If you are afraid to go to this extreme, there are resources available for information on stopping these situations. You can contact the National Domestice Violence Hotline. The phone number for this is 800-799-SAFE. Local women's shelters are also good sources for advice in these situations. (Attorney General, 1999)

See Figure 2.

If you decide you want to post information about yourself online, do it in a smart way. Research the websites, chat clients, etc and their privacy settings. Most websites such as Facebook or Myspace have options for you to make certain information invisible to the general public. Take the extra time to find these settings and learn how to utilize them. This will make sure that only those you wish to view your information have access to it.

VIII. Future of Cyberstalking

In the digital information age, information travels faster than light. Technology is increasing at an exponential rate. More and more individuals are connecting to the internet. Everyday technologies are now able to connect to the web and interact with others in real time. Cell phones, personal data communicators, digital music players, portable computers, and increased broadband wireless connections circulating throughout cities provides people with unlimited access to people and information. Once simple appliances are now linked to networks to provide online properties to consumers to shop online when groceries are low or to provide services.

Information collection has become a primary source for economies today. Businesses collect information from consumers from everyday purchases in grocery stores to high end consumer electronic stores to track trends and consumer behaviors. Once private information such as personal telephone numbers, social security numbers are given without a second thought. As these trends become more second nature people are prone to disregard security , confidentiality and privacy procedures. The computer has opened a door to many possibilities for these new stalkers. The Internet, as an easy accessible and affordable tool, opens new avenues for the "traditional stalker". The increasing popularity of online communities such as and contributes to the increasing activities of cyberstalking. People are more willing to divulge personal information in an open environment where anyone who is a member of these communities can view their information. More and more people are placing private information such as personal numbers, addresses, current actives they involved in for potential stalkers and identity thieves to exploit. A web video of a student posting on the website shows the ease of a stalker gaining access to personal information to effectively "stalk" another individual.

As technology becomes more widely accessible the more people must be educated on the potential threats information sharing can become. The best way to prevent advances of cyberstalkers is to become educated in the technologies used to communicate with others and to know how to practice privacy and security when appropriate. Forty-four states now have laws that explicitly include electronic forms of communication within stalking or harassment laws. In addition, some local law enforcement agencies are beginning to see cases of cyberstalking. ISPs also are receiving a growing number of complaints about harassing and threatening behavior online. Because of the difficulties and cost in combating cyberstalking, ISPs are trying to educate customers in protecting themselves from potential attacks. Government agencies, state and local agencies are now becoming aware of the growing problems. These agencies have are starting to incorporate departments and units to combat incidents and prosecute cyberstalkers.

IX. Visual Aid

Figure 1. Preventing Cyberstalking

Figure 2. If Being Stalked

X. Conclusion

Cyberstalking is a growing problem and should not be taken lightly. With the improvements of technology and the use of computers, cyberstalking has taken off. The popularity of social networking sites has also led to the increase in cyberstalking as more and more people are posting personal information on these websites. This makes it very easy for a stalker to obtain this information and use it in negative ways towards individuals. The use of the Internet makes it very easy for stalkers to harass and threaten people such as shown in examples on the landmark cases page. Law enforcement is increasing, but is still behind the times. It seems that the stalkers are one step ahead of the authorities. This is because it is much easier to hide identities online and people being cyberstalked are not informed on what to do if this is happening. Most people feel invincible behind their computer screen and think that something of this nature could never happen to them.

As easy as it is to become a victim of cyberstalking, it is just as easy to prevent it. A person can prevent this from happening by not posting contact and personal information on public websites. Nowadays pretty much every teenager and young adult has a Myspace page where they post all sorts of this information. They should refrain from doing this and if they feel the need to do so they need to educate themselves of how to use the websites security features. There are ways to make certain information private on Myspace as well as other social networking websites. If a person is being stalked there are many things that the victim can do which are listed on the prevention page.

The dangers of cyberstalking are severe and it is only going to get worse as technology increases. It is up to you to educate yourself about the dangers of posting information online so that you do not become a victim of cyberstalking.

XI. References


Bocij, Paul. Cyberstalking : Harassment in the Internet Age and How to Protect Your Family. Praeger Publishers, 2004. (ISBN 0-275-98118-5)

Cyber Criminals Most Wanted. Cyber Criminals Most Wanted. 1999-2007. November 2007 < >.

"Cyberstalking." Caslon Analytics. 12 Nov. 2007 < >.

Fisher, K. "First US Cyberstalking Case Taking Shape." Ars Technica. 24 Apr. 2004. 12 Nov. 2007
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Meloy, J. The Psychology of Stalking. Reid. Academic Press, 2000. (ISBN 0-12-490561-7)

Mullen, Paul E.; Pathe, Michele; Purcell, Rosemary. Stalkers and Their Victims. Cambridge University Press, 2000. (ISBN 0-521-66950-2)

Mullen, Paul. "Study of Stalkers." The American Journal of Psychiatry (1999): 1-5.
< >

Mullen, Paul. "The management of stalkers." Advances in Psychiatric Treatment (2001): 1-3.
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"Section 223 of Title 47 as Amended by the Communications Decency Act." Cybertelecom. 2007. 4 Nov. 2007
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University of Texas. Types of Stalkers. 2006. 11 2007 < >.