by J.A Hitchcock - July/August 2000
Info Today / Link-Up)
Four years ago, the word cyberstalking
hadnt been coined yet. No one knew what to call
it; some called it online harassment, online abuse,
or cyber-harassment. And were not talking two
people arguing with each other or calling each other
bad names. There were incidents where it had gone
beyond an annoyance and had become frightening. As
more and more incidents became known and victims reached
out to law enforcement for help, all they received
were either blank stares or were told to turn off
their computer. States didnt have laws in place
to protect victims, and their harassers kept up the
harassment, which escalated sometimes to real-life
is cyberstalking? Its when an online incident
spirals so out of control it gets to a point where
a victim fears for his or her life.
In 1999, Nanci went into a Worcester,
Massachusetts, romance chat room. Another chatter
commented that he did not like her username. She defended
herself and soon the two began arguing with each other
in the chat room. But the argument didnt end.
Each time Nanci tried to log onto the chat room, her
harasser was there, waiting for her, and became more
aggressive. At one point, he told her hed hired
someone else in the chat room to beat her up; another
time he posted information hed found out about
her onlinewho her father was and where she livedthen
said he wouldnt be happy until she was 6
feet under the ground.
horrified, Nanci went to her local police, who basically
laughed at her and told her there was nothing to be
done. Yes, even with the implied death threat.
harasser became more aggressive and began e-mailing
or Instant Messaging Nanci, telling her what kind
of car she was driving, where shed been earlier
that day, and the name of her daughter. Nanci went
to the State Police, the county District Attorney,
then the State Attorney General. Each one pointed
fingers at the other, claiming they couldnt
help her, but that the other department should.
finally hired a lawyer, filed a civil suit, then contacted
local media. When she appeared in court with TV journalists
following her, the DA backed down and began helping
her. Charges were finally filed against her cyberstalker,
and a trial date has been set for later this year.
often receives a low priority in computer crime cases,
says Greg Larson, vice president of Internet Crimes,
Inc. Police departments usually have limited
manpower for computer crimes, so in importance, these
cases seem to be put on the back burner until a serious
Twenty-year-old Amy Boyer lived at home with her parents
in Nashua, New Hampshire, was employed at a local
dentists office, and had a boyfriend. In early
October of 1999, she logged onto the Web with her
mother to check out travel rates for a trip she was
planning. Neither one of them thought twice about
being online, yet neither knew how close they were
to discovering danger.
October 15, Amy, ambushed outside the dentists
office as she got in her car, was shot and killed.
Her killer then committed suicide.
days, the police had no idea why this young woman
was killed by a young man. There seemed to be no connection
to the two of them and no motive.
when police confiscated the killers computer,
they found the connectiontwo Web sites devoted
to Amy Boyer, created by Liam Youens, 21, who had
been carrying a torch for her ever since junior high
school. But he did not know Amy and Amy never knew
Liam. Hed seen her in the hallway one day, became
infatuated, and his love grew from there.
he saw Amy with a new boyfriend, his love became anger,
then hate, fueled by two Web sites he created, one
on Tripod, the other on Geocities. In the pages, he
kept a diary of sorts, rambling from loving
Amy to hating her, then declaring that she should
die and he would go with her. At one point, he planned
a Columbine-style raid on Nashua High School. He even
posted photos of the guns and rifles hed use
and explained how he purchased them, then how he purchased
information about Amy. Once he found where she worked,
three days later she was dead.
cyberstalking victim? Yes. But like a dangerous intersection
that doesnt get a stop light until someone dies,
Amy died before anyone took cyberstalking seriously.
Law enforcement agencies now know that cyberstalking
is a very real issue that needs to be dealt with,
from local police departments to state police, the
FBI, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, among
others. Many are asking their officers to learn how
to use the Net and work with online victim groups
such as WHOA (Women Halting Online Abuse), SafetyEd,
and CyberAngels. Others are attending seminars on
cyberstalking being held throughout the country by
companies such as Advanced Professional Seminars.
And many law enforcement agencies are turning to companies
such as Internet Crimes, Inc. for one-day workshops
in which officers can learn how to track down cyberstalkers
and how to handle victims.
found there is a need and a desire on the part of
law enforcement to gain skills in the areas of combating
online crime, comments Henry Quinlan, founder
of Advanced Professional Seminars. The future
presents some interesting problems for law enforcement,
especially in the area of recruiting people with computer
finds law enforcement is willing to learn, to grow,
and to do what they swore to doprotect and servewhether
offline or online.
enforcement has come a long way in the past several
years in recognizing the computer as an implement
in criminal activity, he claims. Im
seeing a sharp increase in the calls I receive requesting
training and assistance, especially in cyberstalking
cases. As a result, our Cybercrime: Stalking,
Harassment, and Violence on the Internet workshop
is currently our most popular program, for both law
enforcement agencies and campus police.
almost 20 states with cyberstalking or related laws,
a federal cyberstalking law waiting for Senate approval,
and several other states with laws pending, cyberstalking
is finally getting noticed, not only by law enforcement,
but by the media, too. Maybe not the attention victims
want, but the word is finally getting out there. And
the police are listening.
your primary e-mail account only for messages to and
from people you know and trust.
Get a free e-mail account from someplace like Hotmail,
Juno, or Excite, and use that for all of your other
you select an e-mail username or chat nickname, create
something gender-neutral and like nothing you have
elsewhere or have had before. Try not to use your
fill out profiles for your e-mail account, chat rooms,
IM (Instant Messaging), etc.
Do set your options in chat or IM to block all users
except for those on your buddy list.
Do learn how to use filtering to keep unwanted e-mail
messages from coming to your e-mailbox.
If you are being harassed online, try not to fight
back. This is what the harasser wantsa reaction
from you. If you do and the harassment escalates,
do the following:
a) Contact the harasser and politely ask him/her to
leave you alone.
b) Contact their ISP and forward the harassing messages.
c) If the harassment escalates, contact your local
d) If they cant help, try the State Police,
DAs office and/or State Attorney General.
e) Do NOT contact the FBI unless you get a death threat
or have been physically harmed.
f) Contact a victims group, such as WHOA, SafetyEd
feel they are anonymous and can get away with anything.
caught, most cyberstalkers say they didnt mean
to do it, or for it to go so far.
incidents are not related to romances gone sour; in
fact, a majority of the cases are stranger-on-stranger.
SafetyEd, and CyberAngels estimate receiving up to
400 requests for help each week from cyberstalking
victimsthats over 20,000 reported cases
90 percent of victims are women.
estimated there may be as many as 475,000 online victims
each year (U.S. Department of Justice Cyberstalking
Study, released in August 1999).
2003, NUA Internet Surveys estimates there will be
500 million people online. If even 1 percent become
victims, thats 5 million of them.
with Cyberstalking Laws