Interview - Jayne Hitchcock

Interview: Jayne Hitchcock, Author & President of WHOA - 23rd June 2003

What is your background Jayne?

My background is that of a writer - I've published seven books and am working on a couple of others (go to click on About for a full background).

I got involved with WHOA back in 1997 when another cyberstalking victim, Lynda Hinkle, was put in touch with me. We both had our own cyberstalking horror stories and through that camaraderie, she founded WHOA - I was on the Board back then. We were called "Women Halting Online Abuse" at that time. When she left WHOA in June 1999, I took over as president. Soon after, we decided to change the name, as we were seeing more men coming to us for help, but were reluctant because they thought it was a group for "women" victims only. So, we became Working to Halt Online Abuse.

What are your aims and objectives?

We hope to not only offer help to victims of cyberstalking and online harassment, but educate and inform net users on how to stay safe online and offline, offer tons of resources (such as which states/countries have applicable laws, lawyers who will help online victims and more), and get the word out to the media and public that cyberstalking *is* real.

What exactly is a cyber-stalker? (for the benefit of our audience who doesn't know)

Essentially, this is someone who begins harassing another person online but can't let go after they've been told one time by the victim to stop communicating. Then they escalate the online harassment to cyberstalking by "following" the victim online. Some cyberstalkers inundate their victim with just e-mails or instant messages; others actually go from chat room to newsgroup to forums to e-mail, IM, etc. As far as who a cyberstalker is, we find that they are usually white collar, your average everyday person who probably doesn't have a criminal record, or even a parking ticket, for that matter. They could be your next-door neighbor, a teacher, the kid who delivers your newspaper, a lawyer, a student - just about anyone.

How widespread is the problem?

We average 50-100 cases a week - some weeks it's more, some it's less. That's around 5,000 cases each year for our organization alone. There are several other online safety organizations such as ours, but they focus mainly on child-related cases while we focus on adult cases (18 years of age or older).

It's estimated there are over 500 million people online worldwide - if only 1 percent become online victims, that's still 5 million people. When I conduct law enforcement training, I always tell the officers and detectives that if they haven't seen a case yet, they will soon.

What can people do about it?

Be aware of their online surroundings. The Internet is a wonderful place, but like "real" life, their are good guys and bad guys. Too many people go online and basically lose all their inhibitions, and their common sense. They would tell complete strangers in a chat room or message board extremely personal details of their lives that they would never say to a stranger in an elevator. Think of the Internet as an elevator - if you wouldn't say it to a stranger there, don't "say" it online.

What are the most famous or infamous cases?

One of the more famous (besides mine, LOL - see is the Dellapenta case out of California. I wrote about this in my latest book, Net Crimes & Misdemeanors (

Basically, a woman was impersonated online with messages and personal ads placed in her name stating she was into home invasion rape fantasies, then listed her home address, phone number and directions to her house. When men began showing up at her home, she had no idea why, until one told her about the online ads in her name. Her father learned how to trace the messages to their source and it turned out to be a man she knew from her church. He'd asked her out once and she said no. He didn't take no for an answer. He was arrested, convicted and received six years in jail.

How many % of cyber stalking cases are an ex girlfriend or boyfriend situation?

We find that less than half the cases we receive are related to exes of any sort (husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, co-worker, fellow student, etc). Most of the cases we get are stranger-on-stranger, where the
victim did not know the cyberstalker in any way, shape or form beforehand. And we're seeing those cases go up. It's quite different from offline stalking cases, where most of the victims do know their stalker in one way or another.

What are the penalties in Australia, as opposed to the US?

According to the Criminal Code Stalking Amendment Act 1999:

A maximum penalty of five years (seven years if it involves a weapon or damage to the victim's property or physical harm of the victim)

Currently, there is no federal (nationwide) cyberstalking law in the USA. Each state has to pass their own law - of the 50 states, 42 have passed related laws, 2 have laws pending and 6 have no laws at all (see

Most of the states make cyberstalking/online harassment a misdemeanor for the first offense (up to a year in jail and/or a fine) and a felony for a second offense (3-5 years in jail or longer, depending on the state, such as California and/or a fine).

We find that since most cyberstalkers are not previous criminals, when they find out they can be charged with a crime, they stop the stalking or harassment (this is based on reports by law enforcement to me personally).

What media coverage have you received regarding specific cases?

It depends on what type of victim the media wants. Some want cyberstalking victims, online dating horror stories, chat room cases, etc. Media coverage comes and goes. I swear, it usually comes all at once and everyone wants me to help them find cases and to interview me, then there's a dry spell.

Have you authored books on the subject, or do you plan to? (I have info for you about my case) - she was a>"nutter" I tell you...

Net Crimes & Misdemeanors (

How has your website helped and hindered you?

It's helped quite a bit - more and more people discover us or are referred to us; when I give lectures, people visit the site afterwards. It hasn't hindered me or the rest of my staff in any way.

How many traffic / impressions do you receive?

We don't keep an official counter on the web site; I'd have to ask our host if you really need the info.

Who have been your biggest supporters, and have any groups or individuals attempted to stop you?

Only one disgruntled cyberstalker tried to bad-mouth WHOA when he was caught by the police. He put up anti-WHOA web sites, which were promptly taken down. I believe he's now in jail.

As far as support - we get it from all over: The US Dept of Justice; National Center for Victims of Crime; other online safety organizations who refer adult cases to us; law enforcement worldwide; etc.

Is cyberstalking on the decline, upswing or steady?

Ever-growing, unfortunately.

What are the best measures someone can employ to
a. prevent
b. curtail

Go ahead and take any of the tips from here:

What other important information should we know?

If something doesn't "feel right" when you're online, avoid it all costs and if someone begins bothering you, don't defend yourself - this is how most online harassment/cyberstalking cases begin.

And buy my book!


Editors note: Cyberstalking is a real problem. Unfortunately, I know. I had one many years ago. To read more about cyberstalking go to To read a little more about my case, go to This is the stuff books and movies are made on, and that's part of my plan. Not for any other reason that that there is an amazing story to be told, I'm in a position to tell it, and with people like Jayne Hitchcock, the book and movie would be a big hit, hence my career in crime movies movies forward. Nice jump from playing a bit part in Australia's White Collar Blue.

Jayne was also interviewed on on the 19th May 2003.

Take this subject seriously. You could be next.

Contact Details for Working to Halt Online Abuse

J.A. Hitchcock
President, W.H.O.A.
Working to Halt Online Abuse