CYBERSTALKING. Angela Maxwell, Auckland, 2001

 This is a small portion taken from Angela Maxwell’s paper on Cyberstalking.  Published in PDF.  LINK  shown on my PROFILE.     Angela Maxwell, Department of Psychology, Auckland University, June 2001.  p. 15-18




Currently, there are limited studies on the victims of cyberstalking. Although, anyone has the potential to become a victim of offline stalking or cyberstalking, several factors can increase the statistical likelihood of becoming a victim. Previous studies (Brownstein, 2000; McCann, 2000; Sinwelski & Vinton, 2001) that have investigated offenders of offline stalking, have found some common factors within the selection of victims. For example, contrary to public belief, a large proportion of stalking victims are regular people rather than the rich and famous. Goode (1995) claimed, up to 80% of offline stalking victims are from average socio-economic backgrounds. In addition, the statistical likelihood of becoming a victim increases with gender. For example, Hitchcock (2000) showed, 90% of offline stalking victims are female. Additionally, within Australia, females have a greater chance of being cyberstalked than sexually assaulted (Minister for Justice and Customs, 2000). Furthermore, Working to Halt Online Abuse (2000) reports, 87% of online harassment/cyberstalking victims are female. However, victim gender statistics may not represent true victims, as females are more likely to report being a victim of online harassment/cyberstalking than males (Working to Halt Online Abuse, 2000).


Although studies have shown that the majority of victims are female of average socio-economic status, studies have also shown that offline stalking is primarily a crime against young people, with most victims between the age of 18 and 29 (Brownstein, 2000). Stalking as a crime against young people may account for the high prevalence of cyberstalking victims within universities. For example, the University of Cincinnati study showed, 25% of college women had been cyberstalked (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1997). In addition, Working to Halt Online Abuse (2000) claim the majority of victims of online harassment/cyberstalking are between 18 and 30 years of age.

Nevertheless, previous relationships have been shown to increase the likelihood of being stalked offline. For example, Zona, et al, (1993) reported, 65% offline victims had a previous relationship with the stalker. Although studies of offline stalking claim the majority of victims have had a previous relationship with the stalker Working to Halt Online Abuse (2000) statistics fail to support a previous relationship as a significant risk factor, for online harassment/cyberstalking. For example, 53% of victims had no prior relationship with the offender. Therefore, the risk factor of a prior relationship with the stalker may not be as an important factor in cyberstalking, as it is in offline stalking. However, (Network Ice) suggests, inexperienced internet users to be a risk factor in becoming a victim of cyberstalking. For example, majority of victims of cyberstalking are inexperienced users of the internet and allow personal information to be freely available






Social Effects.


Studies that have investigated offline stalking and the effects on victims by and large, are of the university populations. For example, Fremauw, et al, (1997) study explored coping styles of university offline stalking victims. Fremauw, et al, (1997) found that the most common way of coping with a stalker was to ignore the stalker and the second most common way, was to confront the stalker. Nevertheless, Fremauw, et al, (1997) study revealed victims least likely coping style was to report the offline stalker to the authorities. Many victims felt ashamed or were of the belief that the stalking was their fault (Sheridan, Davies & Boon, 2001). However, nearly all victims changed some aspect of their lifestyle. Working to Halt Online Abuse (2000) reports that the majority of online harassment/cyberstalking was coped by contacting the ‘internet service provider’ (ISP), which accounted for 49% of cases followed by, 16% contacting the police. Furthermore, 12% coped by other means including, ignoring messages, taking civil action or not returning to the forum in which the cyberstalking took place. The Report on Cyberstalking, (1999) report many of victims of cyberstalking claimed, they did not think that they would be listened to, if they reported the cyberstalking to authorities. In addition, a large proportion of victims of cyberstalking, were unaware that a crime had been committed. 



Psychological Effects.


Currently, there are few studies on the psychological impact on victims. However, Westrup, et al (1999) studied the psychological effects of 232 female offline stalking victims. Westrup et al, (1999) found the majority of victims had symptoms of PTSD, depression, anxiety and experienced panic attacks. Additionally, Mullen & Pathe (1997) found that 20% of victims increased alcohol consumption and 74% of victims suffered sleep disturbances. Nevertheless, social and psychological effects of offline stalking cannot be separated as social effects can impact on psychological effects and psychological effects can impact on the social effects. Although the majority of studies have focused on the offline stalking victims, there is no evidence to suggest that cyberstalking is any less of an experience than offline stalking (Minister for Justice and Customs, 2000),


As shown, there are many common themes between offline stalking and cyberstalking. For example, offenders are most likely to be male and offline stalking or cyberstalking is the response to a failed (offline/online) relationship. Additionally, young females account for the majority of victims. Furthermore, victims experience significant social and psychological effects from offline stalking or cyberstalking.




Previously, New Zealand by and large, has been sheltered from crimes found in other countries. However, New Zealand is becoming vulnerable because of the increasing number of people accessing electronic communications. Currently, there has been no study of cyberstalking within New Zealand. However, Bullen, (2000) survey, of 347 New Zealand female residents, ranging from the age of 11- 19 claimed 4% felt they had been harassed, 3.5% experienced verbal abuse or intimidation, 2.3% received physical threats.





In conclusion, cyberstalking is a real social problem that is fast increasing. However, the prevalence of cyberstalking is difficult to determine. Nevertheless, the internets’ ability to offer security and anonymity for stalkers may account for the increase of cyberstalking. Additionally, legal acts aimed to protect people are geographically limited to the state/country in which the stalking takes place. Studies have also illustrated the unlimited bounds of offenders’ age and socio-economic status. In addition, anyone has the potential to become a victim of offline stalking or cyberstalking yet it is statistically more likely for the young and female population. Furthermore, with the increased use of electronic communications like the internet within New Zealand, New Zealand is becoming increasingly vulnerable to crimes such as cyberstalking. Therefore, it is important the cyberstalking as addressed within New Zealand.


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