CYBER-STALKING: OBSESSIONAL PURSUIT AND THE DIGITAL CRIMINAL
This chapter will centre largely on the measures that may be employed by the individual in the hope of reducing the threat posed by an individual who may choose to pursue or harass them. The following will cover some simple tactics that may be employed to help keep ones identity safe, as well as providing some guidance should individuals ever find themselves the target of unwanted attention.
E-Mail Address: You should create a gender neutral e-mail address. Given that females comprise the majority of victims of stalkers, the user should attempt to keep her/his e-mail address as neutral as possible. Provocative e-mail addresses such as Sex_Kitten@ should be avoided as they often attract a lot of attention.
Profile: If using chat rooms or other similar forums, the software generally provides the ability to edit your profile. Remove any information of a personal nature, as this makes it more difficult for others to gather information about you. It allows for greater control over the amount of information that you want to provide, such as when and how, and to whom.
Signature: Your e-mail software will often allow you to attach a signature to your mail. Remember, when you allocate a signature it may be attached to all of your outgoing mail. This may provide others with information about you that you would prefer not to be distributed.
Headers: When e-mail is sent, the header contains information that may include identifying features such as name and e-mail address. This information is often sent without the users awareness, and a browse through the options of your mail software should allow you to turn this off.
Newsgroups: Depending on the newsgroups you use, posting messages to them may be a way that you can attract unwanted attention. If it is necessary to post a message to a newsgroup, try using a third party e-mail site such as Yahoo or Hotmail, or perhaps send messages through an anonymous e-mailer. The latter service sends your mail after stripping all of the identifying information about the original sender (adapted from Casey, 1998 and Grossman, 1998).
While the above measures will not provide absolute anonymity for the user, they will hopefully hinder the process of identifying the user should anyone show an unhealthy interest in that person. The philosophy behind these measures is basically that prevention is better than cure.
It is very important that should you become the target of a stalker's attention, that any and all communication is documented. E-mails should be printed and copied to disk, phone calls should be logged for time and date, and written communication should be kept for future reference. Meloy (1997) provides the following recommendations if one becomes the victim of a stalker.
Team approach: Owing to the diversity of stalker types, the motivational origins and dynamics that exist between individual cases requires that any investigating team be made up of individuals from a variety of backgrounds. A team approach is the best way to approach this, and ideally should include "the victim, an emotionally-supportive companion, a mental health professional, a local police officer familiar with the case, a local prosecutor and, in some cases, a private attorney and private investigator/security guard" (p. 175). The team approach will provide the best possible coverage of issues relating to the stalking threat and risk management. The team developed will obviously differ depending on the jurisdiction in which the offence occurs.
Personal safety: Regardless of any involvement by the police or legal system, the individual should be made aware that one still has primary responsibility for ones own safety. To take control of certain aspects of the situation helps one to maintain a feeling of control over what may otherwise foster feelings of helplessness.
Documentation and recording: Depending on the specific behaviours evidenced within a stalking act, often the only record of fact may be the documentation and enumeration of any and all incidences. Ideally, records should be kept of the time, day, and date, and also of the specifics of the particular act. If the behaviour does manifest itself physically, records should be kept of handwriting, license plate numbers, dress, time of day, and if available, return numbers from caller ID units.
No initiated contact: While refraining from contact with the stalker may be difficult, especially in cases where the offender is a former intimate, this should be avoided at all costs. By initiating contact, the victim may be unwittingly reinforcing the behaviour of the offender in that "each victim contact with the perpetrator is an intermittent reinforcement and predicts an increase in frequency of subsequent approach behaviour" (p. 177). Westrup (1998) provides a functional analysis of stalking from a functional analysis perspective of the stalker's behaviour. Interested readers should consult this reference for further information.
Protective orders: These orders do protect the victim in certain cases. Restraining orders possibly exert the greatest influence over the offender's behaviour when they have a stake in conformity. In certain situations, these orders may only serve to inflame the situation, as in the following extreme situation:
"One offender quite graphically indicated his contempt for both the order of protection and the criminal justice system. He stabbed his wife to death and knifed the court order to her chest" (Geberth, 1992: p. 138)
Law enforcement and prosecution: The Los Angeles Police Department's Threat Management Unit is just one example of the law enforcement response to stalking. Specific units such as this are better equipped and prepared to handle individual cases, as they are manned by experts in the field.
Periodic Violence Assessment: While violence prediction is often poor at predicting the threat posed to one individual by another (Turvey, 1997; Litwack and Schlesinger, 1997; Adair, 1993; Quinsey and Maguire, 1986) any such assessment will provide a greater chance of success at detecting deviation from socially acceptable behaviour.