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 stalking
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
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
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 incident occurs.
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
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 skills.
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 online activities.
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 name.
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
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
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 each year.
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
is more real than you think, by Greg Tingle
on the Internet, by Greg Tingle
Hitchcock, author, Netcrimes and Misdemeanors
McGrath, author, Secrets, Lies and Chat
Lies & Chat, by Greg Tingle & Yvette Moore