Trigger Warning: This blog contains references to domestic violence and abuse.
Harassment from an abuser is always frightening. But what happens when the abuse moves online? Can victims ever truly get away? What can victims of cyberstalking do to keep themselves safe?
Domestic abuse can take make forms, not all of them physical. Many victims experience emotional and psychological abuse, financial abuse, and frighteningly, stalking behavior.
Stalking is a serious and potentially dangerous form of domestic abuse. In fact, 76% of women murdered by an intimate partner were stalked by the perpetrator before being killed. Victims of attempted murder were stalked 86% of the time. Stalking is serious and shouldn’t be ignored.
Stalking can take many forms, both in-person and online. Cyberstalkers use technology to assert control over their victims by making repeated unwanted and unnecessary contact. And while stalking has long been a problem for domestic abuse survivors, technology has only amplified the problem. Now more than ever, it’s nearly impossible for a survivor to entirely escape her abuser, especially if he continues to contact her online.
We should note, too, that cyberstalking is not an entirely male phenomenon. In fact, cyberstalking is a common tool used by female abusers when attempting to control their partners.
What Is Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking has become so common that 1 in 4 stalking victims have experienced it. Technology advances quickly – often too quickly for law enforcement to keep up. That leaves many cyberstalking victims open to continued online harassment and attacks, with few legal options.
Cyberstalking is any harassment or abuse that takes place via technology, such as:
- Persistent and/or threatening phone calls, text messages, or emails.
- Contacting the victim via social media or using social media to spread damaging or false information about the victim. Some cyberstalkers will create fake accounts to gain access to their victim’s social media accounts.
- Monitoring the victim’s phone calls, social media accounts, or other electronic messaging.
- Using cameras or other technology to track the victim’s whereabouts.
In recent years, abusers have also started using smart devices to control their victims. This report details instances where abusers gain access to the victim’s smart home devices, such as thermostats, doorbells, door locks, alarm systems, or appliances. The abuser then uses these systems to make a victim feel uncomfortable or afraid.
Technology makes victims feel like their abusers are everywhere, at all times.
How to Prevent and Report Stalking
Cyberstalking can be frightening. And unfortunately, it’s difficult to escape online abuse. Many victims of domestic violence continue to experience online harassment or abuse, even after she leaves the abuser.
There are several steps that victims of cyberstalking can take to protect themselves:
- Block the abuser’s phone number and email address.
- Block the abuser on social media and make all social media accounts private and inaccessible.
- Notify friends and family and ask them to block the abuser as a contact, too. Sometimes, the abuser will reach out to those surrounding the victim if he cannot reach the victim herself.
- Consider changing your phone number or email address.
- Change passwords on all your accounts and devices.
- Increase cybersecurity measures to prevent the abuser from gaining access.
- Check for spyware on your devices.
Victims should also consult with law enforcement or a domestic violence attorney. If your state has laws against cyberstalking, you could potentially file charges against the perpetrator. Keep detailed notes of all instances of harassment and save any communication as evidence. In some cases, this evidence may be enough for a judge to issue a restraining order.
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, victims should not respond to their abusers. Responding to a stalker can lead to increased harassment and put the victim at greater risk of harm.
Read this post for more information about preventing stalking or reporting stalking behavior. You can also read more about cyberstalking and research your options at the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, do not wait. Call 911 or your local law enforcement.
WodBottom is committed to supporting survivors of domestic abuse. That’s why a portion of every sale goes to Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) in Dane County, Wisconsin. Together, we can end the stigma surrounding abuse and support those who need our help. Learn more about our purpose and mission here.