In a new study, researchers explored and compared the experiences of people who had been victims of stalking or cyberstalking (harassing or threatening via the Internet).
They found that victims of cyberstalking had to engage in more ‘self-protective’ behaviors, pay higher out-of-pocket costs to combat the problem, and experienced greater fear over time than traditional stalking victims.
“We wanted to investigate where there are similarities and differences between stalking and cyberstalking, and there is a lot of work that still has to be done on that issue,” said study author Matt R. Nobles, assistant professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University.
“But independent of the conceptual discussion, the evidence shows that cyberstalking is tremendously disruptive to the lives of the victims. The financial cost of cyberstalking is also very serious.”
For the study, researchers looked at data from the 2006 Supplemental Victimization Survey (SVS), to investigate how several aspects of stalking and cyberstalking differ in order to determine the legal and conceptual relationship between the two crimes. They also investigated how victims of both respond to their situations.
One of their key findings was that victims of cyberstalking engage in more ‘self-protective’ behaviors, such as changing their normal routines or getting a new email address, than victims of stalking.
“Compared to stalking, it is possible that the nature of cyberstalking elicits a very personal violation for its victims, which may elicit more diverse and more frequent protective actions,” wrote the researchers.
“At first glance this may seem counterintuitive given that stalking often involves more immediate physical exposure to offenders and hence to potential danger (e.g. being followed).
“Considering the ubiquity of technology, however, as well as the amount of exposure people now have to its different forms, it is plausible that contact through this medium is just as personal as, or more personal than, face-to-face contact.”
The research team also explored how technology has changed what they call the ‘risk/exposure’ profiles for victims, making stalking easier and self-protection harder. Furthermore, they added that the ‘semi-public’ nature of online stalking tends to influence victim behavior.
“The use of technology in the cyberstalking case, therefore, may be simultaneously more harmful to the victim’s psychological well-being and reputation, thus more decisive in spurring quicker self-protective action,” said the researchers.
The study also revealed differences between age and gender of victims. In cases of stalking, approximately 70 percent of the victims were women, while female victims only represented 58 percent in cyberstalking cases. The average age for stalking victims in the sample was 40.8 years old, while cyberstalking victims averaged 38.4 years old.
The findings can be used by professionals and state legislatures to better understand the causes and consequences of cyberstalking and how it can be addressed in the criminal justice system. The research is particularly illuminating for non-victims who struggle to understand how cyberstalking affects victims’ lives, added Nobles.
“Cyberstalking isn’t checking out someone’s Facebook profile several times a week,” said Nobles. “It isn’t cute or funny. The data tell us that it’s very real and it can be terrifying.”
Their findings are published in the journal Justice Quarterly.
Source: Sam Houston State University