NVAA 2000 Text

Chapter 22 Supplement Special Topics

Section 2, Stalking

Statistical Overview


Stalking has now taken a turn into cyberspace on the information superhighway. Although there is no universally accepted definition of cyberstalking, the term is generally used to refer to the use of the Internet, e-mail, or other telecommunication technologies to harass or stalk another person. Essentially, cyberstalking is an extension of the physical form of stalking. Most state and federal stalking laws require that the stalker make a direct threat of violence against the victim, while some require only that the alleged stalker's course of conduct constitute an implied threat. Although some cyberstalking conduct involving annoying or menacing behavior might fall short of illegal stalking under current laws, such behavior may be a prelude to real-life stalking and violence and should be treated seriously. Cyberstalking has the potential to move from a URL address to an IRL (in real life) address--from virtual to actual (Gregorie 2000).

In Cyberstalking: A New Challenge for Law Enforcement and Industry--A Report from the U.S. Attorney General to the Vice President (1999), cyberstalking is identified as a growing problem. According to the report, there are currently more than 80 million adults and 10 million children with access to the Internet in the United States. Assuming the proportion of cyberstalking victims is even a fraction of the proportion of persons who have been the victims of offline stalking within the preceding twelve months, the report estimates there may be potentially tens or even hundreds of thousands of cyberstalking victims in the United States (Gregorie 2000).


Cyberstalkers use a variety of techniques. They may initially use the Internet to identify and track their victims. They may then send unsolicited e-mail, including hate, obscene, or threatening mail. Live chat harassment abuses the victim directly or through electronic sabotage (for example, flooding the Internet chat channel to disrupt the victim's conversation). With newsgroups, the cyberstalker can create postings about the victim or start rumors which spread through the bulletin board system. Cyberstalkers may also set up a Web page(s) on the victim with personal or fictitious information or solicitations to readers. Another technique is to assume the victim's persona online, such as in chat rooms, for the purpose of sullying the victim's reputation, posting details about the victim, or soliciting unwanted contacts from others. More complex forms of harassment include mailbombs (mass messages that virtually shutdown the victim's e-mail system by clogging it), sending the victim computer viruses, or sending electronic junk mail (spamming). There is a clear difference between the annoyance of unsolicited e-mail and online harassment. However, cyberstalking is a course of conduct that takes place over a period of time and involves repeated deliberate attempts to cause distress to the victim (Ibid.).


In many cases, existing laws may cover the unlawful conduct at issue, but the use of the Internet is presenting numerous investigatory challenges with regard to jurisdiction, anonymity, and constitutionally-protected free speech that should be addressed. To address the investigation, prosecution and prevention of cyberstalking, Attorney General Janet Reno (1999) made the following recommendations to Vice President Gore on cyberstalking:

Significant Legislation

As of April 1, 2000, twenty-three states had included electronic forms of communication within their harassment or stalking laws.

For example, Section 646.9 of the California Penal Code, Paragraph (g) determines the circumstances under which a person is liable for the tort of stalking: "Credible threat" is "a verbal or written threat including that performed by an electronic communication device, or a threat implied by a pattern of conduct or a combination of verbal, written, or electronically communicated statements and conduct, made with the intent and the apparent ability to carry out the threat so as to cause the person who is the target of the threat to reasonably fear for his or her safety, or the safety of his or her family." Paragraph (g) defines "electronic communication" devices as "including but not limited to telephones, cellular telephones, computers, video recorders, fax machines, or pagers." (CA Penal Code Sec. 646.9 (g) & (h), California Cyber Stalking Law of 1998).

In the first case tried under the California cyberstalking law, a security guard was found guilty and incarcerated for using Internet bulletin boards and chat rooms to solicit the rape of a woman who had rejected his romantic advances.

Promising Practices

- When victims have been physically threatened by their stalker, they are advised to relocate. An emergency fund is in place to assist victims in rapid relocations.

- The stalking unit helps victims obtain restraining orders when necessary.

- The stalking unit's investigator continues to monitor and collect evidence on the stalker once the victim has relocated.

Stalking Strike Force, Office of the District Attorney, 330 West Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101 (619-531-4040).

Web Sites for Victims of Cyberstalking

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2000 NVAA Text
Chapter 22.2
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