Subscribe with Bloglines The Privacy Lawyer: The underlying story of a cyberstalking....this is the case where he merely got probation!

Sunday, October 31, 2004

The underlying story of a cyberstalking....this is the case where he merely got probation!

It started in 1998 with e-mail from someone claiming to be an old friend. This e-mail launched a reign of terror that lasted 5 years and left a bright, energetic and capable woman feeling powerless and alone. The barrage of e-mails numbered in the hundreds, with many including pornographic images and sexually-explicit language. “J” was a victim of Cyberstalking. She is also a municipal employee, which made it much easier for her to be cyberstalked.

Her stalker's "MO" was specific. She would get an email from a stranger claiming to know her. The e-mail would include references to personal details of her life to prove that they were associated. These details included her real name, address, phone number, employer, and even who held her mortgage. Typically for a cyberstalker, when she didn’t respond the tone would become hostile and abusive.

But the cyberstalking wasn’t limited to e-mail. Her stalker would go into chatrooms at night posing as her and engaging in cybersex. Then he would solicit offline contact with other men (still pretending to be “J”), giving out her name and phone number.

He escalated the campaign when he posted a message on an adult message board, pretending to be “J” asking men to call her at work to arrange for sexual encounters. (This is a common tactic, when the stalker enlists the help of others without their knowledge. It’s called “Third Party Stalking.”) Instead of receiving one call from one man, she was now receiving many calls from many men. The posting had the effect of putting her number on the world’s biggest men’s room wall. Most of “J’s” cyberstalking occurred in the workplace. And, to up the ante, he began to get her co-workers involved, by sending them sexually explicit images and messages while posing as “J” .

The most discouraging part for “J” and most cyberstalking victims is that they can’t make it stop. She also was frustrated when no one else could help her make it stop, either. She didn’t know where to turn. Unfortunately, she hadn’t found WiredSafety’s Net Patrol team. My online safety organization, has a special team to handle Cyberstalking reports (without charge). It is the largest Cyberstalking help team in the world, assisting more than 1000 victims of Cyberstalking each month through our comprehensive information, education and help services. Reader’s Digest wrote about our work in “Angels Online” when we were known by the name “Cyberangels.” (Since someone else has now started to use that name online, it makes it harder for victims to find us when we changed our name to Many still visit the old site, looking for our help and aren’t aware that they are dealing with another group.)

As is usually the case, law enforcement wouldn’t get involved as cyberstalking laws are new and often misunderstood. (Our division tries to help in this area as well, and works directly with law enforcement agencies when they need training and assistance in handling cyberstalking cases.) Even when the laws are understood and law enforcement knows how to conduct a cyberforensics investigation, cyberstalking is often only a misdemeanor with fines under $1000 and only optional jailtime.

“J” had been told that no laws had been broken. And in 1998, this was true. The first Cyberstalking law was adopted in California in 1998. It took these six years before most of the states have adopted Cyberstalking laws, or adapted their existing stalking legislation to accommodate online attacks.

While many workplace Cyberstalking cases involve similar risks, there are special risks “J” faced as a municipal employee which made her a much easier target. And understanding those risks will help all government employers, IT experts and employees protect themselves and others in their workplace.

As she so eloquently explains, “The problem with being a government servant is that by the very nature of the job, you must be visible. This is especially true for me. I am a public relations specialist for [a municipality]. I must be visible within the community. People must know my name, and must be able to contact me in order for me to effectively perform my job.” Many governmental agencies also use a predictable e-mail format, that includes the employee’s name, such as, or, etc. And many names and related contact information are searchable on the agency’s home page directory. These, when combined, make governmental employees much easier to target.

“J” doesn’t blame her employer (whose IT head has been very helpful in her case), but believes that all governmental employers have a higher level of responsibility to protect their employees from harassment. “If you're going to put your employees in the public eye and ask them to make themselves available to the community, governments must recognize this special burden and put policies in place that protect those who work for them.”

If you are a vitcim of cyberstalking, visit and report it. One of their trained volunteers will help you.


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