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Cyber Stalking as a Form of Cybercrime

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Abstract

It took a considerable amount of time for people to realise what are the different forms of stalking and a lot more to gauge and understand its effects. Its impact, especially on young minds, has long-lasting effects. Laws and punishments were successful in curtailing it to an extent, but they have failed to act as a deterrent in most cases. The Internet has brought exciting benefits by providing oceans of knowledge to its users and various opportunities of sharing information and connecting across borders. However, every coin has two sides. The technology that helped change the world inadvertently offered a plethora of tools to perpetrators who could now easily carry out their dark deeds behind computer screens. The unfortunate part is that the victims, in the case of cyberstalking, unknowingly facilitate and aid the stalker by posting their personal information online. A victim of cyberstalking can report it to the concerned authorities, however, the solution lies in prevention and awareness. It’s the people themselves who need to be mindful of their activities on the Internet.

Introduction

Cyber law in general refers to a law that regulates how people use the Internet. It applies to people using the Internet, World Wide Web and related technologies. It can be mainly categorised into civil and criminal. It encompasses all the different ways through which people communicate digitally using computers, mobiles, tablets, etc. over emails, social media, websites, blogs, personal or private forums, etc.

As defined by the Merriam-Webster website, cybercrime refers to any criminal activity (such as fraud, theft or distribution of child pornography) committed using a computer especially to illegally access, transmit or manipulate data. Cybercrime is an offence that may be committed against people by using computers, the Internet or mobile technology with the intention to cause damage directly or indirectly. There are three major categories that cybercrime falls into: individual, property and government.

  • Property: The hacker steals a person’s bank details to gain access to funds, make purchases online or run phishing scams to get people to give away their information.
  • Individual: This category of cybercrime involves one individual distributing malicious or illegal information online. This can include cyberstalking, cyber bullying, distributing pornography and trafficking.
  • Government: This is the least common cybercrime, but is the most grievous offense. Government cybercrime, also known as cyber terrorism, includes hacking government websites, military websites or distributing propaganda.

Cyberstalking, also referred to as Internet stalking, e-stalking or online stalking, is a criminal practice where an individual uses the Internet to systematically harass or threaten someone. This crime can be perpetrated through email, social media, chat rooms, instant messaging clients and any other online medium. Cyberstalking can also occur in conjunction with the more traditional form of stalking, where the offender harasses the victim offline.

Stalking, as defined on the website oxforddictionaries.com, means to harass or persecute (someone) with unwanted and obsessive attention. While legal definitions of stalking vary from one jurisdiction to another, a good working definition of stalking is a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear. Stalking is serious, often violent, and can escalate over time.

Review of Literature

Cybercrime is a fast-growing area of crime. More and more criminals are exploiting the speed, convenience and anonymity of the Internet to commit a diverse range of criminal activities that know no borders, either physical or virtual, cause serious harm and pose very real threats to victims worldwide. Society has taken cognizance of stalking but has somehow been unable to identify stalking over the Internet and its ramifications. According to a research conducted by Matthew J. Breiding et al (2011) quoted on the website www.victimsofcrime.org, 7.5 million people are stalked in one year in the United States, of which over 85% of stalking victims are stalked by someone they know. The research also found out that persons between the age group 18 to 24 years’ experience the highest rate of stalking. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) published a report in March 2019 based on a survey which revealed that 70% of women, or an estimated number of 16 million women, have experienced some form of sexual harassment, stalking, intimate partner violence or non-partner violence since the age of 15, and 45% of women, or approximately 10.2 million women, have experienced sexual harassment, including harassment via the Internet.

The scenario in India is not much different. In the year 2013, the Justice J.S. Verma panel had said, ‘Offences such as stalking, voyeurism and eve-teasing are perceived as minor offences, but if not checked, these lead to a growing culture towards serious offences like rape.’ Section 354D of the Indian Penal Code defines the act of stalking as:

Any man who:

  1. follows a woman and contacts, or attempts. to contact such woman to foster personal interaction repeatedly despite a clear indication of disinterest by such woman; or
  2. monitors the use by a woman of the internet, email or any other form of electronic communication, commits the offence of stalking.

According to a survey conducted by a global cyber security firm Norton by Symantec in 2017, as reported by The Indian Express, online harassment is increasing in India. The report points out that every eight out of ten people surveyed have encountered some form of cyberstalking, online harassment and cyberbullying. The research also shows that more serious forms of online harassment, including threats of physical violence (45%), cyberbullying (44%) and cyberstalking (45%), are very high. The study found out that over 40% of incidences of cyberbullying and nearly half of all cases of cyberstalking had a stranger as a perpetrator and that one in four women found their experience frightening. As reported by The Times of India in 2018, several women and minor girls are falling prey to cyberstalking, as Hyderabad police receives nearly 50 complaints every month. The same news report also mentioned that merely 20% victims prefer to file FIR against accused. According to the annual report published by Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), over 53,000 cases of cyber security incidents were reported in 2017 in India (annual report of 2011 shows over 13,000 cases).

Alexis A. Moore, a renowned author who has authored multiple books on cyberstalking and who is a well-established practising advocate in California, believes that the ease with which someone can perpetuate a cyberstalking crime has made potential victims of us all. In her article dated 27th August, 2018 on the website www.thoughtco.com, she said that individuals have been cyberstalked for the most minor reasons by people they’ve angered in the past. The ease of causing someone trouble through technology, without having to leave the house, makes cyberstalkers out of people who would have normally fumed in silence. We have all grown so complacent about our information and how it is stored and managed; we have no idea how easy it is to access essential personal data that would unlock the safeguards to our finances, our personal and economic safety and our lives.

According to a survey conducted in the year 2015 by Emma Short et al, National Centre for Cyberstalking Research, University of Bedfordshire, UK, 32.7% of respondents who reported harassment were indicated to have symptoms of PTSD according to the PCL-C (Weathers et al., 1994). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it. These symptoms cause significant problems in social or work situations and in relationships. They can also interfere with your ability to go about your normal daily tasks. PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types:

  1. Intrusive memories e.g. severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds you of the traumatic event.
  2. Avoidance e.g. avoiding places, activities or people that remind you of the traumatic event.
  3. Negative changes in thinking and mood e.g. negative thoughts about yourself, other people or the world
  4. Changes in physical and emotional reactions e.g. self-destructive behaviour, such as drinking too much or driving too fast.

Conclusion

Cyberstalking is such a new phenomenon to the public at large that most are unaware of it even if it has happened with them, but it is on the rise. However, cyberstalking can be as frightening and real as being followed and watched in your home or neighbourhood. Even the innocent act of posting personal photos online or announcing where you are on social media can provide fodder to perpetrators. Although there are laws put in place and security software available, it is the people who need to be cautious and mindful of their activities online.

References:

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Cyber Stalking As A Form Of Cybercrime. (2021, October 25). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 28, 2021, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/cyber-stalking-as-a-form-of-cybercrime/
“Cyber Stalking As A Form Of Cybercrime.” GradesFixer, 25 Oct. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/cyber-stalking-as-a-form-of-cybercrime/
Cyber Stalking As A Form Of Cybercrime. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/cyber-stalking-as-a-form-of-cybercrime/> [Accessed 28 Nov. 2021].
Cyber Stalking As A Form Of Cybercrime [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Oct 25 [cited 2021 Nov 28]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/cyber-stalking-as-a-form-of-cybercrime/
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