When I was in college, I knew a young woman who had just recently broke up with her boyfriend. I didn’t know either one of them very well at the time, although I consider her now to be one of my good friends. Her boyfriend was extremely controlling and while I’m fairly certain he never physically abused her, the signs of verbal and emotional abuse were definitely there. One day, she reached her breaking point and finally called it quits. It goes without saying that he was not pleased.
It is an understatement to say that her boyfriend did not take the break up well. He vowed to make her life miserable and what better way to do that than to spread rumors about her on the internet- one social networking site in particular. He proceeded to update his status frequently about what a terrible girlfriend she was and how she was only good for one thing. He flooded her personal page with a variety of insults and words that would make even Mel Gibson blush. He even went so far as to write on the pages of pretty much every friend she had and called her out for being a tramp (which couldn’t have been further from the truth).
We’re lucky that their story pretty much ends there. He ended up damaging his own reputation more than he did hers, and the fire died down… but what if it hadn’t? Had he been so compelled, it would have been extremely easy for him to continue harassing and stalking her, both on and offline. As far too many women know, technology is making it even harder to escape domestic abuse by allowing abusers to track the victim and monitor anywhere that they go.
So what is online harassment exactly? There is a clear difference between the annoyance of unsolicited e-mail and harassment. True harassment, such as that experienced by my friend, is methodical, deliberate, and persistent communication that disturbs the recipient. The unwanted communications are constant, filled with disturbing and inappropriate content, and don’t end even after requests have been made asking the perpetrator not to contact them again.
Harassment online is just as illegal as harassment off-line.
If you, or someone you know, are being harassed, there are many resources available to you to help end this cyber abuse.
- Cyber Angels (www.cyberangels.org)
- W.H.O.A. (Working to Halt Online Abuse- www.haltabuse.org)
- Computer Security Resource Center (http://csrc.nist.gov/index.html)
- Computer Crime and Intellectual Property. US Dept. of Justice (http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime)