Staying Safe Online

SONY DSCGuest post by: Averett Robey, Prevention Education Specialist, HAVEN

As a prevention education specialist I spend a lot of time talking to students and hearing their experiences, thoughts and feelings. Often those conversations remind me how texting and social media are integrated as a natural part of our daily lives. Upon looking deeper, that integration can be frightening when we are talking about intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, and stalking. The negative impact technology can have is great and for some people, it is even unrecognizable.

On average more than six million people in the United States are stalked each year. The Internet has only aided in increasing that number through the use of cyberstalking. Cyberstalking can be, but is not limited to, repeatedly sending threats or false accusations, making threatening or false posts on websites, stealing a person’s identity/data, or spying and monitoring a person’s computer and internet use.

When I got my first cell phone with unlimited texting it was so easy for me to text my friends and partner quite a bit throughout the day. Ten years later, with the development and popularity of platforms such as Four Square, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Find My Friends, technology has gone to another level. It’s now very easy to know where a person is and what they are doing at any given moment —making stalking easier and protection harder.

The integration of cell phone use, social media, and the Internet have made being “connected” and behaviors like incessant texting and sharing your location on command the norm. It may seems like innocent interaction, however this normalization can be dangerous when it is accepted as part of a relationship, instead of as the controlling and often abusive tactic that it can be.

In college I had a friend who had been in an abusive relationship. She would often receive text messages from her then ex-partner saying something as simple as “where are you?” I can’t even recall the number of times I myself have either asked my friends or my partner that very question as I am trying to meet up with them. However, the impact of that question was much different for my friend. She knew that meant he had driven to her home, noticed her car was not there, and was now angry that he did not have access to her when he wanted.

When I talk to students about intimate partner violence and cyberstalking I explain that it is not what we say or intend but what kind of impact our action has. It is important to think about how behaviors like constant texting can be used to know where someone is and what they are doing, and how they are used in conjunction with other tactics to stalk, frighten, and gain and maintain power and control.

Many students I meet carry the misconception that a stranger usually perpetrates stalking. Yet, we know that in reality the stalker is someone the victim knows in three out of four stalking cases. I believe that social media and phones have only amplified the issue.

The reality is approximately 66% of stalking victims report some form of cyberstalking such as unwanted phone calls or messages. Technology has created new avenues for constant presence and control to exist, while providing easy, affordable access to peoples’ personal information and history. Simply using a snapchat filter can tell someone what city you’re in, or carrying your iPhone with you can give someone access to the locations you go to and how many hours you spend there. But it can be even more than knowledge. Unfortunately, many cyberstalking cases don’t stop behind the computer or phone, reports show that 70% of them escalate resulting in physical attacks and abductions.

Unfortunately, despite these statistics cyberstalking is often laughed off and not considered serious or fatal. Survivors who do report may be deemed “not credible” and their trauma is often minimized. Even though studies show, no matter how it’s conducted, stalking can have significant and lifelong effects, including: ongoing stress, anxiety, fear, nightmares, shock and disbelief, feelings of helplessness, hyper-vigilance, changes in eating, and sleeping difficulties. Some research even shows that the effects of cyberstalking and harassment can be more intense, in certain cases, due to the 24/7 accessibility the perpetrator has to the victim.

So how do we protect ourselves and our family from the crime of cyberstalking in a technological world? Here are a few important pointers to remember:

  • Learn about the presence and impact of cyberstalking in your community. Does your police department have a cyber crimes unit? Have there been any cases at your child’s school?
  • Model healthy relationship skills that are rooted in communication, shared responsibility, accountability, and respect. Be sure your child understands what type of behavior is unacceptable and keep open lines of communication with them.
  • Remind your children to never share passwords or other personal information online, like phone numbers, address or school name, not matter how “safe” the medium seems.
  • Teach your children to logout of their accounts when they are through with them and to not leave their devices unattended.
  • Read additional tips here.

January is National Stalking Awareness Month. If you think you or someone you know is a victim of stalking or cyberstalking, HAVEN can help. Call our 24-hour Crisis and Support Line at 877-922-1274.




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