Online stalking on the increase

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Cyber stalking is a growing problem with typical abusers being white collar workers without criminal records, according to the 2005 Cyberstalking statistics released today by Working to Halt Online Abuse.

Jayne Hitchcock, Working to Halt Online Abuse president, said: "They [cyber stalkers] can be teachers, lawyers, businesspeople, students, doctors, the kid who bags your groceries – online harassers and stalkers are not who you may think they are."

She added that there is no sign that the distress caused by internet harassment was declining: "On average, we can see up to 50 cases a week. We don't see cyberstalking going away. In fact, it is increasing every day, mainly due to the fact that more people go online for the first time every day. Currently there are over one billion people online worldwide – if only one percent become victims, that's ten million people!"

In 2005, the organisation that found that more men applied for help dealing with trauma caused by cyber stalkers, which represented an increase of 7 per centover 2004.

In addition male harassers were found to have decreased by almost 10 per cent over 2004, most likely due to a new trend – cases involving multiple harassers, which accounted for 2.5 percent of cases in 2005.

According to the trust's statistics, victims' average age has changed last year, with a 10 percent decrease in those 18 to 40 and a 7 percent increase in those over the age of 40, complaining of online harassment.

Although singles were found to be the most common victims in past years, 2005 saw the gap decreasing between singles and married victims at 37.5 percent and 31.5 percent respectively.

The study also reported an increase of victims who knew their harasser previously, up 4.5 percent from last year, although just over 50 percent stated their harassers were strangers.

Email was found to have dropped 6 percent as the primary way the harassment began, but it was still ranked number one, followed by message boards (including news groups and Yahoo Groups), which increased 3 percent over 2004, then instant messaging, which surprisingly dropped 1.5 percent, then chat, which increased by 3 percent.

"There is no one answer," Hitchcock added. "But for the cases where the victim knows their harasser, it's usually revenge. For the stranger-on-stranger cases it's most often what I call 'internet road rage.' What is it that causes a person to chase someone down a highway offline? The same goes for the superhighway – it could be something as simple as the harasser not liking the victim's username (one case I actually worked on) to a perceived injustice to not liking what someone posted online. It could be anything."

Copyright © SC Magazine, US edition

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