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Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.


CyberStalking

Quick Access:
How to Deal with Cyberstalking


What can I do if somebody doesn't leave me alone online?

You might be describing something called “cyberstalking.” Cyberstalking is the use of the Internet and other forms of electronic communications to harass or threaten someone repeatedly. This can involve email, harassment in live chat situations, and using the victim’s code name or email address after leaving inappropriate messages on message boards or guest books, sending viruses, or electronic theft identity. These types of harassment can also escalate to include threatening phone calls, snail mail, and email, vandalism of your property, and even physical attack.

If you’re being harassed online by a cyberstalker, it’s likely that you’re not the first person they’ve harassed. Cyberstalkers, like other predators, are opportunists. They know what they’re looking for and how to get it. Stalking is a “power” crime – a stalker’s self-esteem rises when they attack your self-esteem. The more pain and suffering they can cause, the better they feel about themselves. Obviously then, cyberstalking is a serious issue to all online daters.

The best protection against becoming a target of stalking is not to reveal anything personal that you might have in common with the potential stalker. Stalkers may display selfishness, malice, sadism, and be very cunning and arrogant. Then again, many can also come across as well-educated, “smooth talking,” and charming. However, most of these individuals are antisocial, or in other words, they’re “control freaks” who enjoy manipulating others. The three most common ways cyberstalking begin are:

» sexual harassment

» “flame” wars (verbal online abuses and arguments that gets out of hand)

» users that show their technological power by attacking innocent users, channels or even networks.

Those who regularly start flame wars online are rude an obnoxious people, with poor social and communication skills. Their idea of fun is throwing obscene abuse at another just to upset them. These kinds of harassers are often loners who don’t have a companion, and their attempts to attract your attention can be clumsy and crude. Care should always be taken when turning them away, as they tend to be extremely sensitive to rejection and humiliation. Understand that “clumsy and crude” in most cases are not synonymous with “stupid.” They can be very organized and usually experienced in their harassment against others.

There are many precautions that you can take to protect yourself in advance from the unwelcome attention of a cyberstalker. Remember that the goal of a cyberstalker is control. Your task is to reverse this situation. Keep control of who you communicate with on the Internet. To do this, you may like to consider the advice below. The time to deal with cyberstalking is before you become a target.

Online users are vulnerable to being targeted as cyberstalking victims in three areas:

» Live Chat or IRC (Internet Relay Chat): in which a user talks live with other users. This is the most common place for cyberstalking.

» Message boards and Newsgroups: a user interacts with others by posting messages, conversing back and forth.

» Email box: a user has the ability to write anything and even attach files to the email. Example: a user enables your email, via live chat or newsgroup postings, then emails you with obscenities, and attaches pornographic pictures.

Clearly, online daters would seem to be prime targets for cyberstalkers, because most online dating sites have the three types of “areas” most conducive for such harassment. The following are warning signs that the situation is worsening, and you need to notify the police, and those around you including co-workers, friends, or family:

» Escalation of behavior: is the person following you to chat rooms or emailing you 20 times instead of 2 or 3 times a day.

» Change in the pattern: for example, the person initially sent appropriate IMs or emails, but not they’re those communications are threatening. If you receive any threats towards you or your family you should notify the police.

» Offline contact: that is, has there been recent in-person contact that might give the person more information to use against you.

Cyber stalking can be as terrifying as physical stalking, but often harder to prove and more difficult to control. The anonymity of the Internet works for the stalker, but there are safety procedures to help.

The major “clue” that to potential cyberstalking is when the person repeatedly pushes for detailed information regarding what all you do online as well as your private life away from the Internet. Therefore, the best rule of thumb is: “never give out any personal information across the Internet:”

» Don’t give out personal information online.

» Don’t use your real name or nickname online.

» Be very careful about meeting online acquaintances in person.

» Change email accounts and screen names, if you’re being cyberstalked. Also, if possible keep old account open to document ongoing abuse and only give new information those who really need it. If you can’t change accounts look into email filter programs.

» Within chat rooms, use gender-neutral nicknames, don’t use real email addresses, be careful with profiles, use ignore options, and don’t answer individual chat requests from strangers.

» Notify the chat administrator, room moderators, or customer service department of the online dating site of abuse.

If you’ve already met this person offline and developed a relationship with him/her, then heed these additional safety measures:

» Maintain a diary of events including any offline contact, letters, phone calls, escalation of behaviors, contact with family, and if possible printed emails and answering machine messages.

» Change your locks if the stalker is an ex-partner.

» Change your phone number and only give it to those who really need it. If possible, keep the old phone on voice mail to keep track of how many times they call or what messages are left. Keeping them will help with any possible prosecution or with obtaining a restraining order or order of protection.

» Be aware of your surroundings, and it is advised to not have contact or confront the stalker.

For more help on-line and more safety measures there are several web sites devoted to cyberstalking. Please visit these excellent sites for information and support:

» www.antistalking.com

» www.stalkingassistance.com

» www.haltabuse.org

» www.cyberangels.org




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