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Stalking

 

ONLINE SAFETY

•  Always use a gender-neutral username. Do not use your real name or even a nickname.

•  Keep your primary email address private and only give it to people you know and trust. If you are getting harassing email, get a new account or request a new log-on name and password from your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Close your old account. Learn how to use the filtering capabilities of your email program to block email from certain addresses.

•  Get a free email account for all online use (i.e., Hotmail or Yahoo).

•  Spend time on newsgroups, mailing lists and chat rooms as a “silent observer” before “speaking” or posting messages.

•  Watch what you “say” online. Only type what you would say to someone's face.

•  Don't fill out profiles. If you have to, provide as little information as possible. Be certain your online profiles do not contain any personally identifying information such as you age, sex, address, phone number, school attended, teams you play on, where you work, etc.

•  Know what is in your signature file. Do not put your company or school name, email address, street address or phone/fax number.

•  Do not use a business account for personal use. Simply leaving messages on a discussion board will reveal your IP address to others. That information can easily let a stalker know where you work so he can find you offline.

•  Get a P.O. box if you need a contact mailing address. Get your P.O. box in the next town over.

•  Get an unlisted phone number, and get caller ID.

•  Ego surf – put your name in quotes and find what information there is about you on the Internet. To have your name removed from any directories, contact each search engine on which you are listed and request to be removed.

•  Never give your password to anyone.

•  Be very cautious about sending or posting pictures online.

•  Make sure your ISP and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) network have an acceptable use policy that prohibits cyberstalking. If your network fails to respond to complaints about online harassment, switch to a provider that is more responsive to user complaints.

•  Block or ignore unwanted users in chat rooms or Instant-Messaging. Many email programs such as Eudora and Microsoft Outlook have a filter feature, and software can easily be obtained that will automatically delete emails from a particular address or that contain offensive words. Chat room contact can be blocked as well. Although formats differ, a common chat room command to block someone is to type: /ignore<person's screen name> (without the brackets). However, in some circumstances (such as threats of violence), it may be more appropriate to save the information and contact law enforcement authorities.

•  If a situation online becomes hostile, log off or surf elsewhere. If a situation places you in fear, contact a local law enforcement agency.

•  Don't allow others to draw you into conflict. That may mean you don't defend yourself from personal attacks. It is safer to ignore them and keep yourself above the fray. When you respond to a harasser in any way you are letting him know that he has succeeded. No matter how hard it is to do, do not interact with a harasser. When he realizes that he is not getting a reaction from you, he may move on to find an easier target.

•  If you continue to receive unwanted contact, make it clear to that person that you would like him or her not to contact you again. Once and only once tell the person harassing you, “Leave me alone. Stop harassing me. Do not contact me again.” State that you will take further action if the harassment does not stop. Email a copy of your communication to the system administrator of your ISP. Log off immediately and stay offline for 24 hours. Do not reply to anything else the harasser says.

•  Save all communications for evidence. Do not edit or alter them in any way. Save all of the header information if it is an email or newsgroup posting. Print a hard copy, and copy the communication to a disk for documentation.

•  Keep a log of each communication, explaining the situation in more detail. Document how the harassment is affecting your life, and the steps you are taking to stop it. Also keep a record of each contact with Internet system administrators and law enforcement officials.

•  If harassment continues after you have asked the person to stop, contact the harasser's ISP. Most ISPs have clear policies prohibiting the use of their services to abuse another person. Often an ISP can try to stop the conduct by direct contact with the stalker or by closing the stalker's account. If you receive abusive emails, identify the domain (after the @ sign) and contact that ISP. Most ISPs have an email address such as abuse@<domain name> or postmaster@<domain name> (without the brackets) that can be used for complaints. If the ISP has a website, visit it for information on how to file a complaint.

Keep in mind that this may be just a short-term fix or may even exacerbate the situation if the stalker discovers that you notified the ISP. He or she may attempt to retaliate against you or begin/continue to stalk you offline. Regardless of whether the online stalking ceases, you need to be aware that the stalker may have obtained personal information about you via the internet or through other sources, and consequently you may still be at risk for offline stalking.

•  Contact your local police department and inform them of the situation in as much detail as possible. They may refer the matter to state or federal authorities. If you are afraid of taking action, there are resources available to help you. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-SAFE, phone, (800) 787-3224, TDD for advice and support.

RESOURCES

www.cyberangels.org (Cyber Angels)

www.ncvc.org ( National Center for Victims of Crime)

www.privacyrights.org (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse)

www.haltabuse.org (Working to Halt Online Abuse-WHOA)

This project was supported by Grant No. 2002-WA-BX-0011 awarded by the Office of Violence Against Women and the U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.