We’ve got stalkers in our pockets

A study has found that more than a third – 36% – of stalking victims are tormented via cyber methods.

Carried out by YouGov and commissioned by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, the poll surveyed 4,054 British adults.

It found that more than 18% of women and nearly 8% of men have suffered “repeated and unwanted contact or intrusive behavior” which causes “fear or distress.”

The study, titled The Stalker in Your Pocket, found that the 36% of stalkers who choose to harass people online are using apps such as email, Facebook, Twitter, dating websites and apps, WhatsApp, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Flickr and Snapchat to get to their victims.

The research uncovered what the Suzy Lamplugh Trust called the “massive scale” of stalking, both online and off. It was released ahead of National Stalking Awareness Week, 18-22 April.

Researchers Dr. Raj Persaud and Dr. David said that social media is being used as a “new weapon” in stalkers’ armory – a weapon that we can’t escape.

Dr. James:

New methods of communication mean stalking online is something you can never get away from. In effect, you carry the stalker ‘in your pocket’ in the form of any mobile phone. This can be especially traumatizing for victims.

Dr. Persaud said that you don’t have to be a celebrity to be targeted:

As a consultant psychiatrist, I have seen many patients who have been stalked. My professional experience and our findings illustrate that stalking is not just a problem for celebrities. People from all walks of life can become victims of stalking whether it be online or offline.

A minority of victims – some 26% – report the stalking to police. The number shrinks further when the stalking’s only done online: only 9.8% of cyberstalking-only victims alert the police.

You don’t have to look far to see why so many people don’t bother to report the stalking: the report found that more than 43% of those who did report their experiences found law enforcement’s response “not very helpful” or “not helpful at all”.

You shouldn’t have to change your life because of cyberstalking, but many victims feel the need.

How they feel and the changes they’ve felt compelled to make:

  • 32% felt fearful about their personal safety
  • 28.3% felt concerned about going out in public
  • 20.4% reduced their social outings
  • 9.5% moved home
  • 26% stopped answering their telephone
  • 18.6% changed their phone number
  • 18.1% stopped answering their front door
  • 11.4% stopped using their mobile phone
  • 8.7% increased security at home or work.

Other findings:

  • Of those that have been stalked, 18.8% of cases lasted more than a year and 7.9% lasted more than five years.
  • More than a fifth (22.8%) of stalking cases involved ex-partners, 22.5% strangers, 17.4% acquaintances, 10.1% former friends, 8.1% work colleagues and 6.4% family members.
  • People between the ages of 18 and 34 are significantly more likely to have been stalked online.

What to do if you’re cyberstalked

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust recommends that victims report the abuse, though they’re aware that authorities’ response isn’t always good enough.

Simply knowing that there are laws to protect us is a first step, however. As it is, the trust reports that many don’t even know that such laws exist.

Cyberstalking and sextortion aren’t necessarily the same thing, but we’ve passed along tips to avoid becoming a sextortion victim that can be helpful for both.

Here too are our Top 10 Tips to help you, and your kids, stay safe online.

If you’re in the UK, call the National Stalking Helpline at 0808 802 0300. In the US, the number for SafeHorizon’s hotline is 1.800.621.HOPE (4673). Stalking Risk Profile has resources for those in Australia and other countries.

Image of Cyber stalker courtesy of Shutterstock.com