It first happened five years ago. Vickie Newton was sitting in the comfort of her own home and a new email appeared in her inbox. Not knowing who it was from, she curiously opened it. Yet, this email unlike some the others, was one that would change her life – the way she lived and worked, but most importantly it would affect both her privacy and personal safety.
Overtime emails began disappearing from her private and work emails. After noticing a pattern, she came to one realization: she was being cyber stalked.
Newton said she first went to the authorities and discussed the situation with station management where she worked. She later moved from St. Louis to Arkansas and thought the cyber harassment would end, but instead she said it intensified.
“From what I have read about stalkers, they want control,” said Newton. “When I relocated it disrupted their routine and so the Internet remains this persons primary source of intimidation.”
Newton has taken steps to prevent the cyber stalking. She has notified and contacted the Attorney General in Arkansas and the FBI in both Arkansas and St. Louis. Newton and her parents also hired a technology expert, but they still have not resolved the issue.
“We have installed new security systems, we have changed locks, we have reached out to authorities and the harassment continues,” said Newton.
Additionally, since moving to Arkansas, Newton has had more time to focus on her safety, but living alone and not knowing the motive of the stalker can be fearful.
“I don’t know who is stalking me and I don’t know what the end game is,” said Newton. “Recently, some of the postings have included key words that describe rooms in my home, family members names are included and so the level of the threat is more aggressive.”
Newton has described her situation as “mind-boggling” – she hid her computer, but her computer case is missing; the stalker has described the “sterling silver picture frames in her master suite;” and the alarm at her Arkansas lake house was going off while she was in St. Louis at early hours in the morning, but no one was ever found.
Her cyber harassment has not only affected her personal life, but it has also impacted her work.
“The web firm that hosts TheVillageCelebration is ending our affiliation because the owners say they haven’t seen this type of harassment in 15 years of business,” said Newton. “Hundreds of bizarre emails everyday.”
But It’s Just the Internet?
Thousands of Americans across the nation are cyber stalked annually. Most of us the internet to chat on popular social media sites, shop online or send emails, but we sometimes forget what the statistics prove: the internet can be dangerous and serve as a malicious tool of intimidation:
- “At any one time, approximately 1 million women and around 375,000 men are the target of stalking in America” (statistic from bullyonline.org)
- “One in twelve women and one in forty-five men will be stalked in their lifetime. The average duration of stalking is nearly two years and even longer if the stalking involves intimate partners” (statistic from womensissues.com).
- “Nearly 7 in 10 stalking victims knew their offender in some way” (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sept. 2012).
- 74% of cyberstalking victims are female; 35% of cyberstalking victims are 18-30 years old and 32% of victims are over age 41. (Working to Halt Online Abuse, WHOA)
- 53% of cyberstalking victims are single and 26% are married (WHOA).
- 16% of people said harassment happened over email and 7.25% of people said harassment happened over text messaging (WHOA).
- 80% of cases escalated and 77.5% of people reported the cyberstalking (WHOA).
“The internet allows cowards to harass and intimidate,” said Newton. “People who would never in a million years say or do the things they do on the Internet are emboldened by the anonymity it provides.”
As the statistics show, cyberstalking and harassment can happen to anyone of any age. Tina Meier, the Founder of the Megan Meier Foundation, knows firsthand what cyberstalking can to do to a victim and family. Her daughter, Megan, was a victim of cyber harassment over MySpace, a social networking site, and later took her own life.
Additionally, Meier frequently gives presentations at schools, but instead of lecturing students she tries to discuss the impact of what cyberbullying can do to a victim; she encourages students to think before they send.
“When you sit behind technology and you think its funny to make fun of another person or harass that person or scare that person or threaten that person, it’s easy to sit behind and be angry, mad, want vengeance and retaliate,” said Meier. “You’re done, you get it off your chest, but what you have thrown on the other side… you don’t have a clue what that person’s life is like.”
Meier also said much of the focus of cyber harassment is focused on children and teens. However, she said some adults are given a blind eye because local authorities have too much on their plate and/or they are not familiar with cyber laws.
“That leaves them (adults) extremely vulnerable and they feel that no one really cares,” said Meier. “That’s not the case, because any of us that were in that position would feel that way.”
Persistence and Prevention
Both Newton and Meier suggested prevention tips to people who are cyberstalking victims.
“I would suggest creating a paper trail,” said Newton. “Make as many contacts with authorities as possible. Tell friends, family members, neighbors…create awareness around your concern.”
Additionally, Meier recommended that people use the same mentality for how they discuss in-person information and apply that to their behavior on the Internet.
“We don’t give personal information like what we’re doing, where we work—we don’t give all of that out to people that we don’t know in public,” said Meier.
Meier also suggested people install anti-viruses and firewalls on phones and computers, and create account passwords that are not associated with personal information.
While Newton has taken preventive measures like these, the stalking continues. However, she has remained strong and hopeful.
“Moving again is not going to work because I have done that once,” said Newton. “There is nothing to do but stand and fight.”
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