OGDEN, Utah –Comparing victims of stalking to cyberstalking is the focus of new research from a Weber State University criminal justice professor. Recently published in “Justice Quarterly,” it is the first study using national samples to compare the two crimes and then examine victims’ experiences and the measures they take to protect themselves..
“We wanted to find out if cyberstalking is a unique crime or a variation of traditional stalking,” said Brad Reyns, criminal justice assistant professor. “Similarities in the study showed both groups experienced fear, acknowledged they were victims and had out-of-pocket costs. The difference was in the level of fear and money spent to protect themselves.”
The study showed victims of cyberstalking do not feel as much fear as traditional stalking victims. “It’s physical proximity that elevates alarm,” Reyns said. “There’s a big difference from knowing someone is standing outside your window as opposed to having them pursue you online.”
Despite having a lower level of fear, victims of cyberstalking are the recipients of more threats and attacks than traditional stalking victims.
“It’s important to educate the public about the signs of cyberstalking, so they can recognize red flags in relationships,” Reyns said. “We need to be careful with how we distribute and make accessible our private information and be on alert for stalking behaviors such as unwelcome advances, and intimidation or numerous, intrusive contacts and threats.”
The study also showed victims of cyberstalking spent more than twice the amount of money in self-protection measures, such as changing jobs, buying guns, taking time off work and even altering their appearance.
Reyns believes cyberstalking is not being taken seriously by society. “Social networking has increased opportunities for crimes to occur, creating a growing concern about the pervasiveness of technology in our everyday lives,” Reyns said. “Fourteen of every 1,000 adults are stalked in a given year. Twenty-six percent of those stalked are also being cyberstalked.”
Although tricky to define, the National Conference of State Legislatures defines cyberstalking as the use of the Internet, email or other electronic communications to stalk, and generally refers to a pattern of threatening or malicious behaviors.
While victims come from all walks of life, female, college-aged students have an increased risk of being victims of both stalking and cyberstalking when compared with other groups.
“Students are exposed to many people throughout the course of their day, offering more opportunities to be sought out and pursued by stalkers,” Reyns said. “If statistics are correct, 100 percent of college students are online, and they’re putting a lot of private information out there, creating a gold mine for stalkers.”
Reyns hopes this study will encourage closer examination of the nature of stalking and cyberstalking and strengthen future criminal justice policy on the crimes.
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