Stalking can be a result of a bad breakup or some other end to a bad relationship. In most stalking cases, the offender wants to maintain the relationship and does this through stalking or cyberstalking. Why people stalk is a question no studies have been able to answer.
Brad Reyns is an assistant criminal justice professor at Weber State University and a co-author of a new criminal justice study more than two years in the making. He said the study was a collaborative effort. He worked with three other authors from different universities around the country, one of which is Bonnie S. Fisher, who is well known for her stalking research done in the 1990s.
“We just kinda thought it would be interesting to explore some of the differences between what I’ll call physical stalking or traditional stalking,” Reyns said, “and cyberstalking, which is, of course, through electronic devices or using the Internet or something like that.”
Reyns said he and the authors of the study saw an unique opportunity when the Bureau of Justice Statistics came out with results from a national victimization survey. Recently, the bureau conducted a survey that asked American adults about their stalking incidents and experiences.
“So we thought, ‘OK, now we have this really good national-level data representing adults in the whole United States’, and we could actually examine the experiences that staking victims had,” Reyns said, “and those who also had cyberstalking, and then make some comparisons between the groups.”
Self-protective behaviors are one of the many responses victims have after they are stalked. Reyns said they looked at this and what other things people do after being victimized. These behaviors include obtaining weapons, changing their schedules and changing e-mail addresses. According to the study, the people who experienced cyberstalking generally adopted more protective behaviors than people who only experienced stalking.
“A couple of the other differences that we found were that more of the people being stalked physically were stalked for longer periods of time,” Reyns said. “. . . And they were also generally more afraid about what was happening to them than were victims of cyberstalking.”
Information taken from the study found that cyberstalking victims, those who adopted self-protection behaviors, were most likely to be female. Traditional stalking victims who adopted this same behavior were more likely to be younger, and also experienced threats.
“There’s a lot that we don’t know, because cyberstalking is relatively new, so not a lot of research has been done on it. But it seems like the biggest difference between them is the physical proximity,” Reyns said. “But with cyberstalking, that’s not the case, and maybe the offender is pursuing the victim virtually, using a device, using the Internet, that sort of thing, maybe even a cell phone.”
Cyberstalkers are a new threat to the general population, but especially college-aged females.
“Female college students are at added risk, and males are typically the cyberstalkers or stalkers,” Reyns said. “Things that you can do to maybe prevent yourself from being a victim of cyberstalking would be being really careful about what you put online. But probably even more important than that, because that seems like a common-sense thing, is limiting who can see the information you put online.”
The behavior of harassment and stalking are very similar, but to be stalked there is a specific criteria.
“If someone is pursuing you through a course of conduct, and they are doing it repeatedly, and you are having a strong reaction to it, like you are afraid, then you are being stalked. But it has to satisfy those criteria,” Reyns said. “What you should do, if that’s the case, is contact law enforcement because you’re afraid for your safety.”
Reyns also said it’s important to hang on to physical evidence, especially for cyberstalking cases.
“Hang on to the text messages that you get — that could be important later,” he said. “Or e-mails or messages on your social network or pictures. Save that stuff.”