Electronic harassment or e-harassment is a catch-all term used to describe a group of circumstances which a large number of people are currently experiencing in common. In general, this term refers to the use of electronic technology to view, track and/or harass a person from a distance.


Also known as on-line harassment or cyber stalking, this form of stalking involves offensive, threatening communication through the Internet, via e-mail, chat rooms, or instant messaging or through other electronic means, such as cellular telephones or pagers.


Whether this is done by satellite, land based systems or locally (i.e. by neighbours) is largely personal opinion. There is no definitive proof that would allow any of the present victims to launch a court case, but the numbers of victims and the commonality of experience speaks for itself.


Cyber stalkers can easily disguise themselves, adopt several false identities, and change identities and servers often, creating difficulty for the victim to trace the messages sent. The cyber stalker can easily find out the victim’s personal profile, as it is easily accessible on-line.

The type of stalking is methodical, deliberate, and persistent communication that disturbs the recipient. It is equally as serious as conventional stalking and is included in most statutes addressing stalking. Some states have addressed this problem by enacting a separate criminal law against it. In addition to directly contacting victims, cyber stalkers may pose as the victim on the Internet to induce others to harass and threaten the victim.

Background and Statistics:

College students live in a unique environment. The college campus environment is often believed by the general public to be a safe place. Even college students themselves do not want to believe that anyone would intentionally do anything to harm them. In a campus environment stalking can be a difficult behavior to identify, define and contend with.

Many of the aspects that enhance campus life can aid the stalker. For example, the campus is a closed environment where a student’s personal information such as their class schedule can be easily ascertained. In addition, student movement on campus can be quite predictable with open access to residences and academic buildings being encouraged. Often times the students contact information is not kept secure or is made public through directories.

This environment contains one of the largest groups of Internet users and, as a result this population is vulnerable to the stalking activity that has become commonplace in cyberspace. It has been noted that e-mail is the most common forum in which stalking and harassment begins.

It is important to remember; that the way the harassment begins isn’t always the forum via which the victim first encountered the harasser. Online stalking may lead to other forms of stalking; this behavior must be taken seriously. Stalking online is often illegal and is frightening for victims.

Since cyber stalking and online harassment are still considered fairly new, many of the interventions are modeled around the traditional approach to stalking interventions. These measures can include:

Unfortunately, the very nature of online crimes means that it is difficult to ascertain reliable information regarding the harassers.

According to a recent publication, (Spring 2002) from the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, the following are some guidelines to remember:

· Always select a gender-neutral username for your email address or for chat. Don’t pick something cute, such as funtimes@someisp.com or use your first name if it is obviously female. (Since the majority of online victims are female, this is what harassers look for).

· Keep your primary email address private. Use your primary email address only for people you know and trust.

· Get a free email account and use that for all your other online activity.

· Don’t fill out profiles! Fill out as little information about yourself as possible when you sigh u p for your email account.

· Do block or ignore unwanted users. Whether you are in a chat room or using IM you should use the option “block all users except those on my buddy list”

· Don’t defend yourself. It is a normal response to want to defend yourself, but a reaction form you is precisely what the harasser wants. They stalker is “fishing” for someone to latch onto and harass.

· Notify law enforcement of the threats

· Tell the harasser to stop: Generally, it is important to advise victims not to communicate with a harasser. However, Working to Halt On-line Abuse (WHO@), an on-line resource for victims of cyber stalking, suggests that the victim make one contact to tell the harasser “Do not contact me in any way in the future.” The victim may want tot send a copy of the message to the abuse department of the harasser’s Internet Service Provider, but should make no future contact.

· Save all communications: it is very important that the person being harassed save all communication form the harasser including e-mails, chat logs, etc.

· Complain to the appropriate parties: if you are being harassed via email, complain to the sender’s ISP and any email service used to send the messages. Harassment in a chat room or harassment via a web sit about someone) should be reported to the server. I f you are harassed on any kind of instant messaging service, read the terms of service and harassment policies they’ve provided and use any contact address given there.

· Seek help from a Victim Advocate: It’s important to safely plan and to receive supportive help for the traumatic impact of all types of stalking.

(*These guidelines have been adapted from literature that is widely available to assist in the efforts to address the topic of stalking such as the websites:

Florida Statute: 784.048; Stalking

House Bill 479 defines the term cyber-stalking and adds it to the stalking statute, effective October 1, 2003.
According to Florida Statute 784.048, in pertinent part:
Cyber stalking means engaging in a course of conduct, communicating or causing to be communicated, words, images or language by or through the use of electronic mail or electronic communication, directed at a specific person, causing substantial emotional distress to that person and serving no legitimate purpose. In addition, §775.054, §790.065, §921.0022, §960.0011 have been reenacted for purposes of incorporating the amendments of the bill.