Stalking is a criminal act that occurs when the offender repeatedly imposes unwanted disturbances and communications to victims by using premeditation to the extent of provoking fear for their safety (Pathe' & Mullen, 1997). Oddly, initially these acts is seen as kind into the victim, from an observer's point of view. For example, it does not seem to be threatening in any way when someone leaves messages, sends gifts and shows up in places where the victim habitually hangs around (Purcell, Pathe' & Mullen, 2004). However, if one is seeking to build-up a relationship that another person will not want to experience, (such much like a former partner, a famous person, or a specialist) this results in intimidation and is considered as stalking (Regehr, n. d. ).
Stalking varies from harassing and threatening victims by following and tracking them, appearing at their doorstep or workplace, collecting photos and or videos of the mark, making unwanted calls, sending gifts, letters and e-mails, intercepting any mail, and vandalizing property. Unluckily in the worst of cases stalking includes the threatening of victim's families and friends, physical assault, and the kidnapping and holding of hostages (Regehr, n. d. ).
With the advances in technology and ground breaking equipment that fills our daily lives, crime is infiltrating into society by using cyberspace. The original stalker is currently a cyber-stalker and essentially his/her grounds are limitless. Furthermore, the stalker now has no face because the comfort of using Information Technology enables the criminal to quietly stay indoors and carry-on with one's crimes anonymously with a low cost. Although cyber stalking still uses the harassment principles just as traditional stalking, their victims are actually aquired online. The cyber stalker now uses emails, internet, and chat rooms as his/her hunting grounds (Thapa, & Kumar, 2011) and the growing social networks which many users subscribe to such as Facebook will be the sources of feed which stalkers are looking for (Regehr, n. d. ).
This ease of internet "tools" at disposal and the belief that cyber stalkers cannot be physically touched on the net (Jaishankar & Sankary, 2006) has increased this crime. This is because the internet offers a vast selection of suitable targets, and a low potential for being caught or tracked down due to insufficient guardianship online. Thus, the motivated offender will probably take part in cyber stalking as the routine activity theory explains (Pitarro, 2011).
Bocjj (2002) defines cyber stalking as:
"A group of behaviours in which an individual, band of individuals or organisation, uses information and communications technology to harass another individual, band of individuals or organisation. Such behaviours can include, but are not limited by, the transmission of threats and false accusations, damage to data or equipment, identity theft, data theft, computer monitoring, the solicitation of minors for sexual purposes and any form of aggression. "
There are three subcategories of cyber stalking: e-mail stalking, internet stalking, and computer stalking. E-mail stalking is the act of repetitively sending hate, obscene, or threatening mail, or in other cases involves the sending of viruses and electronic junk mail. This results within an unwelcome and intimidating invasion into private space. Internet stalking on the other hand goes rather public, since it contains using the net in-order to stalk. Computer stalking is the act of utilising the web and other software in-order to obtain control of the victim's computer. In this kind of stalking, the stalker communicates directly when the target computer uses the internet, forcing the victim to disconnect and/or reconnect through a new line if s/he wants to evade the harassment (Ogilvie, 2000).
The stalker may be on the far side of the earth, a neighbour, or perhaps a relative. Furthermore, cyber stalkers are usually mature in age, have a good educational level, a well balanced job, and are usually Caucasian (Bocij & McFarlane, 2002). "Research literature also suggests that many cyber stalkers have a prior criminal history, a history of drug abuse, or a personality disorder that directly or partly plays a part in, and increases the odds of, such antisocial behaviours" (Pitarro, 2011, in Hutton & Haantz, 2003; Reno, 1999). However, this does not imply that all cyber stalkers are like this, in fact the data is somewhat inconclusive.
Different stalkers, engage in stalking for various reasons like for sexual harassment. Another motive may be the obsession for love. This occurs when one of the partners in a love relation decides to end it, the other does not accept it and thus continues to harass the other partner. One of the main issues with obsessional stalking is the fact because so many times the stalking employs a real relationship, the stalker has at one's disposal much of the info s/he needs about the victim. Revenge and hate is another major cause for stalking, and many times results after an argument that has gone beyond control. In this case, the stalker does not necessarily need to know the victim but could be just picking on him/her only to let out pent up stress. Finally, a stalker might just want to be in a position to show-off one's skills for ego boost and show of power ("Cyber Crime in India, " 2000).
Types of stalkers include the rejected stalker, the intimacy seeker, the incompetent suitor, the resentful stalker, and the predatory stalker. Rejected stalkers are characterised by a mix of revenge and aspire to reconcile with the victim who's usually somebody or a member of family. Intimacy seekers on the other hand try to achieve a relationship with a person that can be a complete stranger and think s/he is reciprocating their affection. Incompetent suitors being socially incompetent try to build a relationship that goes against social courtship rules whilst predatory stalkers gather information in preparation for sexual attachment. Lastly, resentful stalkers specifically harass victims to cause fear and uneasiness as a kind of revenge for a supposed humiliation (Mullen, Pathe, Purcell, & Stuart, 1999).
However, they are not the one types of stalkers. Other styles are the delusional stalker, the erotomaniac stalker, the harasser, the love rat, and the trolls. Delusional stalkers many times have problems with a mental illness, usually schizophrenia or manic depression. These due to stoppage of medication may be unable to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and so their victims are usually also in-danger of losing their sanity therefore of being taken in to the stalker's world. This may occur if the stalker knows how to play the part well and appears to be normal. Erotomaniac stalkers are also mentally ill and build-up a relationship in their heads. Although not specifically regarded as stalkers, harassers are attention-seekers and may victimise anyone who is kind enough to give them attention. Love rats usually come up with a fictitious identity and surf the cyberspace with the intent to start a relationship although having other secret affairs. Trolls like to invent senseless stories/events that are meant to waste the victims' time, hurt their feelings, and play victims against the other person ("Issues related to bullying", 2002).
The victims of stalking are mainly picked because they could be inferior to the stalker, because so many stalkers desire to be in control (Regehr, n. d. ). Victims are many times ex-partners of the stalker (especially if the stalker is a female) although in cyber stalking 50% of the victims are complete strangers. The most well-liked victims of any cyber-stalker are women and children, who might be emotionally weak or unstable, but most of those that are inexperienced with the guidelines of cyberspace (Thapa, & Kumar, 2011). Furthermore, studies also show that 83% of stalking victims are females, this mainly is basically because there are definitely more females online, and many stalkers might seek romance with them. Then if the female ends the relationship, the male stalker may be left with the thirst for revenge. The normal victim is therefore a Caucasian female of between 18 to 32 years. Being part of your minority group such as ethnic/racial minorities, homosexuals, and religious minorities may also cause one to be targeted (Thapa, & Kumar, 2011; McFarlane & Bocij, 2003).
Impacts on stalking victims can be physical, psychological, occupational, and social. It's important to notice that although cyber stalking often includes the last three, escalation into offline stalking and face-to-face confrontation may cause physical injuries to occur. Victims constantly feel at risk of being attacked. This imposed fear is a result of the tactics that the stalker implements to harass his/her victim (Regehr, n. d. ). Fear, anxiety, and apprehension nearing paranoia will be the feelings which all victim share. Other victims show symptoms of anger, depression, and helplessness, which can lead to suicidal thoughts (McEwan, Mullen, & Purcell, 2007).
The victims become hyper vigilant to keep an eye out for the stalker and begin to change their habitual routines. When easiness wears away and stress comes into play, the victim's anxiety is heightened. S/he will start to be easily startled by minimum movements or noises. Both during the night and during the day, images of the stalker begin to engulf the victim's thoughts and dreams. The victim will eventually fall into self-reclusion by avoiding communication and by refraining from undertaking activities such as not answering calls or messages, and not venturing outside the house. Long-term stalking will result in further symptoms, this time physical. Sleep disturbances, nausea, upset stomachs, general fatigue, frequent headaches, and the aggravation of pre-existing conditions such as asthma may be also present (Regehr, n. d. ).
Pathe' and Mullen (1997) conducted a report on 100 stalking victims. Damages to property ranging from cars to houses were reported in 36 of the studied cases. Furthermore, 50% of the cases consisted of threats in direct harm to the victims, or their own families or friends. However, the victims were assaulted by the stalker in one-third of the cases. Findings also indicated that over 50% of the victims start to drop their attendance records from work or school, some even cease to wait at all.
According to the National Violence Against Women Survey conducted by the U. S. Department of Justice (1998), 30% of female and 20% of male victims end-up seeking psychological counselling because of the trauma suffered during victimization (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). Socially, the victim's status is influenced negatively especially due to poor attendance, or focus at the job. This will eventually cause family or friends to intervene and accompany the victim, at the job or at home. As time passes, the other individuals involved, will show symptoms of anger being that they are unable to return to their normal lives. This will cause further uneasiness because the anger that should be projected on the criminal justice systems to be better equipped to counteract this crime is taken on the victim him/herself for being in their current situation (Regehr, n. d. ).
There are various safety strategies that one may adopt to don't be stalked. Choosing gender and age ambiguous usernames, not posting private information online, not sharing passwords, downloading antispyware programs, locking windows and doors, parking cars in illuminated areas, avoiding habitual travelling patterns, and having meetings with unknown folks in public areas areas, may all minimise the opportunity of becoming a victim (Petrocelli, 2005). If these procedures are ineffective, victims should tell the stalker that the communication is undesirable, keep record of any emails, telephone calls, and letters received, contact police agencies or victim organizations, and change email addresses and telephone numbers (Jaishankar & Sankary, 2006). The most important advice is however to never confront the stalker as this can make matters worse.
Unfortunately, incidents of stalking and cyber stalking are underreported. This may be due to various reasons such as not being aware that the acts suffered are illegal, the fear to be blamed, fear that the stalker may turn to other family members and friends, threats by the stalker, and believing that nothing can be carried out (MacKenzie, McEwan, Path, James, Ogloff, & Mullen, 2011). Furthermore, according to Reno (1999), victims might not seek help because they feel either that certain behaviours experienced stalking aren't serious enough to be reported to law enforcement agencies, or they think that the authorities force won't take matters seriously.
Furthermore, sometimes law enforcement agencies perceive cyber stalking as relatively harmless unless it involves physical contact or threatening behaviour offline, and thus often just tell victims to switch off computers or abandon computer use and dismiss the victim's preoccupations as nuisance (Reno, 1999). Sometimes however, it is not the police agencies' fault since unlike in stalking, the evidence in cyber stalking is many times insufficient to trace the perpetrator. Furthermore, many websites do not authenticate user information, and lots of email servers offer stalkers the opportunity to remove identity data for a small fee, thus so that it is almost impossible for police to trace the accounts (Reno, 1999).
Nowadays, although many countries have set up law enforcement units to deal with cybercrime such as The Cybercrime Unit of the Malta POLICE, the laws still provide many limitations. Jurisdiction limitations make it problematic for law enforcement to research the crime if it involves suspects from other countries (Petrocelli, 2005). Another obstacle for the authorities force is the fact that stalking in itself is not considered a crime under Maltese law and so certain behaviour cannot be punished if it generally does not involve; threat, harassment, trespassing, vandalism, physical violence & contact, or computer misuse. Furthermore for an action to certainly be a crime, two elements must be there: actus reus and mens rea. Therefore, prosecutors must prove that the culprit had the intent to cause harm. Except for cases when the stalking is done with an ex-partner, this is difficult to prove (Dennison & Thomson, 2002).
As the technology continues to build up, so will crime such as cyber stalking. Thus since the Internet is now more and more integrated into almost every part of human life, simple solutions such as turning off computers won't solve the condition. Instead, the frequent training of law enforcement agencies and the continuous updating of laws will end up being better countermeasures to such newly developed crimes. Citizens must also learn to protect themselves from the dangers of such crimes by attending educational talks and seminars, cooperating with criminal justice agencies, or even using the computer itself to keep updated with new trends to be able to avoid becoming victims of crime.