How does online stalking differ from offline stalking?

The most obvious difference between online and offline stalking is that online stalking activities are primarily based in the world of the Internet, but the effects are the same: fear and desperation in the real world. There are other differences, though, including how legal it is, who is doing it, and what you can do about it.

In almost all kinds of stalking, the perpetrator is male, a former intimate of his target, and is generally motivated by the compulsion to control the victim. In some cases, the stalker’s motivation is revenge for a real or perceived wrong against him. Online stalking is becoming more and more prevalent in the teenage population, making it important for you to discuss the topic with your teenage children.

One of the biggest differences between online and offline stalking is that in the case of online stalking, the stalker and the victim need not be in the same locality, in fact, they can be in two different countries. Newer telecommunications technology allows anyone to communicate with anyone else as long as both parties are connected to the Internet and one has the other’s contact information.

A second major difference involves the use of third parties to intimidate or harass the victim. An online stalker can follow a person into a chat room and post misleading information while posing as that person. The stalker can sometimes even post personal information about the victim along with false or misleading information. There was a instance in California where a man posed as a woman online, posted her address and said she was interested in group sex. Needless to say, the woman was inundated with unsolicited requests from men who no doubt believed the invitation was genuine. Imagine how easy it could be for someone to do something similar to your teenager, and it becomes easy to see why it’s important to guard against cyberstalking in any way possible.

Communication technologies also allow someone who normally wouldn’t follow through on the impulse to stalk to do it because they don’t actually have to face the victim. The stalker can go on with their normal lives while terrorizing someone thousands of miles away that in all likelihood has no idea who is making their life miserable.

In the case of offline stalking, the victim has several options of redress, especially since it may not be as difficult to discover the identity of the stalker. A restraining order is pretty standard fare for the victim of a stalking, and the effectiveness of one is generally related to a person’s willingness to comply with it. In extreme cases, police protection can be arranged, or a sting operation to catch the stalker red handed may be in order.

Online stalkers leave the victim with fewer options of redress, due to the ease of hiding on the Internet. Anonymity is considered by some to be a basic right on the Internet, and can be viciously protected through the use of software that hides or disguises your IP address, Internet cafes, and the increased availability of free Internet usage in public libraries makes catching a cyberstalker very difficult. If the identity of the stalker can be ascertained, the local police department can then determine from where the criminal is doing his dirty work. If the crime crosses state lines, the FBI is likely to get involved, and once they do, a host of tools is made available to allow them to catch the stalker.

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