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Teenangels / Scrapbook / Articles / Saving Surfers; Lifeguards Wanted by Teenangel Lisa

Saving Surfers; Lifeguards Wanted by Teenangel Lisa

When I signed up to work for Parry Aftab, a leading attorney in Internet safety and privacy protection and the founder of, the world's largest Internet safety organization, I imagined myself doing important work like protecting children from viewing S+M sights and tracing and prohibiting the spread of child pornography: this kind of work is what she is most known for, after all. Instead, I was assigned to work on cyberstalkers and I thought, "Oh great. A really pressing, important issue." I felt that anyone who was stalked on the Internet only had their own stupidity to blame. If a stranger was harassing me, I thought, I would simply block them, or change my screen name or e-mail address. I really thought it was just that simple.

After several months of research and writing about cases and laws concerning cyberstalking and harassment, I'm here to tell you, without even a hint of sarcasm, that it really is a pressing and important issue. It is also an interesting issue in that the victims of cyberstalking are of an unusual profile in that they are often from advantaged backgrounds, a privilege which is rarely associated with victimization. I was jarred to find out that smart, educated, involved teenage girls, very much like myself, were the victims of this crime in more cases than not. I was also confronted with the scary reality that cyber harassment is not merely an annoyance, an inappropriate comment, or even an aggressive sexual advance as I fist expected. It's something that has threatened the lives of many of its victims and has claimed the lives of others. And it is much more prevalent than one would think: assists 600 victims of cyberstalking every month.

How does this happen, you ask? There are a variety of ways. Stalkers most commonly meet their victims in chat rooms, where they often lie about their age, gender, location, and interests. It's over the Internet, that part is easy. Once they have obtained even the most basic personal information about their victims, say, a phone number, they can trace them and often threaten to hurt the victim or his or her family if their demands, which are often sexual in nature, are not met.

Another way is when the Internet is used to harass or threaten someone the aggressor already knows, often via e-mail or instant messaging. Common scenarios are jealous lovers, men whose sexual advances were rejected, people hurt by a previous relationship, or anyone seeking to embarrass or exact revenge.

In addition, the Internet may be used to track people without any interaction whatsoever. Searchable databases like those universities provide and The Facebook and Friendster, as well as away messages, provide an easy means for a stalker to keep track of a victims' whereabouts without the victim ever knowing he or she is being watched.

The first scenario is the most dangerous and tells the story of Katie Tarbox, now a spokesperson for Internet safety who has created both a book and documentary on the issue. At age thirteen, she unknowingly put her life at risk when she secretly arranged to meet her Internet boyfriend, who she believed to be about her age, at a swim meet her team was attending in another state, only to find out that he was in his 40s. Her case became a landmark as it was the first to be tried under the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

Today, forty-two states have anti-stalking statues specifically mention Electronic Communications, but there is no federal law in the US . Western Europe has been the most progressive area internationally in terms of establishing federal laws that seek to prohibit cyberstalking. In terms of what she would like to see in the future of Internet safety law, Aftab said "I would like to see a federal cyberstalking law that deals with cyberstalking by proxy issues, and serious threats."

If you would like to learn more about the issue, and what you could do to help, please use our General Contact Form.

Teenangel Lisa

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