Posted: 10/31/2021 09:18:52 AM
The North West District Attorney’s Office’s Domestic Violence Unit held a two-hour webinar on Thursday to share with about 100 participants the methods used by cyber-stalkers and to offer tips on how to stay safe.
The informational webinar was led by National Cyberbullying Expert Dana Fleitman, of the Harassment Prevention, Awareness and Resource Center (SPARC) based in Washington, DC. Attendees included representatives from the Salasin Project and the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition (NELCWIT), both based in Greenfield, as well as members of the public. North West District Attorney David Sullivan and Mary A. Kociela, Director of Domestic and Sexual Violence Projects in the Attorney’s Office, were also in attendance.
Fleitman explained that stalking is a pattern of behavior directed against a particular person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of others, or to suffer significant emotional distress. Harassment can consist of unwanted contact, impersonating a victim, or hacking into someone’s online accounts.
Criminal harassment is often accompanied by physical assault and sexual violence, including rape. She said 20% of stalkers use weapons to threaten or hurt victims, and 76% of intimate partner feminicides – the murder of a romantic partner by a man – included stalking in the past year. Fleitman quoted Patrick Brady, from the Department of Criminology at the University of West Georgia, as saying, âStalking is slow motion homicide.
Understanding criminal harassment and the fear it engenders is a matter of context, Fleitman said. She shared the story of a woman who received a photo of an alligator or crocodile via text message. The law enforcement officer she told about this felt the message was more or less benign until he learned that the stalker once told the woman he would kill her and would give it to alligators in Florida. Fleitman mentioned that the women were given flowers – a gesture that appears harmless and gentle – after being told they would receive flowers on the day of their murder.
Fleitman also shared data which showed that most of the harassment occurs after a relationship has ended, although it can also take place during a relationship. She said more than one in six women and one in 17 men will experience stalking in their lifetime. Signs that a person knows they are being harassed include personality changes, increased security or privacy measures, and isolation or withdrawal from typical activities.
Stalkers can use surveillance, life invasion, and intimidation to victimize people. Fleitman said stalkers can hack or manipulate GPS or smart devices or install cameras to monitor someone’s activity. She said password protection on online accounts can sometimes be moot, as a stalker can often easily deduce a password or an answer to a security question, if they’ve ever had a relationship with the victim, which is often the case.
Stalkers may resort to blackmail, sextortion (sexual exploitation in which the abuse of power is the means of coercion) or threats. They may also resort to posting private photos or information of a victim and spreading rumors, doxing and swatting. Doxing is the online posting of private or identifying information about a particular person, while swatting is the act of deceptively sending police or other emergency personnel to the office. location of a person to surprise and disrupt their life. Fleitman said stalkers can call 911 and claim that a particular address is the home of a terrorist or sex trafficking ring.
She suggested that people should never post sensitive information online. She also introduced them to general online information databases such as FastPeopleSearch.com, TruePeopleSearch.com and PeopleSearchNow.com, and said these sites collect information from voter registrations and other public records. , not necessarily social media pages. Fleitman gave his guests time to research their identities, and the comments section of the Zoom page was quickly filled with people horrified to have found past and current information about them and their loved ones. Fleitman explained that most of these sites allow people to manually opt out of having their information online.
She encouraged people to follow SPARC on social media, @FollowUsLegally. She also mentioned that more information is available on stalkingawareness.org and she can be contacted at [email protected] with questions.