Cyberstalking is a recent and growing concern that has attracted the attention of courts and legislatures across the country. Cyberstalking includes a number of different types of conduct, including gossip, taunting, sexual harassment, intimidation and even threats. As the name suggests, cyberstalking occurs through the use of some form of technology such as text messaging, emails, over message boards, or many times through one of the many social networking websites. While some states cover cyberstalking within traditional stalking legislation and provide a remedy for such behavior, the nature of the offense makes it difficult to prosecute. In addition, the anonymity of the internet can make it incredibly difficult to find the perpetrator and bring him or her in for prosecution.
For perpetrators, cyberstalking is an easy crime to commit for a number of reasons. First, the victim’s personal information is easily accessible using the internet. Information like mailing addresses, email addresses, and often times even social security numbers are readily accessible. In addition, perpetrators can gain access to user names and passwords, allowing them to use the victim’s information to send emails to others or post on message boards, acting as though they are the victim. Even more troubling than the access to information for cyberstalking is the anonymity that cyberstalking allows for. The internet inherently facilitates an impersonal nature, which often causes the perpetrator to see his actions as less threatening or offensive than they really are. In addition, the internet provides a forum for people to act more aggressively that they otherwise would. Further, most stalking behavior starts as something more simple and quickly escalates. What might begin as the occasional email can end up in physical stalking. Between using different ISP addresses, anonymous emails, and non-traceable payment methods, defendants can remain completely hidden from the victim while inflicting a great amount of distress.
In order to combat cyberstalking, private businesses as well as courts and legislatures have begun to take action. The private sector has provided features that allow users to filter out unwanted stalking emails, or even just emails that contain explicit language. Many companies also reserve the right to terminate a user’s account if they find that the user has been sending threatening, annoying, or harassing emails using their server. Under Massachusetts law, cyberstalking is expressly covered through the anti-stalking statute. As the law states, any person who willfully and maliciously engages in a knowing pattern of conduct which seriously alarms, annoys, or causes a person to suffer emotional distress and makes a threat with the intent to place the victim in fear of bodily injury is guilty of stalking. The legislature went on to include that the nature of the stalking can be transmitted through electronic mail, internet communications, and even instant messages. Anyone found guilty of violating the statute could face a prison sentence of up to five years and a fine of $1,000. In addition to revising the stalking laws, the Massachusetts Supreme Court recently decided to extend domestic-violence distractions to people in online relationships. This decision is significant in that it allows for people to obtain restraining orders and other such measures against people that they have met over the internet if they have been the victim or cyberstalking.Stalking Lawyers at the Law Firm of Altman & Altman, LLP
Contact our Boston/Cambridge attorneys for a free initial consultation if you or a loved is being charged with stalking. You are entitled to the best legal defense possible. Altman & Altman can deliver that defense for you. Please call 617.492.3000 or 800.481.6199 (toll free) or contact us online to request your free case evaluation.