Cyberstalking causes intense stress than harassment: Study

Last Updated: Aug 08, 2011, 00:00 AM IST

Houston: Cyberstalking has been proved to cause more intense stress, that may be worse than being harassed or stalked in person, according to a new study.

Trauma associated with being stalked or tormented via modern technology can have far-reaching implications for mental health. The psychologists say it`s important to find ways to cope.

For all its obvious benefits, there is also a dark side to the cyberworld: online stalking and harassment that can leave victims feeling as if there`s no safe haven providing escape from their pursuers.

"It`s a new method for an old problem," says Dr Elizabeth Carll, a clinical psychologist in Long Island, NY.

"Obviously the ones that everyone is aware of is putting false and humiliating information on the Internet, such as discussion boards, blogs, message boards, Facebook, as well as sending harassing emails and text messages", she said.

But the psychological fallout from such electronic bully tactics can be even more devastating for those targeted than face-to-face exchanges, said Carll, who presented a talk on the issue on Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Washington.

"The symptoms of harassment and e-harassment are very similar, anxiety, fear, nightmares, feelings of helplessness, hypervigilence, having eating and sleeping difficulties, feeling out of control, a loss of personal safety ? all of those kind of things go with harassment," she said.

Someone being harassed at work can`t necessarily evade their persecutor at home because computers and cellphones can allow incoming emails, texts and phone calls to continue 24-7, she said.

Even telephone caller ID isn`t foolproof for avoiding contact ? there are ways to alter the name that comes up when the phone rings, a technique dubbed "caller ID spoofing."

Cyberstalking is particularly traumatising because its reach is global, Carll said in an interview from Washington.
Citing statistics from the US Justice Department and other sources, Carll said 850,000 American adults, mostly women, are targets of cyberstalking each year.

40 per cent of women have experienced dating violence delivered electronically, including harassing text messages and disturbing information about them posted on social media sites.

20 per cent of online stalkers use social networking to keep tabs on their victims. 34 per cent of female college students and 14 per cent of male students have broken into a romantic partner`s email.

One insidious form of cyberstalking involves installing spyware on a victim`s computer, allowing the perpetrator to read the person`s personal emails, track websites visited and steal passwords. "They could also send viruses and spam and harmful programs that could compromise or destroy their computer," she said.

A number of American states are looking at legislation to counter cyberstalking, while some already have laws in place.

Carll said that if ignoring a cyberstalker`s actions doesn`t stop the harassment, then getting law enforcement involved may be the only way to bring it to an end.

And those targeted should never respond to the person bedevilling them online, she said.

PTI