Harassment Online

Menstuff® has compiled the following information on online harrassment.

If You Have Been Harassed Online: What to Do
Top Ten Mistakes
Simple Avoidance Tactics
If It Does Happen
CyberStalking Links

If You Have Been Harassed Online: What to Do


1. Determine if the behavior is really harassment. Someone disagreeing with you is NOT harassment. Even if they disagree with you strongly. It is also usually not harassment if a person contacts you or posts about you once. Harassment consists of the intentional crossing of your emotional or physical safety boundaries. You must have boundaries set in place clearly in order for that to apply.

Here is the legal definition of harassment according to Black's Law Dictionary: "a course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress in such person and serves no legitimate purpose" or "words, gestures, and actions which tend to annoy, alarm and abuse (verbally) another person."

This is of course a very broad definition which state and federal legislation and common law have narrowed and refined in various ways. However, for our purposes, we will define online harassment as any actions that meet the qualifications of the above definition after the harasser has been told to cease. This definition, due to its broadness, is useful in that it fails to put value judgements on the complaints of individuals.

2. Tell the harasser to STOP! Clearly tell the perpetrator that his/her email, posts, comments, IRC or ICQ communications are unwanted and that you want an immediate end to them. Sometimes the best approach to this is a simple, rational "I am sorry that you feel that way, but I really feel that you are crossing some boundaries for me here and I would prefer it if we ended our communication here."

3. Contact the site administrator. If the behavior persists, you may want to contact the administrator responsible for the site. Who is the site administrator and how do you locate them? S/he is the operator of the BBS, the sysadmin of the system on which the web-based chat or other server is placed, or in the case of email the sysadmin of the system that the person harassing you is mailing from.

Most often, sites have an address called postmaster@[that site].com or webmaster@[that site] that you can use to report problems. If that fails, you can usually find contact addresses at web sites , which you can find by looking up the host name in a search engine like Alta Vista or Lycos (to name just a couple) or you can look them up through the internic. Searching for sites in the USA [.com, .mil, .org, .edu, .us and .gov] will give you the full contact information including names and addresses. The site is... rs.internic.net/cgi-bin/whois . Just type in the address after the "@" symbol.

4. Determine your desired result. What do you want to see happen in this situation? Try to think of this more rationally than emotionally, and try to be realistic about what you can expect.

Some very reasonable and realistic goals might be :

5. Take care of you first. In spite of what some people may say to you, words can hurt a lot. No matter what decisions you make about dealing with harassment, put your own emotional needs first. Sometimes you may want to simply walk away, and that's alright. There are times that we are too vulnerable to fight a battle. Get yourself into some safe places, talk it out with friends or ask me for a referral to organizations and/or professionals that can help you work through this.

6. Decide how you want to proceed. If you feel that no progress has been made after attempts to contact and educate the site administrator, you may feel that you want to pursue the matter in some other way. I can make suggestions and refer you to other sources if that is your desire at that time.
Source: www.daffi.org/if_you_have_been_harassed.htm

Top Ten Mistakes


Not listening to your intuition. As countless stories reveal, you need to keep your internal radar tuned to pick up signals that something might be wrong.

Letting someone down easy, instead of saying a definitive NO if your not interested in a relationship. Trying to be nice can lead a potentially obsessive suitor to hear what he wants instead of the message that your not interested.

Ignoring the early warning signs that annoying attention might escalate into dangerous harassment and pursuit.

Responding to a stalker in any way, shape or form. That means not acceding to your stalkers demands even once he or she has introduced threats.

Trying to reason or bargain with a stalker. Stalking is a like a long rape.

Seeking a restraining or protective order. All to often, this one act propels stalkers to act violently.

Expecting police to solve your problems and make it go away. Even the LAPD's Threat Management Unit says that victims have to take 100 percent responsibility for their dealing with the situation.

Taking inadequate privacy and safety precautions.

Neglecting to enlist the support of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, therapists and other victims. It may be tough to admit you're being stalked, but it's not your fault. Learn how to gather the people who will constitute your first line of defense.

Ignoring your emotional needs during and after a stalking. Do you know how to get support you need?
Source: www.daffi.org/top_ten.htm

Simple Avoidance Tactics


Be Careful Who You Talk To. The greatest thing about the Internet is that you can talk to people you might never have been able to talk to in any other way. Even if there's no immediate threat of physical danger on the Internet, you still have to be careful who you talk to. You don't have to be nice to everyone, you don't have to get into a conversation with everyone who demands your attention, and you don't have to answer unsolicited e-mail, even if it's mail telling you how nice your Web page looks. If you feel at all uncomfortable with the conversation you're having with someone online, you have every right to stop all communication.

Be Even More Careful Who You Decide To Meet In Person. Friendships and professional relationships you start online can be special, beneficial relationships. But it's very difficult to predict what someone is like in person just from some text, GIF or video of them. Someone may seem normal on the phone even when they aren't. Be extra careful when you bring your online friendships offline. For your first meeting, bring a friend and/or meet in a public place.

Stalk Yourself. From your user ID to what Internet directories say about you--check all the information about you that could possibly be online. Every time you put a piece of personal information into someone else's hands, you are giving them power over you. Be careful where you send your real name, address, phone number, picture, or work history. Think about whether you really want your full resume on the Web. Every person has to weigh the benefits and risks and decide what personal information they want to put online. The trick is to know what's out there and how to hide that information if you need to.
Source: www.daffi.org/simple_avoidance_tactics.htm

Checklist on your Personal Information.


Is your user ID obviously female? How much of your name does it reveal?

Check your .sig file for personal info such as your full name, address (even just city and state), workplace, and phone numbers. 

Have ICQ? Remove any information in your Global Directory (user's details) that could tell a person who you are or where you are. Check that the email address listed is not your personal email. Use one of the free one's on the internet.

Use finger to see what kinds of information might be listed about you, especially if you have a .edu account. If you think finger reveals too much about you, edit your .plan file or contact your system administrator for help.

Does your Web site contain a photo, a resume, your name, address, or phone numbers? Any information about friends, family, or the area where you live?

Check your source code to make sure registration information (like your name) hasn't been inserted by your HTML editor.

Internet directories. Remember six months ago when you put your resume on that BBS? Did you ever leave personal information at someone's Web site for all to see? Check Web/Usenet search engines (Alta Vista, WebCrawler) and 411 phone directories for your name.

Is your phone number listed in the local phone book? Your address? Could someone conceivably make a link between your online information and what's in the local phone directories?

How easy would it be for someone to find you at work? What kinds of security measures do you have there?
Source: www.daffi.org/checklist.htm

If It Does Happen


If you are getting unsolicited e-mail or other forms of communication from someone you don't know or have no contact with, your best defense is to just ignore it. If the harasser doesn't have much of a personal image to latch onto, they may detach and go on to someone else. But don't let it go too far hoping the person will give up. Take precautions now in case it gets ugly later.

1. Archive Every Piece of Communication Relating to the Situation: Save every piece of communication you get from this person. Save all of the e-mail header information you can if it is an e-mail or newsgroup posting. If you are getting chat requests, ICQ or IRC messages, or any other type of communication, take a screenshot, print it out, and write notes on it. Send copies of each harassing communication to your postmaster and the harasser's provider.

Don't forget to save communications to postmasters, providers, system administrators, police, supervisors at work, and security specialists.

2. Start a Log. In addition to your archive of communications, start a log that explains the situation in more detail. Document how the harassment is affecting your life, and document what steps you're taking to stop it.

3. Tell Your Harasser To Cease and Desist. It is important that you contact your harasser directly telling him or her in simple, strong, and formal terms to stop contacting you. You must state that the communications are unwanted and inappropriate and that you will take further action if it does not stop. Don't worry about whether your letter sounds too harsh--make sure it's professional and to the point. CC: your postmaster and your harasser's. Archive the mail you have sent, and note that you sent it in your log.

After you send this mail, your communication to this person must stop. Any further communication can feed the situation. The harasser's behavior will be rewarded by your attention, so it will continue. Also, if the case goes to court, your harasser can report that the communication was going both ways, and it could damage your case. It is best to keep quiet no matter how tempted you are to defend yourself. It is important that you tell your friends not to communicate with the harasser in your defense for the same reasons.

4. Tell the Right People. If this person makes contact with you via video conferencing, notify the owners or reflector monitors (refmons) of the reflector sites you frequent. The refmons can assist you and watch for any inappropriate behavior. They may even remove him from the reflector and/or ban him. There is a network of refmons out there and word can be passed on about harassment from a particular person.

Report the situation to your system administrator(s), your friends, family, and coworkers. Tell your supervisor and work security personnel. Tell your apartment building's security people. Report the situation to your local police. The FBI will also take down a complaint, and they'll follow up on it if they have the manpower.

5. Take Police Action. Many states have modified their stalking laws to include electronic communications. Many states will let you file for a restraining order in cases like this, and the courts will often let you ask that your harasser pay for any filing fees. You'll need the person's address if you want to serve them with a restraining order or press charges against them. The police can get this information from the harasser's postmaster if they need to.

6. Protect Your Online Space. Change your password frequently. Pay attention to your files, directories, and last logout information. Monitor information about yourself on the Net with Alta Vista and other search engines. You might want

to lay low for a while if the person is haunting you in Usenet or on IRC.

7. Protect your offline space. Take all the precautions you would if an old boyfriend was acting crazy, especially if you think the person can find you at home or at work.
Source: www.daffi.org/if_it_does_happen.htm

CyberStalking Links

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