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Health & Balance

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'Cyberstalking': Worse Than in-Person Harassment?

Psychologist Warns of Stress and Trauma From Stalking via the Internet

Victims of Cyberstalking

In Carll's experience, victims of cyberstalking have a wide range of emotional reactions, including high levels of stress, anxiety, fear, and helplessness as well as nightmares, hypervigilance, undereating or overeating, and sleeping difficulties.

She spoke here at the American Psychological Association's (APA) annual convention. Carll is a member of the APA media psychology division.

U.S. Department of Justice statistics show that 3.4 million adults are victims of stalking and one in four, the majority female, have become the targets of cyberstalking, according to Carll.

She says that studies also show:

  • 40% of women have experienced dating violence via social media, which can include harassing text messages and having disturbing information about them posted on social media sites.
  • 20% of online stalkers use social networking to stalk their victims.
  • 34% of female college students and 14% of male students have broken into a romantic partner's email.

What to Do About Cyberstalking

Interestingly, the same technologies used to cyber-harass can also be used to intervene and prevent harassment and violence, Carll says.

"A cell phone application that can tell you if someone threatening you is nearby could be lifesaving," she says.

"We also have to train people to protect themselves by using secure passwords," Carll says. "Never give your password to anyone else."

Also, some states are considering mandating the use of GPS tracking devices on offenders to allow victims to keep tabs on them, Carll says.

Additionally, new federal legislation that addresses all forms of technology used for harassment and stalking needs to be passed, she says.

These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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