Internet Safety Tutorial

Topic #6 - Internet Stalking - The Real Truth

One of the scariest aspects of the internet is it's ability to bring people together that don't belong together.  Many times what some people think of as casual meetings between strangers can quickly change into life-threatening situations.  Internet stalking pales by comparison to internet fraud, but is more serious and even less documented.

The Stalker

There are several ways internet stalking comes about.  Although 99% of us will never be affected by it, most of us do things every day that bring us into potential contact with potential harm.  E-mailing someone that you don't know...  Flirting in a chat room...   Placing messages in an on-line adult message board...   every one of these activities carries it's own risk.  

So how do cyber stalkers operate?  Believe it or not they are the same as you and me.  They eat the same foods, they drive the same cars.  Unfortunately, they also have a propensity to lose track of reality momentarily.  Whether it's caused by something in their past or a current situation "flips the switch", they all seem as normal until you and me.  The thing to remember is that there are very few "professional" stalkers.  Most of them are just normal people.  What happens is that they either want something and become delusional about how to get it, or they have an addictive personality that eventually starts wanting more.

Chat is the easiest way for a potential stalker to find his or her prey.  Yes, males get stalked to, but only about 20% as often as females.  Chat, being the un-moderated format it is, leaves few limitations on what goes on within it.  There are cases of e-mail stalking though, so don't assume that staying out of chat is a perfect safety net.

Lastly, all cyber-stalking starts out digital.  It starts on the net.  What triggers it is dependant on the individual.  But it always has a common element; At some point the stalking treads into your off-line life.  The average stalker may be just wanting to talk, and the criminal stalker might just want to scare you, but they are both capable of creating havoc in your real life.

Warning Signs

Anyone over the age of 16 knows the warning signs of a stalker.  In our modern society stalking has become a part of our common language, and the signs of a good situation going bad are known to all of us.  Unfortunately, most of us don't take the first signs seriously, and can let things go too far before we start taking action.  It is estimated that 82% of victims knew the person enough to give them the information they needed to take stalking to the next level.  

Basically, the warning signs you should worry about are simple.  Compulsive behavior (Jealousy, intrusion into your real life) is the most obvious, but because more stalkers are merely normal people with a flip waiting to be switched, watch out for people who constantly ask for personal information.  

Probably the easiest warning sign that hardly anyone pays attention to is one we use every day in our off-line lives.  If a person comes across as crass, rude, obnoxious, or perverted in real life, we shy away.  On chat, that isn't always so.  Chat tends to be like a giant free-for-all singles bar.  Everyone has lowered their inhibitions.  Everyone expects less of the people they meet.  My point is simple; If you wouldn't be friends with a person in real life that acted that way, think hard before you become friends with someone on the net acting that way.

Where to go if you are Cyber-Stalked...

Most of us will never know a cyber stalker.  I myself have met a few unstable people on chat, and have let me guard down a few times.  We all do it.  Unfortunately, some of us will get hurt doing it, and the pain can be deadly.

There are several groups and organizations dedicating themselves to helping people in stalking situations.  I happen to have a friend that is deeply involved in one of these organizations, called SafetyEd.  Hearing some of the stories that they had to tell led me to writing this series of tutorials.  The first thing you MUST do if you or someone you know is being stalked is to let the police know.  Then let SafetyEd or a group like them know.  Whether your embarrassed or scared to talk to someone else, stalkers rely on the fact that no one else knows your situation.

In Conclusion...

I didn't like writing this tutorial.  I feel I can't do the dangers involved justice.  I've seen what happens, and it's scary.  People have no clue that the person they say hi and make a smiley :-) to one day could be trying to harm them the next.  I can never give you all the reasons why it happens, and I don't pretend to understand all the risk factors.  One of the best articles I have seen on Cyber-Stalking is here, and I suggest everyone who goes on chat read this before they say another word in a chat room.

And for those of you that think it could never happen to you.........  Please realize what you're risking.

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