Victims of cyberstalking take more self-protective measures, pay higher out-of-pocket costs to combat the problem and experience greater fear over time than traditional stalking victims, according to Matt Nobles, assistant professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University.
Nobles—along with Bradford Reyns of Weber State University, Kathleen Fox of Arizona State University, and Bonnie Fisher of the University of Cincinnati—recently published a study in Justice Quarterly comparing the experiences reported by victims of stalking and cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is commonly defined as repeated harassment or threats facilitated by technology.
“We wanted to investigate where there are similarities and differences between stalking and cyberstalking, and there is a lot of work that still has to be done on that issue,” Nobles said. “But independent of the conceptual discussion, the evidence shows that cyberstalking is tremendously disruptive to the lives of the victims. The financial cost of cyberstalking is also very serious.”
The study found that while victims of both use many similar self-protective behaviors, a greater proportion of cyberstalking victims reported that they had to take time off; change or quit a job or school; avoid relatives, friends or holiday celebrations; and change their email address when compared to victims of traditional stalking.
The financial costs associated with victimization—which could include legal fees, property damage, child care costs, moving expenses or a change in phone number—were also much higher for cyberstalking victims, with an average dollar value of more than $1,200 spent compared to about $500 for traditional stalking victims.
Victims also responded to their experiences differently. Fear at the onset of victimization was related to adopting self-protective behaviors for both groups, but fear over time was associated with adopting more self-protective behaviors for cyberstalking victims only. This suggests that the stalking episode may provoke an immediate reaction for many victims, while the cyberstalking condition tends to build and becomes more severe over time, Nobles said.
The research was based on the 2006 Supplemental Victimization Survey, the most current data available for analysis, from the National Criminal Crime Victimization Survey, which explored stalking as part of a national sample conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau to identify the extent and characteristics of crime in a given year.
The study also revealed differences between age and gender of victims. In cases of stalking, approximately 70 percent of the victims were women, while female victims only represented 58 percent in cyberstalking cases. The average age for stalking victims in the sample was 40.8 years old, while cyberstalking victims averaged 38.4 years old.
The cyberstalking study can be used by professionals and state legislatures to better understand the causes and consequences of cyberstalking and how it can be addressed in the criminal justice system. The findings are especially illuminating for non-victims who struggle to understand how cyberstalking impacts victims’ lives, Nobles said.
“Cyberstalking isn't checking out someone’s Facebook profile several times a week,” he said. “It isn't cute or funny. The data tell us that it’s very real and it can be terrifying.”
The study, “Protection Against Pursuit: A Conceptual and Empirical Comparison of Cyberstalking and Stalking Victimization Among a National Sample,” was published online by Justice Quarterly in September 2012.