The Emergence of Cyberstalking
These days it is hard to imagine a world without handheld devices, home computers, and social media. Nevertheless, computers were not prevalent just a few decades ago. In the world of law, a few decades is a short span of time, which makes cyberstalking quite a new legal scenario. That is why it can be extremely helpful to understand the definition of cyberstalking, some common examples and contexts of how cyberstalking occurs, and to know more about the state and federal laws that surround this crime. If any of these questions satisfy curiosities and concerns you harbor, then you have come to the right place.
What Exactly Constitutes Cyberstalking?
To answer this question, it is best to first clarify what stalking specifically entails. Legally, stalking is defined as the repeated and intentional following of an individual with the motivation to harass, and/or with the explicit or implicit intention of threatening the victim’s physical safety. This definition even extends to situations where the stalker claims to have romantic instead of violent motivations for their actions. Furthermore, stalking pertains to several situations where such behavior leads to fear, fright, intimidation, or “emotional distress.” This means that the stalker need not even threaten the alleged victim themselves. In some situations, there might instead be a legitimate reason to suspect that one’s spouse, family member, or pet is being threatened with potential harm.
In terms of cyberstalking, the definition remains pretty much the same, while the domain in which the conduct takes place changes to the virtual realm. Cyberstalking therefore entails cases where a pursuer perpetuates the same indiscretions of a legally defined stalker over one or multiple forms of communications systems and/or media. Whether the offender stalks a victim over the internet, social media, telephone calls, text messages, or a variety of these mediums simultaneously does not matter. What does matter is that they are committing a stalking offense over some form of cyberspace.
Are you a victim of cyberstalking? Do you want to know even more about where to turn, and what recourses to take? At The Springer Law Firm, we have 80+ years of collective experience fighting for your protections. Contact us online or call us at (281) 990-6025 today
What Are Some Concrete Examples of Cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is a crime that can be committed in a variety of ways. To get an idea of just how variegated its abuses are, let us look at a few recent incidents. In a recent FBI report, a few cases were spelled out in striking detail. The first case, which occurred in Texas, involved an ex who allegedly intimidated his former partner by creating a social media page that disclosed private information, and then insistently threatened to publicize revealing photos. Another case, in Oklahoma, veered into extortion as well. In this situation, a man blackmailed a woman with nude photos, demanding 50 thousand dollars if she wanted to avoid the images being shared.
If Convicted, What Penalties Do Perpetrators Face?
The punishments vary from incident to incident, but here’s a quick overview of theoretical federal punishments:
- If cyberstalking results in death, the punishment extends to life in prison.
- If victim is permanently handicapped or disfigured, the punishment extends to 20 years.
- If victim is seriously injured, the punishment extends up to 10 years.
- For less severe cases, the punishment extends to 5 years or a fine.
Is Cyberstalking a State or Federal Crime?
In short, it depends. Cyberstalking can be a tricky offense to classify given the wide-ranging mobility of communication devices and the ability to commit a cyberstalking crime remotely, and thus interstate. To help clarify where things get especially confusing, let us quickly point out the key difference between state and federal laws. State laws are immanent to a specific state. That means, they involve crimes entirely committed within the borders of one single state. Federal laws, on the other hand, are crimes that cross state lines. Thus, they occur in 2 or more states.
There are some states, like Texas, that have specific state laws that address cyberstalking directly. Other states, like Iowa, simply include cyberstalking into their definition of stalking. For example, according to Section 1B of Iowa Code 708.11, the course of conduct that pertains to circumstances of stalking includes not only persistently staying within unwanted physical proximity to a person “without legitimate purpose,” but also “repeatedly utilizing a technological device to locate, listen to, or watch a person without legitimate purpose, or repeatedly conveying oral or written threats.” Clearly, this definition includes cyberstalking within its purview.
The federal law that most directly addresses cyberstalking is 18 U.S. Code § 2261A. Like we saw in Iowa, the statute merely refers to this type of illegal conduct as stalking. This is somewhat unfortunate as many erroneously construe stalking to be contained to the realm of purely physical examples of stalking. However, the law goes out of its way to expand its definition to apply to situations where stalking occurs via electronic communication services, and therefore includes cases of cyberstalking under its code.
Why Is this Important?
To put it simply, depending on whether cyberstalking falls under state laws or federal laws will impact which legal actions you will need to take to receive legal protection, including pursuing charges and/or attaining a restraining order. State and federal laws fall under separate bureaucratic jurisdictions, and involve different departments, types of law enforcement, and methods of seeking legal recourse in the court of law.
If you are a victim of cyberstalking and need help figuring out whether your legal scenario fits under state or federal jurisdictions, reach out to us online or call our esteemed legal professionals at (281) 990-6025 today!