Cyberstalking: Issue on the Rise

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By: Kara Duffy

Florida ranks number four on the list of top locations for victims stalked online - that's according to a new study by the organization 'working to halt online abuse.'

And the odds of you becoming a victim continue to increase.

The power of technology can be a beautiful thing. It can help save lives; it can help build communities, and it can help friends, separated by hundreds of miles, stay in touch. However, technology can also have an ugly, even dangerous side.

"If you were going to stalk before the internet, you actually had to go out and physically follow somebody, watch somebody and run the risk of getting found out,” Kevin Wiggins, FDLE Cyber Security Analyst, said. “The internet makes it so you can sit in your living room and do whatever you want to do from the comfort of your home and the safety of your home."

Between social media sites, the web, and message boards, there's now more ways than ever for cyber stalkers to strike. "Who's stalking who" has also changed and become even more alarming.

"The incidents of strangers being stalked, by other strangers is significantly high and it's because of the ability to stalk somebody in another country, as well as somebody next door," Mary McLaughlin, FDLE Cyber Security Analyst, said.

It's an incident 22-year-old Heather Kelly from Cairo is all too familiar with. Kelly says she began getting harassed on Facebook and through text messages back in June 2011 from her ex-boyfriend, his new girlfriend, and their army of followers.

"They were calling me a slut,” Heather Kelly, Cyber Harassment Victim, said. “They were calling me a whore. They were calling me ugly curse words that I rather not say, but they were saying pretty hateful things. They'd post pictures of me that they'd get off my Facebook page and post them to their Facebooks."

Kelly says the harassment went on for more than a year, and although she sought advice from local police, says she never went though with pressing charges. Something experts say isn't uncommon.

"The problem comes in with the phrase, "to cause substantial, emotional distress,” Mclaughlin said. “That's sometimes hard to define, and because of that, people are a little confused about whether or not they're actually being cyber stalked or are they just being annoyed?"

Kelly says after making some major privacy changes to her social media sites, the harassment eventually stopped. Her emotional scars, however, were still there.

"I was embarrassed to go out in public,” Kelly said. “I was embarrassed of who knew what or who thought what or what was even being said and who was even saying it."

Experts say if you even have even the slightest inkling you're being victimized, the best thing to do is to keep records of everything.

"Keep every email,” McLaughlin said. “Keep every text message; take screen shots of pictures posted, or things that are posted on Facebook."

McLaughin says law enforcement officials can take it from there.

According to that same study, the gap between male and female harassers has also changed over the years.

In 2012, they were about the same, 49% men, 31% women. Back in 2000, however, men were much more dominant, making up 68% of the harassers.

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