Effective strategies and tips to stop being a victim of online harassment
The trend of violence against women is sadly increasing. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that 35 percent of the world’s female population has suffered at least one violent episode. One aspect of this sad reality is the rising trend of technological, digital persecution.
To understand more and above all to learn how to defend ourselves, we talked to Professor Edoardo Arena, Professor of Legal and Forensic Information Technology at E-Campus University and Technical Adviser (CTU) of the Prosecutor of the Republic of Rome.
How does the online stalker act?
Before the advent of the digital age, harassment consisted mainly of physical actions carried out close to the victim. Today, with so many people owning a smartphone, perpetually “connected,” we are more easily reachable by criminals, who can act at a distance, every hour of the day and night. The next-generation stalker uses email, all types of messages that can be sent via mobile phones such as SMS, MMS, and also apps like WhatsApp or Messenger. But the form of tech harassment “par excellence” remains the classic phone call. Often the stalker calls his victim on the phone compulsively—at home, at work, and especially on the cell phone.
What does the stalker want?
The stalker feeds on the victim’s exasperation at the constant calls. The constant ringing of the phone prevents the victim from thinking, studying, working, and relaxing. Imagine continuous calls, day and night. It would drive anyone to the edge.
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In a recent case where I served as a court-appointed technical advisor, one stalker wanted to prevent the victim from working in a commercial operation that had two fixed telephone lines. For hours on end, the stalker called both fixed lines and the victim’s mobile phone, using three mobile phones that he had programmed to make constant re-calls. The stalker’s goal was to exasperate and annihilate the victim so that he would give up his business. The delinquent prevented his “target” from working, creating further frustration and significant economic damage.
Who’s the stalker?
The role of a maniacal persecutor can be played by a person close to the victim, such as a son, daughter, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, acquaintance, friend, colleague, or perfect strangers who cross the victim’s path.
What should we do in these situations?
- The first ironclad rule is that crimes should always be reported as soon as possible.
- One must never underestimate the danger of a stalker, even if he or she acts through technology, because the harassment could go from virtual to physical. And this is very dangerous. Even in case of doubt or uncertainty, it is best to go to the police and ask them what to do.
- Another basic rule is that of no contact: you must absolutely avoid answering any of the stalker’s communications. The stalker is only encouraged by the victim’s attention. He feeds on any response (harsh or gentle) that the victim unknowingly grants.
- Block all unwanted phone numbers, and also set up your email and social networks to keep the persecutor out.
- If the criminal constantly changes his telephone number and becomes “polymorphic,” meaning he takes on different “computer identities” to get around your countermeasures, then you must bring the matter to the police and to people you trust.
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The harasser’s goal is always to isolate the victim and make her feel alone and helpless. But it is important to remember that the vast majority of the technologies that stalkers use can be traced. This means that when the victim files a complaint, the police can almost always find and punish the persecutor. So you must be courageous and report the persecutor.
This article was originally published in the Italian Edition of Aleteia.