What actions can you take if you’re being cyber-stalked? (Photo: iStock)
Stories shared of sexual and verbal harassment are regrettably commonplace, but what’s less frequently spoken of is cyber-stalking.
Cyber-stalking is a form of online harassment, which may include a wide range of actions: bullying, threats, defamation, identity theft or even stalking in-person in addition to the online mischief. These offences can take place in conjunction with one another, or the perpetrator could be acting on only one offence.
With the widespread use of the internet, email and social, this form of harassment is one that has only emerged in recent years. Victims of cyber-stalking might not feel this is a bona fide legal concern but it can definitely become a criminal offence in numerous countries, including Canada.
So, what actions can you take if you’re being cyber-stalked? How can you protect yourself?
The options are to get a protection order so the stalker is prohibited from communicating with you (this includes peace bonds and restraining orders) or to escalate the incidents to authorities, which might lead to charges pressed if the case is severe enough in the eyes of the law. If you believe your safety is at risk, taking action is crucial to ensure you and your family are protected.
Protection orders could be filed if you feel you or your children are in immediate danger. However, these might not apply if the cyber-stalker is outside the country. If your cyber-stalker is anywhere in Canada and is someone known or unknown to the victim, a peace bond may be issued. If your harasser has family ties with you (married, living together, have children together), you can apply for a restraining order.
In Canada, cyberstalking (also known as “online harassment”) falls under “criminal harassment” and it recognizes all forms of stalking as a crime. This means that certain sections of the Criminal Code apply in some situations of cyberstalking. If it’s severe enough to meet those criteria, the perpetrator could be prosecuted.
If you are being stalked, and are not in any impending or immediate danger, these tips may help:
- Keeping a digital and physical record of messages, screen captures of interactions, dates and times of communications from the perpetrator;
- Not accepting friend requests on social media from people you do not personally know;
- Never agreeing to meet the perpetrator in person, even if they promise to work things out;
- Do not publicly post online about any personal plans (like travel plans or personal whereabouts);
- Do not aggravate the perpetrator, but do let them know the correspondence is unwelcome (this will act as a point of reference for police investigations and/or legal proceedings).
These are just a few tips to help manage your online life if you’ve encountered a cyber-stalker or to minimize risk if you aren’t in imminent danger.
Remember that harassment is harassment no matter what, online or offline. Put your safety first and always stay vigilant.