It is important to understand how to prove you’re being stalked, how to gather evidence properly and how to be heard. You need to know what the prosecutors (the Crown Prosecution Service) are looking for when they decide on charges and what they need to hear about in terms of the impact on a victim. In this article, we look at cyberstalking.
What is cyberstalking?
Cyberstalking is a form of harassment which takes place on the internet and through the misuse of email. It includes use of social networking sites, chatrooms and other forums facilitated by technology.
The cyberstalker uses the internet for a range of purposes with the intent to harass. The kinds of things that the stalker does are (along with other things):
- Locate personal information about a victim;
- Communicate with the victim;
- Surveillance of the victim;
- Identity theft such as subscribing the victim to services, purchasing goods and services in their name;
- Damage the reputation of the victim;
- Electronic sabotage such as spamming and sending viruses; or
- Tricking other internet users into harassing or threatening a victim.
When the Crown Prosecution decides on charges, what risk factors can be taken into account?
Risk factors they consider include:
- Whether the complainant is fearful of what the suspect might do to them or someone else. This degree of fear maybe shared by the victim’s friends, family and colleagues;
- Whether the nature of the suspect’s behaviour is so extreme that the victim’s physical and mental health are affected by the harassment;
- Whether there is vulnerability which may make them particularly susceptible to harassment, such as mental health difficulties, physical disability, learning difficulties, or residence in an isolated location;
- Whether the complainant truly understands any risks and is capable of exercising caution, for example through applying appropriate personal safety measures such as carrying a personal alarm or securing their home.
The importance of Victim Personal Statements
The Crown Prosecution Service recommends, in cases of stalking and harassment, that the police encourage the use of Victim Personal Statements when dealing with these cases. Such statements can be particularly useful when drafting restraining orders.
The purpose of the Victim Personal statement is to:
- Give victims an opportunity to state how the crime has affected them physically, emotionally, psychologically, financially or in any other way. This allows the court to have first hand information about the way in which the defendant’s behaviour has impacted upon the victim;
- Allow victims to express their concerns about the stalker being allowed bail or about any fear of intimidation by, or on behalf of the defendant;
- Provide victims with a means by which they can state whether they want information, for example, about the progress of the case;
- Provide victims with the opportunity to state whether they want to claim compensation or request support from Victim Support or any other agency; and
- Provide criminal justice agencies with a ready source of information on how a particular crime has affected the victim involved.