College of Criminal Justice News

Thursday, January 31, 2013

New Study Identifies Similarities, Differences Between Stalking and Cyberstalking


Victims of cyberstalking take more self-protective measures, pay higher out-of-pocket costs to combat the problem and experience greater fear over time than traditional stalking victims, said Dr. Matt Nobles of Sam Houston State University.

“We wanted to investigate where there are similarities and differences between stalking and cyberstalking, and there is a lot of work that still has to be done on that issue,” said Dr. Nobles, an Assistant Professor at SHSU’s College of Criminal Justice. “But independent of the conceptual discussion, the evidence shows that cyberstalking is tremendously disruptive to the lives of the victims. The financial cost of cyberstalking is also very serious.”

Dr. Matt Nobles
Dr. Matt Nobles
Dr. Nobles, along with Drs. Bradford Reyns of Weber State University, Kathleen Fox of Arizona State University and Bonnie Fisher of the University of Cincinnati, recently published a study in Justice Quarterly comparing the similarities and differences in experiences reported by victims of stalking and cyberstalking. While a precise definition of cyberstalking is elusive, one common definition is repeated harassment or threats facilitated by technology, including electronic communication using the Internet, email and social media.

The study found that while victims of both stalking and cyberstalking use many similar self-protective behaviors, a greater proportion of cyberstalking victims reported that they had to take time off; change or quit a job or school; avoid relatives, friends or holiday celebrations; and change their email address when compared to victims of traditional stalking.

PhotoThe financial costs associated with victimization, which could include legal fees, property damage, child care costs, moving expenses or a change in phone number, were also much higher for cyberstalking victims, with an average dollar value of more than $1,200 spent compared to about $500 for traditional stalking victims.

Finally, there were interesting differences in how stalking and cyberstalking victims responded to their experiences. Fear at the onset of victimization was related to adopting self-protective behaviors for both groups, but fear over time was associated with adopting more self-protective behaviors for cyberstalking victims only. This suggests that the stalking episode may provoke an immediate reaction for many victims, while the cyberstalking condition tends to build and becomes more severe over time.

Photo of a women looking frightened as she looks into a computer screenThe research was based on the 2006 Supplemental Victimization Survey from the National Criminal Crime Victimization Survey, which explored stalking as part of a national sample conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau to identify the extent and characteristics of crime in a given year. The 2006 Supplement was the most current data available for analysis.

In addition to the differential impact on victims, the study also revealed differences between age and gender of cyberstalking versus stalking victims. In cases of stalking, approximately 70 percent of the victims were women, while female victims only represented 58 percent in cyberstalking cases. In addition, the average age for stalking victims in the sample was 40.8 years old, while cyberstalking victims averaged 38.4 years old.

Woman reacts in shock to text on her phoneAs an emergent crime type, the cyberstalking study can be used by professionals and state legislatures to better understand the causes and consequences of cyberstalking and how the crime can be addressed in the criminal justice system. According to Nobles, the findings are especially illuminating for non-victims who struggle to understand how cyberstalking impacts victims’ lives.

“Cyberstalking isn’t checking out someone’s Facebook profile several times a week,” Dr Nobles said. “It isn’t cute or funny. The data tell us that it’s very real and it can be terrifying.”

The study, entitled “Protection Against Pursuit: A Conceptual and Empirical Comparison of Cyberstalking and Stalking Victimization Among a National Sample,” was published online by Justice Quarterly in September 2012.


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