In the digital age the concept of "stalking" has taken on new meaning. While many people jokingly refer to looking at someone's online profile as "stalking," you should be aware when seemingly innocent patterns of behaviour develop into something darker. One thing to watch out for is your interactions on instant-messenger apps, as this medium of constant communication can potentially lead to some dangerous situations. Here is how to tell if you're being WhatsApp stalked.
Rory Innes from the Cyber Helpline UK explains that if someone is persistently and unwantedly making themselves known to you, across multiple platforms then it’s likely you’re being cyber stalked. Protection Against Stalking defines cyber stalking as “a pattern of fixated and obsessive behaviour which is repeated, persistent, intrusive and causes fear of violence or engenders alarm and distress in the victim.”
Anti-stalking laws in the UK are constantly being revisited and reconsidered in order to adapt to an ever-changing world of technology. Under UK law, stalking has a fairly broad definition. As the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) states:
"Whilst there is no strict legal definition of 'stalking', section 2A (3) of the PHA 1997 sets out examples of acts or omissions which, in particular circumstances, are ones associated with stalking. For example, following a person, watching or spying on them or forcing contact with the victim through any means, including social media. For example, following a person, watching or spying on them or forcing contact with the victim through any means, including social media".
Innes says that you should look at the way the perpetrator is behaving but also how it makes you feel. Reporting someone for stalking you on WhatsApp may seem dramatic but if you’re feeling threatened then it could be crucial to your safety.
Innes explains that when you’re the victim of online stalking your first reaction may be to block that person’s number and delete their messages. However, building a case with as much evidence possible for the police is crucial. This may mean keeping any messages they’ve sent to you.
“The best thing you can do if you think you’re being cyberstalked is contact an expert of a charity,” says Innes, “Stalking is extremely serious. Make sure you’re safe and then you really want to gather as much evidence as you can. Screenshot messages and make sure that information is in a safe place.”
Stalking and harassment over WhatsApp doesn’t just equate to constant messaging. Innes explains that if someone is messaging you in an overfamiliar or threatening way then it may be a good idea to seek help.
With reports coming out about the ways in which social networking sites fuel stalking, and shows such as Netflix'sYou bringing to light how situations of stalking can unfold, it's clear that we all need to remain as vigilant as possible when it comes to interactions with people online.
“A lot of people don’t want to go to the police because they think the fact that they’re constantly getting messages isn’t that important but it can be vitally important,” says Innes, “Stalking is still not particularly well understood but if you feel like you’re being cyber stalked and are dismissed by the police then speak to a specialist. They can help you with the engagement with the police. They’ll also be able to outline the severity of the case.”
Cyber stalking using apps like WhatsApp is often used as a tool for further abuse. In many cases people know their stalker personally. Dr Lisa Johnson MBE, manager of Women's Aid Direct Services says, “perpetrators of domestic abuse often stalk the survivor as a way of exerting control and engendering fear. They are increasingly using technology to control and intimidate. We encourage survivors to trust their instincts and report this criminal behaviour as soon as possible to the police. Tell trusted family, friends and work colleagues what is happening.”
If you are at all concerned about instances of stalking, you should contact an anti-stalking charity such as the Suzy Lamplugh Trust via the National Stalking Helpline (0808 802 0300) or the police.
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