Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Jurisdictional and Definitional Concerns with Computer-Mediated Interpersonal Crimes: An Analysis on Cyber Stalking

Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Jurisdictional and Definitional Concerns with Computer-Mediated Interpersonal Crimes: An Analysis on Cyber Stalking

Article excerpt


Cyber-crime is emerging as a major international criminological issue. Networked computers provide the media for new types (or variations on old types) of criminal activity to emerge. Cyber-stalking is one such crime enabled by the Internet. In contrast to many 'property' (financial) crimes enabled by the Internet, cyber-stalking represents a crime 'against the person'. This raises new issues for criminology and criminal justice in terms of the 'harms' that can be committed against a person in the absence of the physical presence of the offender. Yet relatively little research has been conducted into cyber-stalking to date. In a recent editorial J. Reid Meloy, a prominent stalking researcher, articulated one of the key future questions for stalking research as "What is the nature of cyber-stalking .... ?" (Meloy 2007, p. 6).

This paper provides an overview of the current state of knowledge on cyber-stalking. It begins with a brief overview of what is known about stalking. Building on this knowledge, the concept of cyber-stalking is explored. Developing typologies of cyber-stalking and current estimates of the prevalence of cyber-stalking are provided. Possible relationships between cyber-stalking and off-line stalking are examined to shed light on whether cyber-stalking is simply an extension of off-line stalking behaviours or whether it is a new form of deviant/criminal behaviour. The paper ends with an examination of the difficulties in investigating and prosecuting cyber-stalkers.


Stalking2 refers to repeated unwanted intrusive behaviours that result in the victim experiencing fear, physical or psychological harm or emotional distress (Finch, 2001). While the range of possible behaviours included in the stalking spectrum is wide, eight clusters of stalking behaviours have been identified across studies: hyper-intimacy, mediated contacts, interactional contacts, surveillance, invasion, harassment and intimidation, coercion and threat and aggression (Cupach & Spitzberg 2004, cited in Spitzberg & Cupach 2007).

Stalking behaviour has been recorded in early Roman texts through to contemporary literature. Over time, conceptions of possible victims of stalking has widened from 'celebrities' and other public figures to include women harassed by ex-partners and finally to any individual who is subject to repeated intrusive pursuit that causes fear (Finch 2001; Mullen & Pathe 2002; Sheridan & Davies 2004).

Changing conceptions of victims are also reflected in changing conceptions of stalking motivations. 'Celebrity' stalkers were largely seen to have erotomania or morbid infatuations with their victims. With the broadening of victims definitions, stalkers are now seen to vary in their motivations and in their mental state (Mullen & Pathe 2002). Indeed, Kamphius and Emmelkamp (2000) caution that "stalking describes a behavioural problem, not a psychiatric diagnosis per se" (p. 208).

Spitzberg and Cupach (2007) outlined two theoretical frameworks within which stalking behaviours can be understood. First, viewed within an attachment framework, stalkers may exhibit an anxious or pre-occupied attachment style. Second, relational goal pursuit theory posits that individuals who associate the relationship with the victim with the meeting of their higher order goals (e.g. happiness and self-worth) may ruminate and experience negative affect when the relationship is thwarted, potentially motivating ongoing pursuit of the relationship.

More than twenty typologies of stalking have been proposed in the academic literature with three common underlying dimensions: the type of the underlying disorder (physiological, psychological or both), the type and context of the original relationship, and the primary motivation of the stalker (Spitzberg & Cupach 2007). The profusion of typologies suggests that further research is required in this area. As Kamphius and Emmelkamp (2000) commented:

There is a clear need to derive a consensus on a typology of stalkers, with associated diagnostic criteria. …

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