Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Cyber Stalking and Cyber Harassment Legislation in the United States: A Qualitative Analysis

Academic journal article International Journal of Cyber Criminology

Cyber Stalking and Cyber Harassment Legislation in the United States: A Qualitative Analysis

Article excerpt


Over the past two decades, technology has surged into businesses, communities, and the lives of individuals, altering the way that people communicate, study, work, and interact (Baer, 2010). People in various parts of the world can communicate in real time on a variety of devices such as cell phones, tablets, or computers. A photo, video, text message, or email may be viewed by a single individual, shared with another or "go viral" and spread to hundreds of thousands of users in a matter of minutes. Technology is continuously improving, which in turn influences the way that people interact by promoting global communication and allowing individuals to connect with others more readily. However, the Internet and related technology have also become new mediums for misconduct, in that communications via the Internet can be used to threaten, harass, intimidate, and cause harm to others (Recupero, 2008).

Most of the extant work on cyber stalking and cyber harassment in the U.S. has been conducted by legal scholars and published in law reviews (see for e.g., Goodno, 2007; Fukuchi, 2011). A few social scientists have begun to explore this important issue, focusing on topics such as how many college students are affected by cyber harassment/cyber stalking and what demographics are associated with an increased risk of victimization (Reyns, Henson, & Fisher, 2011), and how the experience of cyber stalking differs from the experiences of traditional forms of stalking behavior (Sheridan & Grant, 2007). Despite these efforts, our understanding of cyber harassment and cyber stalking remains limited. Moreover, there is no clear definition of what constitutes "cyber harassment" or "cyber stalking" in the United States (Baer, 2010; Fukuchi, 2011; Goodno, 2007).

The goal of the current study was to analyze the cyber harassment (henceforth, CH) and cyber stalking (henceforth, CS) statutes across the 50 states.3 We compiled 103 statutes, coded them for qualitative themes, and then synthesized the themes in an attempt to identify what constitutes CS and CH in current legislation around the U.S. Two similar studies have been conducted by legal scholars, who have collected and analyzed statutes prohibiting CH (Fukuchi, 2011) and CS (Goodno, 2007), respectively. In both cases, the studies focused on the practical, legal implications of CH/CS legislation. In contrast, our study takes a broader approach to analyzing these laws so that they can be more meaningfully understood by criminologists. We hope that this helps future researchers to better identify trends in CS and CH, analyze predictors, and theorize about these emerging crimes.

The current state of understanding CS and CH

CS and CH have become prevalent problems that warrant the attention of criminologists and criminal justice scholars. Although no national estimates of the extent and pervasiveness of these crimes exist, studies of various cities and campuses are cause for concern. In a discussion of the extent of CS, the Department of Justice (1999) reported that approximately 20% of stalking cases in Los Angeles and 40% of the stalking cases in New York utilized the Internet as the mediums for these criminal acts. According to a recent study, approximately 40% of college students have been victims of CS at some point in their lives (Reyns et al., 2012). Based on these estimates, and considering the increased use and ubiquity of technological devices, it is clear that CS and CH require attention from the criminal justice system.

In addressing these problems, legislators have generally taken one of two approaches (Fukuchi, 2011). In some states, legislators opted to amend or modify extant statutes prohibiting harassment or stalking, by adding language specifying that contact initiated using the Internet or other digital device would also constitute harassment or stalking. Statutes utilizing this first approach, therefore, do not have statutes specifically titled CH or CS, though acts constituting CH or CS are prohibited. …

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