Real Cyber Stalking Cases

The following real-world cases illustrate the problem of cyber stalking. Examining the facts in these cases might help you to get an idea of what legally constitutes cyber stalking:

Case 1: An honors graduate from the University of San Diego terrorized five female university students over the Internet for more than a year. The victims received hundreds of violent and threatening e-mails, sometimes four or five a day. The graduate student, who has entered a guilty plea and faces up to six years in prison, told police he committed the crimes because he thought the women were laughing at him and causing others to ridicule him. In fact, the victims had never met.

Case 2: A man in South Carolina allegedly fixated on news anchors at the WRAL TV station. He sent a large number of e-mails to the news anchors. Those e-mails contained sexually explicit material as well as references to cross burnings. The case was investigated by the South Carolina Bureau of Investigation.

Case 3: Robert James Murphy was the first person charged under Federal law for cyber stalking. He was accused of violating Title 47 of U.S. Code 223, which prohibits the use of telecommunications to annoy, abuse, threaten, or harass anyone. Mr. Murphy was accused sending sexually explicit messages and photographs to his ex-girlfriend. This activity continued for a period of years. Mr. Murphy was charged and eventually pled guilty to two counts of cyber stalking

Of even more concern are cases where the cyber stalking involves minors. Pedophiles now use the Internet extensively to interact with minors and, in many cases, arrange in-person meetings with children. This must be a significant concern for all parents, law-enforcement officials, and computer-security professionals. Often, pedophiles use chat rooms, online discussion boards, and various other Internet media to meet with children. The discussions often turn more sexually explicit and eventually lead to an attempt to meet in person. Fortunately, this sort of activity is relatively easy to investigate. The pedophile normally wishes to continue communication with the victim and to escalate communication. This makes tracking and often capturing the pedophile an easier task once law enforcement becomes involved. The problem is that for law enforcement to become involved, the parents of the victim must first become aware of the situation; then, they must report the situation. Unfortunately, this sometimes occurs only after the online stalking has escalated to real-world sexual molestation.

There have been a number of well-publicized sting operations whose purpose has been to catch online predators by having adults (sometimes law-enforcement officers, sometimes not) pose as minors online and wait for a pedophile to approach them and attempt to engage in sexually explicit conversations. These attempts have been quite controversial. Given the nature of the activities, however, it seems unlikely that a non-pedophile adult could accidentally or mistakenly become involved in explicit sexual discussions with a minor. It is even less likely that a non-pedophile adult would attempt to meet in the physical world with a person they believed to be a minor. It would certainly seem that these programs, if conducted properly, can be an invaluable tool in combating online predators.


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