THUNDER BAY – For some people, thankfully a very small number of people, the Internet is like the old west of a Hollywood movie. Those individuals feel that the Internet is a tool that they can use to harass, or to intimidate people without risk. Both are myths. The Old West of Hollywood fame is mostly myth and legend. After the Civil War in the United States many people moved west to settle. Those former soldiers were well armed and not easily intimidated.
On the Internet, across North America there is legislation in place putting severe penalities in place for individuals who choose to use the Internet as a place to bully or attack other people.
People who are being harassed online have many tools to protect themselves from those who might wish to use the Internet as an attack tool.
The Department of Justice in Canada states, “Criminal harassment or “stalking,” as it is commonly called, is not a psychiatric diagnosis. No single psychological profile exists for stalkers. Stalking and harassing behaviour can take many forms. A popular portrayal of criminal harassment is the stalking of a celebrity or public figure. In Canada, however, it appears that the primary motivation for stalking another person relates more to a desire to control a former partner.
“Individuals who harass and stalk can possess one or more of a variety of psychological difficulties, ranging from personality disorders to major mental illnesses. Since the introduction of the first anti-stalking law in the United States, there have been a number of attempts to create stalking typologies from both the psychiatric and the law enforcement perspectives. Regardless of the typology, however, most individuals who stalk are engaging in obsessional behaviour. They are obsessional in the sense that they have persistent thoughts and ideas regarding the victim. They do not necessarily fulfil the diagnostic criteria for any serious psychiatric disorder. However, many have prior criminal, psychiatric and drug abuse histories that fall under Axis 1 diagnosis. The most common include alcohol dependency, mood disorders and schizophrenia.”
Activities that can be considered cyber-stalking can include delivering threatening or harassing messages through one or more of the following:
- chat rooms;
- message boards;
- newsgroups; and
One of the first rules to follow is not to attempt to engage or reason with someone who is being unreasonable. Their goal is usually to engage you in debate so that they can pour their venom and hate out on you.
You can simply document all of the evidence, saving emails, and saving the headers of those messages.
You can report the harassment to the Internet service providers, as well as to the police. Often those who use the Internet to harass people are gambling that those who they harass will simply delete their venom, and never report it to the authorities.
In the early days of the Internet that was far more common than today. There have been too many instances across North America where the cyber stalker or harassment has led to increased threats. Both police and the courts are taking the issue far more seriously today.
Is cyber stalking and cyber-harassing a crime?
Yes it is a criminal code offense. Often the person harassing someone online does not believe that their harassment will be turned over to the authorities. Some of the people sending out harassing emails seem to believe that their victim will not turn the information over to the authorities.
The Canadian Bar Association offers this advice:
“What can you do if someone is stalking, harassing, or cyberbullying you?
First, if the harassment is attempted communication with you, tell the person to stop. Otherwise, they may not know that they are harassing you. Otherwise, never reply to harassing messages.
Call the police to report the problem. Record the details of every incident, including time, date, place, who was involved, and what was said and done. Keep letters, notes, voicemail messages, emails, texts, instant messages, and social media and internet posts. Give them to the police.
If the harassment happens at school, report it to the school authorities, as well as to the police. If it happens at work, report it to your boss, plus the police.
Report cyberbullying or other harassing communication to your internet or cellphone company. Most companies have policies on acceptable use of their services, and can cancel the service of a customer who violates those policies. The company can also help police find a cyberbully who is using their network.
If you get a harassing phone call on a landline, dial *57 immediately when the call ends. The phone company will record the phone number that made the call, so the police can get it. If you receive harassing calls on your cell phone, call the phone company for help in tracking the calls.
You can also seek a civil restraining order in court. But to do this, you need legal advice.
What happens after you report the problem?
If a person is charged with criminal harassment, Crown Counsel (the prosecutor) makes the case against (or prosecutes) them. The prosecutor may proceed by indictment for serious cases, and then the maximum penalty is 10 years in jail. Or the prosecutor may proceed by summary conviction for less serious cases, and then the maximum penalty is either a fine or 6 months in jail, or both.
If a court finds a person guilty, it will probably order the person to obey certain conditions. For example, a court will normally order a person convicted of criminal harassment to have no contact with you directly or indirectly, to stay away from your home and workplace, and to not own or carry any weapons. A court may also order a convicted person to take counseling, if it might help.
If the court sends the person to jail and fines them, it cannot also order them to obey conditions. Usually, a court will order the person to obey conditions and either fine or jail them.”
By taking action, you can help make the Internet a better and safer place for everyone.
Here are a few sources that discuss cyber bullying:
CBC Case Study: www.cbc.ca.