The communication technology of the digital age has brought us the benefits of staying connected with family and friends, the convenience of online shopping, and gaining information at the click of a mouse. However, new technology has also brought a new dimension to harassment – stalking and bullying.
Leigh Ann Datt, director of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution Services, said their office has had to address issues of online harassment.
“It’s becoming more prevalent because everything is online,” Datt said. “It’s particularly harmful online because it affects so many people, and it can be very humiliating. It gets challenging with freedom of speech, but something can be a violation of the code of conduct if someone is making threats.”
Datt said that her office can issue no-contact orders if a student fears for his or her safety, but it is ultimately up to the police to determine if charges can be pressed.
Datt mentioned a phone application that can be used for harassment – anonymous texting.
“There’s an application that allows someone to text anonymously, which creates fear in the student because they don’t know where it’s coming from or where that person is,” she said.
Facebook has recently introduced the application, EnemyGraph, which allows users to list other Facebook users as their enemies. Critics of the application say that it serves as a platform for cyberbullying. Cyberbullying, by definition, involves minors. When adults engage in such behavior, they may be guilty of harassment, stalking or invasion of privacy.
Dr. Catherine Massey, an associate professor of psychology, believes that new technology has added to the problem of bullying.
“I think it’s gotten worse through technology because you no longer have to face the person you’re bullying,” Massey said. “In the old days, before this technology, if you bullied somebody, you faced them. Whereas now you don’t have to, so it makes it easier. There’s no barrier there, so you can text or go on Facebook and say something about somebody and start rumors, and there’s no connection there. So there seems to be a stronger lack of empathy.”
Karla Fonner, assistant director of the Women’s Center, has counseled several students who have been victims of online harassment.
“Typically what we’re seeing is harassment through Facebook,” Fonner said. “Sometimes people get the definitions between stalking and harassment confused. Harassment is a misdemeanor – any unwanted repeated communication. Stalking is a federal offense – any unwanted repeated communication of any form – but there has to be an element of fear.”
Fonner said that the fear element of stalking can include threats of bodily harm, property damage or injury to pets or family members. She also mentioned that the stalking or harassing typically comes from someone the victim knows.
“Probably for us, 98 percent of the time it’s somebody that the person knows,” she said. “With stalking it’s typically an ex-partner. It does occasionally happen that there’s some creeper online that is trying to be your friend and you don’t know this person, or they’ve made up an identity. That occasionally happens, but we don’t see that as much.”
Fonner explained that victims are usually referred to an outside advocate from the Victim Outreach Intervention Center (VOICe) of Butler County. VOICe provides free and confidential services to victims of harassment, assault and other violent crimes.
Fonner’s advice to students who feel they are the victim of harassment or stalking is to stop responding to the aggressor and keep a record of the harassing or threatening messages.
“If you’ve already told this person to stop contacting you, do not respond to anything else,” Fonner said. “After that point, any time they contact you further, you need to keep track of it. One of the things that the police will ask for is a record. They like to be able to see any text messages. Keep track of email.”
Fonner said that one of the problems with identifying stalking behavior is that it has turned into a joke in our culture, citing the film “There’s Something About Mary” and the show “Two and A Half Men.”
“As a culture, we’ve turned it into a romantic comedy, which is one of the problems to being able to identify what this is and how dangerous it can actually be,” Fonner said.