Friday, June 13, 2008

Stalkers and Technology

We use technology everyday and it has great benefits. Most would be lost if they didn't have access to their computers, cell phones and PDAs. However, technology can also bring heightened risks to victims of stalking, especially those dealing with domestic and sexual violence. "The tactics of perpetrators are the same---abusing power to gain and maintain control, but everyday more advanced technologic tools make stalking easier and more effective. The increasingly affordable and available variety of phone, surveillance, and computer technologies provide a wide array of dangerous tools for abusers to use to harass, intimidate, and stalk their current and former intimate partners.

Some abusers install global positioning systems to track their victim's real-time location with extraordinary accuracy, while others use telephones to leave hundreds of messages in a single day. Other stalkers use technologies like Caller ID during a relationship to monitor their partner's calls, and to locate her after she has fled. Still others use online databases, electronic records, and web search engines to locate, track, and harass former partners." (Family Violence Prevention 2005)

Using technology to stalk someone has gone beyond the low-tech methods of viewing the website browser history and intercepting email, and has become increasingly more sophisticated. The following are examples show how technology has made life much more dangerous for stalking victims. The Internet contains a wealth of knowledge about individuals and is being used more and more to gather information. In one recent case, a man impersonated his ex-wife's friend and created a fake Myspace page using the friend's screen name and even photos he downloaded from another social networking site. His wife unaware that this was not her friend granted him access to her private page. Here he gained information about her recent activities, information about her friends and even her updated daily "mood." He used this information to track her whereabouts, show up at events he knew she was attending and harass and threaten her friends.

SpyWare software and hardware for surveillance. Spyware can capture passwords and keystrokes, monitor all sent and received e-mail, record and monitor all chat conversations, and even track every Web page someone visits. The spyware user has access to the victim's passwords, pin numbers, credit card numbers, banking information, and general files. For the average computer user, spyware is difficult to detect. Spyware typically runs in "stealth" mode, which prevents the program from appearing on the list of currently running programs. These programs often disguise themselves as other programs, are difficult to remove, and may even be programmed to reinstall themselves if removed.

Global Positioning Systems are easy to install and even easier to use. A person employing such a device knows as much about a car's recent whereabouts as he would if was in the car himself. This form of stalking is virtual and dramatically lessens the chance of getting caught. Gone are the days of late night checks on the victim's odometer. GPS can be viewed live on the web or cell phone and tells someone exactly where the car has been or in real time where the car is headed.

Stalkers are setting up websites that threaten victims or encourage others to contact, harass, or harm the victim. In one case, an ex-boyfriend set up a web page with photos and intimate details of the victim. The site included every possible way to contact her including her cell and work numbers, home address, work address, mother's address and phone number, e-mail and even included an embedded Google map to her home.

Even older technology poses a risk. This recent example is from Family Violence Prevention. A woman fled, but had to send papers to her abusive partner. She faxed the papers from the shelter fax machine to her attorney. Her attorney faxed the papers to his attorney. His attorney gave the papers to him. Since no one removed the fax header, the abuser acquired the phone number and location of his partner and she had to relocate again. These are just a few examples of how technology affects stalking victims every day but they are also reminders that while technology is great there is a downside and becoming aware of the information is often very critical to our safety and well being.

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