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New Technology Means New Tools... for Stalkers?

January 24, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - January is National Stalking Awareness Month. This year's emphasis is on high-tech, highlighting the growing number of cases involving GPS devices, hidden cameras, and computer spywear. The Texas Legislature is considering two bills that would make it easier for victims to prove their cases and get restraining orders - and both are backed by Texas First Lady Anita Perry.

Cindy Southworth with the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) says these days, it sometimes takes a gut instinct to uncover what's going on.

"If you think someone knows too much about your emails, it's possible that there is spyware on your home computer. If they know your location, it's possible that they've set a GPS tracking device."

If a victim is suspicious, notes Southworth, their first thought might be to start changing passwords. But she recommends talking to police or a safety advocate first, in case those actions could escalate abuse.

"If you are dating or in a relationship with your stalker, do not start changing passwords, because that might tip off the abuser."

At least one in four stalkers use technology in addition to, or in place of, physically following someone, says Southworth. Other stalking behaviors include vandalism, threatening messages, and unwanted gifts. She adds that harassing email and text messages, and Facebook comments can be used as evidence in court.

SB 82, backed by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), would change the Texas stalking statute to make stalking behavior easier to prove. SB 250, sponsored by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), would allow stalking victims to get a protective order even if they have not been a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence.

According to NNEDV, stalking affects both sexes, and there has been recent publicity about how organized criminal operations and gangs are also tapping technology for stalking.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - TX