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Stalking Moves Into Cyber-space

January 24, 2011

MADISON, Wis. - January is National Stalking Awareness Month – and stalking is a crime that, in Wisconsin and across the nation, is becoming increasingly high-tech. Cindy Southworth, founder of the Safety Net Technology Project for the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), says stalkers can install spyware on a computer or a GPS device on a car, or enable GPS tracking on a cell phone, without the victim knowing. If you suspect you're being monitored – trust your instincts, says Southworth.

"If you think someone knows too much about your activities, they know too much about your email, 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."

Some have argued that cyber-privacy concerns are overblown and encourage paranoia. However, according to the NNEDV, one in four victims reports their stalker used some form of high-end technology. Before confronting a suspected stalker or changing passwords or privacy settings, Southworth recommends talking to police or an advocate.

"If you are dating or in a relationship with your stalker, in an abusive relationship, do not start changing passwords until you're in a safe place – because that might tip off the abuser that you are thinking of leaving, which could escalate the abuse."

A group that advises prosecutors warns that it's easy for someone to acquire technology they can use for stalking. Jeff Greipp, a legal advisor for AEquitas, says one feature they're watching closely is called "spoofing." It is technology that lets someone display a false telephone number on caller ID or a cell phone. A stalker can use it to trick a victim, or harass someone by calling 911 and having the police come, explains Greipp.

"That individual may say, 'I have everyone in the home at gunpoint,' and then hang up the phone. Dispatched to the home is a SWAT team that takes everyone in that home into custody."

Southworth points out that harassing email and text messages, and Facebook comments, can all be used as evidence in court. For additional safety tips, visit a href="http://www.nnedv.org/internetsafety.html">www.nnedv.org, or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - WI