Sunday 5 October 2008

Internet Harrassment- Your Position in Law

8. Criminal harassment – (1) Every person commits an offence who harasses another person in
any case where –
(a) The first-mentioned person intends that harassment to cause that other person to fear for –
(i) That other person’s safety; or
(ii) The safety of any person with whom that other person is in a family relationship; or
(b) The first-mentioned person knows that the harassment is likely to cause the other person,
given his or her particular circumstances, to reasonably fear for –
(i) That other person’s safety; or
(ii) The safety of any person with whom that other person is in a family relationship.
“Safety” is defined to include a person’s “mental well-being”.

I thought I'd write this post for a number of reasons.

The first is that I received not one, but two e-mails this morning in clear violation of the policy of this blog; as in from someone who has been told on numerous occasions NEVER to contact me.
Such e-mails in themselves are a crime.

Let me state that again.
The sending of such e-mails is a crime.

Only, like a lot of people in this situation, I made huge mistakes in the past in dealing with stalking.

Like a lot of people, I didn't know who to turn to or what to do. If you're someone like me, you avoid going to the police. You don't believe they'll take you seriously. Especially if you're a man.

The worst thing you can do, is answer such mails. The worst thing you can do is respond. Because if you respond, they can always claim you were willing to enter a dialogue with them. You ruin your own case.


Save them up. Keep every one. But do not respond.

Why might you be tempted to respond?
Think about it. You're sitting there thinking a stalker is some drooling pervert, a stranger, someone creeping over your fence to sniff your underwear.
But that isn't the case.

Most victims of most crimes know the culprit. Most murder victims are killed by someone close to them. Most rape victims are raped by someone they know. And most people subjected to stalking/harassment know their stalker/harasser. It's usually somebody who just won't get the message.

And this is the problem, as this piece of public information states. Just as with rape, most stalker victims are dubious about coming forward. They feel in some way to blame. They feel a sort of guilt. Because in many cases, time was when their relationship with their stalker WASN'T that of a stalker and a victim.

But this is like a rape victim sitting there thinking 'But DID I lead him on?'

It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you did. What matters is, did you want contact between yourself and the other person to stop and did it continue in spite of your wishes?
Because if the answer to both those questions is yes, then THE LAW is on your side.

You don't have to justify yourself. You have a perfect legal right to demand someone stops contacting you.
By the way, that law ACTUALLY applies to your blog too. If you request someone not to comment on your blog, and they continue to do so, then yes, you can report them to the Police. It IS actually covered by harrassment legislation.

Though you might want to report them to their ISP instead. Another thing would be to save their comments and send them to Blogger, before deleting them.

I think we find it harder yet to deal with stalkers on the internet than we do in real life. And in real life they're hard enough.

I had a real life stalker about eighteen months ago. The first I ever had actually. And I didn't know what to do. Situation was simple. We had been sleeping together, but it wasn't going anywhere and she was quite emotionally demanding. She'd constantly ring my phone whilst I was at work or with mates, and to me, that's a no-no. YOU never call me. I call you. And that's the rules.

So I finished with her. By telephone, from the pub. Only she refused to accept it.
I was still getting abusive texts two, three weeks later, sometimes ten-fifteen a night. And of course, the mistake I made was to answer them. I was under no obligation to.
And of course, whilst you may think I dealt with it pre-emptorarily, perhaps callously, such is my right. Only I got so stressed by her abusive texts that I tried reasoning with her. You can't reason with a stalker.

And what she was doing was stalking. In law. But by answering her texts, I ruined any case I had. I should have ignored them and taken them to the Police.

Admittedly, I did ruin my case badly at one point by agreeing to go for a drink with her to give her 'closure' during which drink I may have accidently suggested sex. For some reason, I thought that might get her off my back.
But you see, this is what you can't do. You can't give in to stalkers this way. You really have to just put up the walls and not respond in any way.

You see, most stalkers often believe they are in some kind of relationship with their victim. And usually they believe that because at one point there might have been grounds for them thinking that. Never allow yourself to think that that justifies their stalking, any more than a woman being drunk and sexually promiscuous means she deserves to get raped.
It is usually a belief of stalkers that they were unfairly treated by the victim. Again, this is no justification in law.

So this leads me to how you deal with internet stalkers. Now I've researched a lot in to this, so I'm able to give the following advice.

If you acquire an internet stalker, IT WILL PROBABLY HAVE IN ORIGIN BEEN ONE OF YOUR OWN READERS. You may have ended up in e-mail contact. It may have moved to IM, or the telephone. You may even have arranged to meet up. You may actually have met. You could even have exchanged bodily fluids.

Never forget and I mean NEVER forget none of this negates your legal right to TOTALLY rescind all forms of contact with them, without any need by yourself to justify this.

Now as a blogger, you may be reluctant to do this. After all blogs can be read by anyone. You may not wish to anger them in case they blog about you. This might make you feel pressurised into answering them when they harass you. DON'T.

Don't try and pacify them, don't give them hope. You are prolonging the agony. The fact is you're probably stuck in a bad position. In real life, most people will accept 'I think we should stop talking to eachother' as good enough. If they're stupid enough to demand reasons then you don't need to feel too bad about saying 'Because now I know you better, I don't actually like the person you are'.

But if you're a blogger you might not want to say that to another blogger. You might be frightened of their response.
Of course you are.
They could cause havoc online for you.

You're frightened of them going round spreading personal information about you.

So here is what you need to do.
You need make clear when you don't want them to contact you. Ideally, a policy like I now have linked in the sidebar covers you.
And if you have tried all the nice polite ways of telling them 'Look, don't contact me, I'll contact you' and they still persist, you need to send them a formal statement and CC it to at least two witnesses. And then stop responding.


Create a folder and store the evidence. If they comment at your blog, save the comments section and then delete the comment. Keep all the mails they send you, but answer none of them.

Once you feel you have enough evidence, contact their ISP, and I would say Blogger too.
And of course, the Police.

This is why of course, you need to have witnesses to prove you asked them not to contact you after a certain date. And why you MUST NOT have responded to anything they sent you after that date. Because when the police investigate, they will produce evidence to show that one point you exchanged e-mails, phone calls etc. They may even allege you led them on with false promises and they had a right to pester you for answers. They may say they had a right to comment on your blog because the blog is in the public domain.

As long as you can prove there was a specific date you formally informed them NOT to contact you or comment at your blog, then the Police WILL charge them, regardless of any argument they can come up with.

But you need to be able to prove that.

It's also noteworthy that comments they leave elsewhere in other people's comments sections which refer to you likewise constitute evidence of harassment and you can bring those into play as well.

In fact, this little section here I found defines what you need to know;

What constitutes harassment?
To simply define what is and what is not harassment can be quite a difficult task. The legal definition of harassment according to Black's Law Dictionary is:

"A course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress in such person and serves no legitimate purpose" or "words, gestures, and actions which tend to annoy, alarm and abuse (verbally) another person."(Working to Halt Online Abuse)
Since this is seemingly a vague definition, some examples might clear up any confusion. Beware, some of these cases might surprise you!
Cases that DO NOT constitute harassment:

Someone who simply disagrees with you, however strongly or unpleasantly.
Someone who sends you a single e-mail that is not blatantly threatening.
Spam, even though it is very annoying.
Messages posted to any open arena, such as newsgroups, message boards, or forums or chat rooms, unless they are forged to appear to have come from you or contain direct threats or libelous statements.
Information posted on a website.
Cases that DO constitute harassment:
Repeated communication via e-mail or an instant messaging program after the harasser has been clearly told to stop.
Examples provided by Working to Halt Online Abuse

If they contact people in your real life- which they may do, stalkers can be dedicated- get these people to testify if need be.

You have to remember the stalker will not see they are doing anything wrong. They will believe they are behaving within their rights. And their self assuredness may cause you to have doubts. DON'T.

Remember, the stalker is good at that. The stalker may be very good at covering up their actions, even getting others to see you as the bad one, that you led them on and now reject them. They may even make YOU feel you did something wrong. Of course. After all, that's exactly the way sex offenders operate and when you really get down to it, it's a similar thing. Just it's not physical, it's psychological. It's still having someone forced upon you. Speaking from personal experience, e-mail harrassment and comments by unwanted commentors DOES feel much the same as a physical violation.

I wish I'd known all this and been as sure of this a year ago.

But you don't have to go through the sorts of ordeals many bloggers have gone through.

Just remember these points;
  1. If they e-mail you when you have told them not to or contact you in any way when you have told them not to, they commit a crime.
  2. If they comment in your comments section after you have told them not to, they commit a crime.
  3. If they make remarks about you in other peoples comments sections persistently, they commit a crime.
  4. This is all the law is concerned about.

Convictions HAVE been obtained for internet harassment- the first was in 2004 and the victim knew their stalker, had indeed at one time had a relationship with them.

So all you need to remember is these points;
  1. Don't respond to them.
  2. Save all their comments/mails, etc.
  3. Notify as many people as you can this is happening to you. Don't suffer in silence. Go to their ISP. Go to the Police if need be.

Whatever you think, whatever others think YOU HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG.

And you are not alone.


Anonymous said...

I actually don't think there is enough done by the law in the cases of stalking. Whether it be online, in real life or a combination of both. Not enough is done to protect or even recognise that a person might be in some kind of danger.

Anonymous said...

I personally don't understand why people do stalk or harass another. Do what I would do and give them NO attention.

Anonymous said...

I have to add something here. Don't ever trust MSN/Windows Live to sort things out for you if your problem stems from that area. I had a case a couple of years ago and, despite the fact I could prove everything and also had a large number of witnesses, and had sent the entire folder to MSN with a quote from their own ToS with regard the prosecution of such behaviour, they refused to do anything. Just kept bull-shitting me instead. So, not all sites will assist, but they appear to be American sites that drag their heels especially if you are male.

Anonymous said...

Stock up on holy water, garlic and a cross mate!

Anonymous said...

Too bad someone didn't give you this advice last year. Silence can be golden although not always.

Anonymous said...

Thankfully I have never had to deal with crazies online - but I am a quiet sort - I would probobly just ignore them and or not recognize them!!

Wow you were busy this weekend! Cat

Anonymous said...

Crazies in RL are just as bad too. Thank you :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to read that you've had this experience - it's confusing, distrubing and even terrifying when you realise that whatever you do the psycho is not going to let go, isn't it?

Stalking and harassment IS psychological terrorism no matter who does it or why. It is defined as criminal behaviour. Yet the police routinely do nothing - that is nothing - about it.

Even if you give the stalker no attention at all, they most often continue.

Sadly, those who haven't had the experience ignore the awful problem or make jokes about it. One in 5 women is stalked in the UK. It's a big problem that really isn't being tackled.

My experience of stalking and harassment is here:

Anonymous said...

I am sorry. I will leave you alone from now on...

Anonymous said...

The fact that this is still going on for you is worrisome. I hope this post served its purpose.

Anonymous said...

Bunny- People tend to find it amusing, which it's not. People at work used to find it hilarious. 'What you've got a stalker?'
And you'd say 'Yes, I have a stalker'.

But actually, yes it's pretty nasty. You do live in a state of pretty much constant tension.

Nunyaa- No, I'm not giving to give them the satisfaction. I'm thinking two unanswered e-mails is good evidence, if they send another, that's three and the Police can be called this time.

Ginro- I have a fair few witnesses, RL ones.
It's the gmail address they send mail to - I've blocked their gmail address, but they've also got a .com address of their own and gmail won't let me block that.

I had blocked their IP address too on this blog, but they kept changing their IP address.

Ms Smack- You know it's funny, I was thinking the other day about the death penalty.
You see, I'm actually very anti capital punishment.

But at the same time, I do believe in Euthanasia for people suffering painful conditions for which there is no hope of recovery.

So that kind of got me thinking, that perhaps, with the case of incurable serial killers and paedophiles, a shot in the arm is perhap the humane option. More humane then keeping them caged up forever.

And it got me thinking that there other people out there as well for whom the same could be said. Just incurably THEM. And that THEM is so unpleasant, a shot in the arm would be the humane option. Because living life inside their head must be unpleasant for them too.

jmb- You learn. Once bitten twice shy.
Of course it's hard to think clearly when you're actually in the middle of it. You're too distressed to think straight.
It's only in retrospect one can be calmer.

Cat- Well, this was someone I'd agreed to meet- unfortunately I didn't know what they were like at this point. They believed that was something I should trumpet round the blogopshere and actually mention on my blog and tell all my readers. And since I had no intention of doing this, they thought they'd do that for me. Oh, and ring my flatmate and tell them too.

Well, this was totally unacceptable in my book, I have a private life and that's the way I like to keep it. I don't publically acknowledge when I'm actually sleeping with people in Real Life (I don't hide it, it's just not something I tell people), so I'm damned if I'm having some woman running around online telling people I'm her cyberlover when we haven't even met.

Yes, nerves mainly, I think. Amongst other things.

Anonymous said...

CherryPie- They are indeed. And sometimes it can be a fine line. Because as I say, so often at one time the stalker might have been in a position to think what they were doing was normal. The problem comes when it is clear that any REASONABLE person would realise that what they were doing was causing distress.

Now, you may not necessarily pick up from this blog, but it's actually quite easy to freak me out. I'm sure close readers will have noticed that I'm actually quite neurotic- the bulimia, the Obsessive Compulsive disorder, etc. I'll tell you a little secret- I always carry two kinder egg toys with me to play with. I constantly need to have something to do with my hands. I'm incredibly highly strung.

Deb- I always keep gmail open in a separate window when I'm online, so I can see e-mails come in and respond when I choose. It's not nice when you keep seeing; Inboc (1) and you know damn well who it's going to be. And you just want them to stop. You want them NOT to mail.

I had comments moderation up and You knew every day you'd get 'X has left a comment on your post'

It was horrible, horrible. the worst ordeal of my life.

It is hard to get convictions, I know. Because people aren't aware of the law.
But I'm hoping this post will help change that- I notice it's already getting hits on Google, so with any luck it should work its way into a good position.

My mistake was to answer their mails- because it meant they could claim it was a conversation I was conseting to- it wasn't, it was a conversation I was in through fear.

Yes, well, to those who laugh or say it's somehow you're fault, all I can say is I hope Karma comes around and puts them in the same position.
I'm not exagarating when I say, I can know at least comprehend a little how rape victims feel.

Mutley- :)
No, Muts.
You're always welcome :)

Princess P- One can hope, one can hope. Unfortunately, there are always those who will justify this sort of thing by seeing it through gender glasses.

As in, I'm a man.

And because I'm a man, especially one who is what some would call a 'love rat', I can't be the abused party.