Gender, bodies, and cyberstalking

Subject: Sociology
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Word count: 3824
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Introduction and Background

Technological advancements, especially communication technologies, have given criminal offenders various opportunities to  participate in different criminal activities globally. In the contemporary world, the internet environment supports several forms of deviance. Research indicates that online sexual harassment and cyberstalking mirror gender disparities. Cyberstalking is defined as a behaviour whereby an individual utilizes digital information and communications technology to annoy or intimidate other persons. Cyberstalking involves but not limited to issuing threats and false accusations, stealing and damaging data, computer monitoring, identity theft, and soliciting the minors for sexual purposes (Bocij 2004, p. 14). The intent of the paper is to scrutinize how the conception of disembodiment subsidizes to the distinct sex difference in cyberstalking oppression particularly in females using digital media  particular social media; Facebook, Twitter, emails among others. For purposes of developing an extensive consideration of cybercrime in reference to criminological theory, the paper begins with a literature review to establish the development of applicable criminological philosophy.

Additionally, Scott, Semmens, and Willoughby (2001) articulate that women and the digital media narratives, as well as, a discussion of cyberfeminism, supports the prioritization of a gendered evaluation of cyberstalking. The study of cyberfeminism, women and the digital media narratives is critical as it assists an individual to understand how feminist theories and the digital media interact with each other, which is important in determining the various content related offenses in which the primary victims are the women. The increased incidents of cyberbullying and bullying via  messages especially on social media, in particular among the young generation, indicates that advanced communication technologies are being utilized for the purpose of irritation and annoyance.

In the paper, there is the literature review that addresses the online crime of cyberstalking The selected literature is both quantitative and qualitative. The research also provides a suggestion of the contemporary scholarly view of cyberstalking. Due to the availability of various definitions of the term cyberstalking, the literature review is done within four comprehensive subjects, that is victim characteristics, offender characteristics, motivations, and legislation. The four themes have been selected because they allow a detailed examination of literature within the field of cyberstalking on different digital media platform as mentioned above. Moreover,  there is a review of several campus-based studies as well as studies addressing the victimization of young individuals.

Literature Review

In his book titled Virtually Criminal: Crime, Deviance, and regulation online, Williams (2006) argues that the substantial growth of digital media and  internet use has been accompanied by the diffusion of criminal behaviour. The author states; “At one end of the spectrum we see organized criminals taking advantage of new technologies and networks to facilitate their illegalities, while at the other extreme the ‘empowered small agent’ can commit crimes that were previously beyond their means” (Williams 2006, p. 18). The author further states that the internet and digital media has allowed crimes to occur without contact between the offender and the victim. The researcher states; “a fraudulent transaction can take place over thousands of miles in milliseconds while a harasser can subject their victim to derisory discourse at a great distance in real time” (Williams 2006, p. 19).

According to Bocij (2004), stalking varies with age and gender with women and youths being the most affected individuals. As a  result,  one out of every twelve women has encountered stalking at least once in their lives. Only one out of every forty-five men in the United States have encountered stalking. Also, in his study on stalking in which one hundred and three Americans participated, Spitzberg (2002) found out that 10.5 and 23.5 percent of men and women respectively are affected by stalking. Walby, Allen, and Simmons (2004) established that 11.6 and 18.8 percent of men and women respectively in the United Kingdom reported experiencing stalking.

Victim Characteristics

Skinner (2003) describes a case indicating some adverse effects of cyberstalking. An unknown person subjected a Blenheim female to email aggravation of a sexually evident and frightening nature. The Blenheim woman contacted the police when the emails became more disturbing. The victim told the police that she developed a mental rape feeling. She stated; “Every time I got an email I held my breath. I had no idea who it was, and I was always looking over my shoulder” (Skinner 2003).

According to Ashcroft (2001), the effects of cyberstalking are intricate and inescapable, and they extend beyond psychological to influence the manner in which an individual lives. The author states; “some victims described stalking as a nightmare that overran all aspects of their lives. They spent lots of energy, time, and money just trying to stay alive” (Ashcroft 2001, p. 23). Shared experiences of stalking victims include feeling powerless, desperate, isolated, and ashamed; difficulties falling asleep, avoiding intimacy, substance abuse, weight loss, depression, anxiety, and fearing to be alone or in crowds (Ashcroft 2001, p. 24). Notably,  the way in which expert computer users experience Cyberstalking is different from that of novice users. In other terms, the degree of information technology literacy possessed determines the distress caused by cyberstalking in that the novice users suffer more than the expert computer users. The little distress that expert computer users suffer from is attributed to their ability to overcome being cyberstalked by utilizing firewalls. On the same note, “Victims respond to cyberstalking in various ways such as amusement or indifference on the one hand to more extreme reactions causing significant psychological damages at the other end of the continuum” (Finch 2002, p. 424). Research on cyberstalking reveals that the females are  at a more higher risk of being targets of cyberstalking as compared to  men. For instance, Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA), which is an online organization, found out that from 2000 to 2007, an average of 72.5 and 22 percent of cyberstalking victims were females and males respectively. Furthermore, the online organization established that majority of cyberstalking victims (forty-four percent) were between eighteen and thirty years old. Besides, WHOA revealed that 49 and 50.75 percent of cyberstalking victims were aware and had no idea of the persons that threatened and intimidated them before the actual incident respectively (WHOA 2007).

Offender Characteristics

Spitzberg (2002) classifies offenders into seven categories. First, they display extreme interest in developing a relationship. Second, criminals tend to monitor the movements of the victims on the internet by following them into chat rooms, as well as,  message boards. Next, they trespass on the victim’s property, privacy, and space, which often occur by accessing their computers remotely and obtaining personal data and files. Fourth, the offenders may involve third parties to pursue the victim. The fifth category of criminals psychologically manipulates the victims by threatening, harassing, and intimidating them. Sixth, the offenders control the victims via extortion. Lastly, the offenders display aggressive behaviour, which may take the form of violence. On this note, most of the offenders are males (D’Ovidio and Doyle 2003). Spitzberg and Hobbler (2002) highlights that the seriousness of the offenders’ actions is dependent of their computer literacy.

Motivations

According to Bocij and McFarlane (2003), there are four reasons as to why offenders engage in cyberstalking. First, the criminals may want to transfer their behaviour offline; hence, being categorized and vindictive stalkers. Second, the criminals are concerned with irritating and annoying the victims. The third category of criminals aims at winning their victims’ affections. The fourth group of stalkers participates in cyberstalking to exercise their advanced knowledge of technology.

Legislation

In the United States, laws for dealing with stalking emerged in the 1990s when an actress named Rebecca Schaeffer was killed. However, it should be noted that the enactment of cyberstalking in law has witnessed several difficulties owing to the anonymity afforded to the perpetrator. According to McCall (2004), behaviour is considered as cyberstalking if it involves gaining access to a computer system without authorisation for fraudulent intentions, interfering with or even damaging a computer system, and developing, possessing, selling, and distributing software capable of committing a crime. Harvey (2003) also notes that Cyberstalking involves using electronic devices to transmit communications aimed at offending, irritating, or annoying the recipient.

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Analysis of Theories and Case Study Descriptions

Cyberfeminism

There are various definitions of the term cyberfeminism. Cyberfeminism can be defined as a women-centred perspective advocating the utilization of innovative information and communication technologies to empower the females (Hawthorne and Klein 1999, p. 3).  Similarly, Cyberfeminism could be defined as a philosophy that is capable of creating passionate, poetic, and unity and reconstructing feminist politics by focusing on the implications of new technology.

As a theory, cyberfeminism is highly contradictory and offers women both promises and challenges. “Cyberfeminism has grown out of an emergent use of digital media and new communication technologies. These technologies have been ascribed with both promises and threats, with the potential of simultaneous empowerment and suppression..” The statement articulates that there is a creation of  an open up communicative space and Communities, further allowing the creation of a political platform, accessing information and creating networks.  Elm and Sunden (2007) further states that  ” but they also have the ability to monitor and keep track of their users, exclude non-users and divide the world into the ‘information rich’ and the ‘information poor’, as well as multiply and sometimes reinforce different forms of oppression – sexism, racism and homophobia” (Elm and Sunden 2007, p. 3).

Women and  internet  and the digital media narratives

Scott, Semmens, and Willoughby (2001) developed the females and the internet descriptions and categorized them into three classes; hence, providing a three-fold framework for assessing the impacts of the use of the Internet and digital media on the lives of women. Scott, Semmens, and Willoughby (2001) attribute online victimization of women to women as a homogeneous group that deserves acknowledgment. Different groups of women have several levels of internet access and participation, which implies that online victimization occurs differently depending on the digital media they purpose to use for  communication and other technological necessities. For instance, in the United States, Native Americans are more likely to suffer from cyberstalking more than other ethnic minorities. Consequently, in the assessment of the impacts of the use of the internet on females’ lives, it necessary to appreciate the assertion that digital divide does not only occur between genders but also within genders, especially since far as ethnicity and class are concerned. As Spender (1995) and Scott, Semmens, and Willoughby (2001) notes, women are excluded from internet participation even in the contemporary world. Therefore, assuming that the web technology is a ‘new literacy,’ it follows then that excluding women from participation renders them illiterate.

As mentioned earlier, Scott, Semmens, and Willoughby (2001) developed the women and the internet narratives and split the theory into three classes in a bid to adequately examine the effects that the internet has on women’s lives. The three categories include the ‘webbed utopia,’ ‘locked into locality,’ and ‘fammed out’ (Scott, Semmens, and Willoughby 2001). Concerning the ‘webbed utopia,’ electronic networks do not only offer women participative democracy but also grants them new possibilities for networking (Haraway 1989; Plant 1997; Halbert 2004). Research shows that there is a strong feminist presence on the internet. In other terms, several studies have confirmed that the internet can be utilized to enhance feminist principles; thus, it furthers crime committed against women, including proliferating pornography.

On the topic of ‘flammed out,’ the internet is perceived as a platform for violence, pornography, virtual rape, and stalking (MacKinnon 1997). If the incidents as mentioned earlier take place on the internet, then women are compelled to believe that their girls are safer when they spend their time elsewhere. The issue is problematic as it furthers inequality in internet access and participation (Scott, Semmens, and Willoughby 2001, p. 12). Concerning the ‘locked into locality’ theme, although the web is a new public sphere where political, social, and economic actions take place, it remains inaccessible to the females because they are shut away in their homes (Scott, Semmens, and Willoughby 2001, p. 12). The process is an implication that even in the information technology revolution, women are still struggling to attain equal participation with the barriers hampering them ranging from financial and educational to vocational and spatial.

Criminological Theories

Rapid technology adoption has rendered criminologists addressing crime to face multiple challenges (Yar 2005, p. 208). The main reason as to why criminologists experience problems in the endeavours to curb cyber crimes is that the internet has unique and complex characteristics that are distributed in various digital media platform. For instance, the ability to manipulate identity makes almost every individual vulnerable to an offender who is not subject to the typical barriers of physical distance constraints (Wall 2015, p. 77). “Cyberspace variously ‘transcends,’ ‘explodes,’ ‘compresses,’ or ‘collapses’ the constraints of space and time that limit interactions in the ‘real world” (Yar 2005, p. 210). On this note, the technological knowledge necessary for one to successfully commit a cybercrime creates particular challenges for policing and criminal justice. Reputably, for cybercrime to be addressed in a criminological manner, there is a need for utilizing new tools, and this is an implication that established theories of crime causation can be used to explain cybercrime. Of equal importance to highlight here is the fact that the series of new types of criminal behaviour makes criminologists rethink their present understanding of cyber crime (Plant,  1997).

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The ‘control theory,’ developed by Hirschi (1969), recognizes the lack of commitment, attachment, belief, and involvement as the leading cause of offending. According to the control theory lack of self-control and social bond causes online deviant offending; hence, the technique for neutralization must involve the creation of social obligations. According to the routine activity theory, cybercrime centers on the temporal and spatial disorganization of cyberspace, and this reinforces the claim that cybercrime is old wine in no bottles. Therefore, “a revision of criminological patterns is necessary, as the criminological universe is incapable of explaining the new forms of criminality and deviance which make up cybercrime” (Capellers 2001, p. 230). A review is critical since, in the modern society, the disembodied relations have replaced the traditional human relationships.

Campus-Based and Young Demographic Case Studies

The main reason as to why numerous studies have been conducted on campuses is that the environment is a fertile ground for online stalking behaviour. For  instance, the  modern day univerisities have been equipped with several digital media platforms such as  university websites, online magazine, and affiliated social media  whicha are vulnerable to cyberstalking.  In a survey of online harassment at a university campus in which three hundred and thirty-nine students at the University of New Hampshire participated, Finn (2004) reveals that between ten and fifteen percent of the students received insulting, threatening, and harassing messages through instant messaging and email. The college students reported that they received the messages from strangers as well as acquaintances. Over half of the participants received unwanted pornography on their personal  social mediaaccounts such as  Twitter and Facebook, and less than seven percent of the victims reported their situations to the university authorities. An interesting finding of this study is that although each gender experienced equal levels of victimization, the sexual minorities were more at risk. Finn concludes his study with the claim that there is a need for universities to address the social problems associated with college students’ abundant use of the internet.

In his study titled “In the campus shadows, women are stalkers as well as the stalked,” Brownstein (2000) established that although forty-two percent of the cyberstalking sufferers in a university setting were males, females were more terrorized and susceptible to cyberstalking. The researcher also found that several factors, including computer experience, influences the perceptions of the threat posed and the effects of cyberstalking.

In his study focusing on how effectively institutions of higher learning in New Zealand addresses the issue of cyberstalking, Sen (2013) establishes that the campuses have fallen behind in curbing the problem despite implementing some statutes of conduct covering the use of colleges’ computers. For instance, the Victoria University Statute of Student Conduct 2008 requires that the institution’s students should neither publish nor should they distribute reading materials that are  sexually offensive or those that have related information on the same. Also, the statute illegalizes misusing university computer systems, let alone sending excessive emails to others.

In their study,  Burgess and Baker, cited in McFarlane and Bocij (2003) featured six hundred and fifty-six college students where they found that only eleven percent of the sample brought the issue of online harassment to the authorities’ attention. Sixty-one percent of the students that reported the challenges were females. Alexy, Burgess, Baker, and Smoyak (2005) also measure perceptions of cyberstalking in a sample of seven hundred and fifty-six students. The researchers found that only 3.7 percent of the study participants experienced cyberstalking in their campus life and 31.5 percent of individuals that had experienced offline stalking also encountered cyberstalking. As such, the findings of Alexy, Burgess, Baker, and Smoyak (2005) research confirmed the claim that cyberstalking can be an extension of offline stalking.

Also, multiple studies of online victimization of young people have been conducted. In his review that featured two hundred and sixty-four young participants, Li (2006) found out that 25 percent of the respondents had experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lives. In the following year, Li conducted a victim of cyberbullying study on four hundred and sixty-one young individuals and established that 26.3 and 31.2 percent of females and males respectively had faced cyberbullying.  Besides,  the results of Li’s subsequent study conflict with those of the earlier research since the formerly identified males as more likely to be victims and offenders while the latter established that females experience the majority of victimization. Nevertheless, in both studies, Li found out that women are more likely to report cyberbullying than the males.

Moreover, a survey carried out by the United Kingdom Cyberspace Research Unit on one thousand three hundred and sixty-nine children aged between nine and sixteen revealed that twenty and fourteen percent of the sample were harassed using abusive and intimidating messages in chat rooms and admitted attacking others respectively (O’Connell, Barrow, and Sange 2002). Similarly, in their study, titled Online Victimization: A Report on the Nation’s Youth Finkelhor, Mitchell, and Wolak (2000) found out that two percent of youths in their sample reported when they developed a feeling of being upset and afraid while six percent alerted the elders of their online harassment experience. Further, in the research, Finkelhor, Mitchell, and Wolak (2000) identified that majority of the perpetrators, fifty-four percent, were males regardless of the lack of gender distinction. As a result, the researchers made the conclusion that ; “Youths have reported other aggressive and offensive behaviour directed to them on the Internet including threats to assault or harm the youth, their friends, family or property as well as efforts to embarrass or humiliate them” (Finkelhor, Mitchell, and Wolak 2000, p. 12).

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Fleming, Greentree, Cocotti-Muller, Elias, and Morrison (2006) in their research on exposure to inappropriate behavior and online material, which involved six hundred and ninety-two thirteen to sixteen-year-olds, identified that young males experience the challenges than young females. The researchers put forward two explanations for the over-representation of young males in their findings, namely increased use of the digital media and the tendency to access violent and pornographic websites.

Chisholm (2006) studies cyberspace violence against girls and adolescent females, research that involves three hundred and fifty-seven female computer users aged between eleven and nineteen. The study indicates that the number of young individuals in New Zealand that report feeling unsafe or being threatened when utilizing the internet via digital media platform and other platforms is equivalent to 22.5 percent. According to the interviewed participants, the majority of the experienced threats were sexual in nature. In this consideration, strangers had accessed the personal data of twenty-three of the three hundred, and fifty-seven respondents and twenty-seven had received implied sexual responses. Besides, Chisholm (2006) identified that twelve of the interrogated female computer users experienced verbal abuse whereas fourteen received online harassment.

Undoubtedly, the analysis of the case studies discussed above reveals a range of contradicting prevalence figures. Nonetheless, it is important to note that they present many significant findings. First, there is substantial evidence that a campus is setting fosters cyberstalking; hence, it is worth concluding that a university environment offers samples of convenience and a cyberbullying research in it results in obtaining an accurate result. There is an increased use of computers as well as, the proliferation of advanced communication technologies in a campus setting. The main reason as to why cyberstalking proliferates in a campus environment is that a university is not only enclosed but is also a sufficient community whereby students live for a significant period. Again, in most cases, an institution for higher learning is characterized by a concentration of romantic and social interaction. Second and third important findings are that the underreporting of cyberstalking is due to the notion that it is a less severe crime and that there is a need for interventions to curb cyberstalking in the young age demographic.

Conclusion

The purpose of the research essay has been to examine the crime of cyberstalking via  digital media platforms such as Twitter. A comprehensive examination of literature indicates that cyberstalking is regarded as a continuity of offline stalking. Plus, the research reveals that gender disparity makes stalking inherently feminist. Different groups of women have different levels of digital media access and participation, which implies that online victimization occurs differently. Furthermore, the paper has focused on the relationship between online disembodiment and victimization. Here, it has been established that in the modern society, the disembodied relations have replaced the traditional human relationships to continuous growth of digital media. The exponential growth of the use of the Internet has been accompanied by the diffusion of criminal behaviour. Stalking varies with age and gender with women and youths being the most affected individuals. The consequences of cyberstalking are complex and pervasive, and they extend beyond psychological to influence the manner in which an individual lives. The current and major impacts of cyberstalking include but not limited to feeling powerless, desperate, isolated, and ashamed; difficulties falling asleep, avoiding intimacy, substance abuse, weight loss, depression, anxiety, and fearing to be alone or in crowds.

Research shows that there is a strong feminist presence on digital media platform in that it can be utilized to enhance feminist principles, which, in turn, further crime committed against women, including proliferating pornography. Research identifies substantial evidence that campus setting fosters cyberstalking. Hence, it is worth concluding that a university environment offers samples of convenience and a cyberbullying research in that it results in obtaining accurate results since there is an increased use of computers as well a proliferation of advanced communication technologies in a campus setting. The spread of cyberstalking in a college setting is associated with the environment being enclosed and a sufficient community whereby students live for a significant period.

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