Cyberstalking: a new challenge for criminal law

Paul Bocij, Mark Griffiths, Leroy McFarlane

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Cyberstalking has recently emerged as a new and growing problem and is an area that will probably receive a higher profile within criminal law as more cases reach court (see Griffiths, 1999; Griffiths, Rogers and Sparrow, 1998; Bojic and McFarlane, 2002a; 2002b). For the purposes of this article we define cyberstalking as the use of information and communications technology (in particular the Internet) in order to harass individuals. Such harassment may include actions such as the transmission of offensive e-mail messages, identity theft and damage to data or equipment. Whilst a more comprehensive definition has been presented elsewhere (Bocij and McFarlane, 2002), it is hoped that the definition here is sufficient for those unfamiliar with this field. The stereotypical stalker conjures up images of someone harassing a victim who is the object of their affection. However, not all stalking incidents are motivated by unrequited love. Stalking can also be motivated by hate, a need for revenge, a need for power and/or racism. Similarly, cyberstalking can involve acts that begin with the issuing of threats and end in physical assault. We also make distinctions between conventional stalking and cyberstalking. Whilst some may view cyberstalking as an extension of conventional stalking, we believe cyberstalking should be regarded as an entirely new form of deviant behaviour.
It is not surprising that cyberstalking is sometimes thought of as a trivial problem. A number of writers and researchers have suggested that cyberstalking and associated activities are of little genuine concern. Koch (2000), for example, goes as far as accusing those interested in cyberstalking as promoting hysteria over a problem that may be minuscule or even imaginary. The impression gained is that cyberstalking represents a relatively small problem where victims seldom suffer any real harm. Whilst there are no genuinely reliable statistics that can be used to determine how common cyberstalking incidents are, a great deal of evidence is available to show that cyberstalking is a significant and growing problem (Griffiths et al, 1998). For instance, CyberAngels (a well-known Internet safety organization) receives some 500 complaints of cyberstalking each day, of which up to 100 represent legitimate cases (Dean, 2000). Another Internet safety organization (Working to Halt Online Abuse) reports receiving an average of 100 cases per week (WHOA, 2001). To highlight the types of cyberstalking behaviours that take place and some of the major issues facing criminal law, we briefly examine four high profile cases of cyberstalking (adapted from Bocij and MacFarlane, 2002b).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-5
Number of pages3
JournalThe Criminal Lawyer
Publication statusPublished - May 2002


  • cyberstalking
  • challenge
  • criminal law


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