If, like most parents you think that your child is the most beautiful boy or girl in the world, chances are that someone else is thinking the same thing. Cyberstalking is personal and we have to realise that it sometimes goes hand-in-hand with human trafficking and other criminal activity.

When someone uses the Internet or electronic devices to repeatedly stalk or harass someone, an orgainisation or a group, it is called cyberstalking and it is seen as a criminal offense. The stalker could harass the victim through obsessive emails, social media messages, instant messaging and basically any electronic communication.

A recent study done by the Youth Research Unit of the Bureau of Market Research at the University of SA, in which 1 500 secondary school pupils in Gauteng were interviewed, highlights the prevalence rates of cyberstalking as reported by learners who belong to social network sites.

  • 8% communicated with someone who started by being nice, but ended up frightening and demanding more from them, i.e. personal information.
  • 5% received unwanted, annoying and scary messages from a person who would not stop, even after the learners had repeatedly pleaded with them to stop the behaviour.
  • In some cases the perpetrator knew personal information of the victim.
  • The majority – 89,84% – of the harassed learners regarded the threats made by the perpetrator as serious.

Having open conversations and a good relationship with your child could save them a great deal of pain, because the study showed that 40,7% of the learners would wait to see if the person did anything before reporting it. This allows the stalker more time to obtain additional information about your child, which could lead them right to your doorstep.

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Cyberstalkers are masked by the anonymity afforded by Internet platforms, hence they can target a victim without being detected. They use a variety of methods to pester their victims such as false accusations, slander, defamation, identity theft, threats, vandalism and even solicitation for sex. Another objective could be to hijack the victim’s social media accounts, do online transactions in their name, publish revenge porn or destroy their reputations.

This behaviour could be motivated by the desire to intimidate, control or influence a victim and it could be by a stranger or by someone the victim knows, hiding behind a different profile. They could also solicit the involvement of other people online who do not even know the victim.

Cyber and physical stalking cause anxiety and a great deal of fear in the victim and their family. Because it is a criminal offence, a conviction can result in a restraining order, probation, or criminal penalties against the stalker, including a jail sentence.