by Starr Shepard, BPA Health Community Programs Manager
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month as well as Cyber Security Awareness Month so this month’s newsletter focuses on a topic that is growing more dangerous and pervasive. The topic is Cyberstalking.
Cyberstalking can take many forms and can include things such as “creeperware” and “stalkerware” apps being installed onto a victim’s phone where they run secretly in the background and allow an abuser to covertly track locations, monitor messages, listen to calls, turn on their camera and microphone, and even log passwords.
“Revenge porn” is another form of cyber abuse that can consist of a perpetrator posting compromising photos online in order to control and shame the victim. This often occurs with photoshopped pictures and deepfake videos. It can be nearly impossible to detect that they’re fake and/or have removed from the internet.
Another form of cyberstalking is gaslighting the victim through smart home devices. For example, victims have reported doorbells ringing when no one is there, the furnace turning on and off, key pad locks having their codes changed mysteriously, and their movements being monitoring with home-security cameras. Worse, disabling these devices can cause the stalking behavior and/or violent behavior to escalate.
If you know someone who is experiencing this, there is some action that can be taken. The most important steps to take are to cut off contact with the stalker in no uncertain terms, document everything including keeping a hard copy not stored on their computer, inform family and friends so that they don’t interact with the stalker, and report the abuse to law enforcement.
Cyberstalking causes extensive damage that affects victims socially, interpersonally, economically, and psychologically. This form of abuse will continue to increase as technology continues to expand and advance. Awareness of this issue is critical as people become progressively more dependent on technology for nearly every facet of their lives.