The Guardian reports that, according to a new study, cyberstalking has become more prevalent than real-world stalking.
Alarmed by the rise in online harassment, the British Electronic Communication Harassment Organization (ECHO) at Bedford University recently conducted a study of the effects of cyberstalking on victims.
Researchers surveyed 250 participants between the ages of 14 and 74, and considered harassment that occurred via social networking sites, email and mobile phones. According to the study, most of the victims' ages ranged from 20 years old to 39 years old.
The data revealed key differences between physical and online harassment.
While real-world stalkers sometimes may know their victims personally, The Guardian reports that victims in the ECHO study said their cyberstalkers were either acquaintances or complete strangers with few or unclear motives for harassment.
From The Guardian: "Only 4% reported being stalked by a former partner, compared with victims of face-to-face stalking, where around half are former partners, according to Echo [sic]."
A narrower gender gap apparently exists among stalking victims online, as compared to offline statistics. While women are far more likely to be stalked in the real world, ECHO researchers found that 37 percent of males and 23 percent of women were reportedly stalked by a stranger online.
Victims told researchers that stalkers commonly used social networks as channels for harassment and intimidation. Twenty percent of victims said they were tracked through their social networks, compared to the four percent who said they were targeted via dating sites. Teens reported that social networks were the most likely places where their age group would encounter cyberstalking.
On the whole, however, victims could not pinpoint where or how their cyberstalkers found them.
Psychologist Dr Emma Short, who co-authored the ECHO study, said that the purpose of her research is to inform British lawmakers as they set out to more clearly define "cyberstalking" and draw up better legislation to protect victims.
''There is a lack of understanding of the impact of this behaviour,'' Dr. Short said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. ''One of the biggest questions was, 'Is there psychological harm?' Worryingly, a third experienced this - not just stress, but a clinical record of psychological harm.''