Surprisingly, there are currently no federal cyber harassment laws specifically established to prevent online bullying.
The federal government does have a law related to cyberstalking. 18 U.S. Code section 2261A, which prohibits the crime of stalking, was amended to impose penalties for someone who “uses the mail, any interactive computer service or electronic communication service or electronic communication system” with the intent to injure, intimidate, kill, harass, or surveil someone. Penalties can be imposed upon a defendant who uses the internet, mail, or electronic communications to place someone in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury, or who causes or attempts to cause substantial emotional distress through behavior which would reasonably be expected to cause stress.
In addition to federal laws, there are state laws on cyber-crimes in the vast majority of states, including New York, where defendants could be charged with aggravated harassment. For example, according to NY Penal Law § 240.30, cyber-harassment occurs when a person communicates with another person (including anonymously) by transmitting or delivering any form of written communication or causes a communication to be initiated by electronic means with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, or alarm another person. New York considers this a Class A misdemeanor, which can result in serving up to one year in prison and paying fines.
What Can Victims do to Protect Themselves?
There are a few things victims can do to protect themselves from cyberbullying, harassment, and cyberstalking. These include:
- Reset Passwords: Victims may want to change their passwords for any accounts that hold vulnerable information and make sure the password isn’t something their ex-spouse can guess.
- Set Up Security Protection with Their ISP: If their internet service providers have security plans, victims may want to use them. If your internet provider does not have a security plan, you may wish to switch to a provider that does.
- Modify Social Media Accounts: For those who use social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter, they may want to make some changes to their accounts by switching their profile pictures, tightening their privacy settings, and even changing their usernames.
- Limit Information Shared Online: Stalkers can Google someone to find out where they live, who they hang out with, and where they like to go. When people share this kind of information, it makes it easier for stalkers to target them and track their every move.
- Document the Abuse with a Police Incident Report: Victims who have experienced this type of abuse can file an official police incident report. This creates official documentation of the abuse, which can be important in future legal proceedings.
- Get a Lawyer and File an Order of Protection: To ensure your rights are protected, contact an attorney. Your attorney will be able to help you file an order or protection (also known as a “restraining order”), which can help protect your safety and well-being.
Resources for Survivors
Not all is lost when it comes to technology. In fact, technology can be very helpful to survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence, and stalking.
There are many resources available online, including:
- Safety planning with survivors of domestic and sexual violence, stalking, and trafficking through technology abuse: https://www.techsafety.org/resources-survivors/technology-safety-plan
- Information to assist survivors with personal privacy management: http://pubs.pcadv.net/clr/TechPrivacy_Booklet.pdf
If you are a victim of online bullying or harassment of any kind, be sure to contact Wisselman, Harounian & Associates, P.C. so that our Long Island family law attorneys can assist you in taking the appropriate steps towards peace of mind and freedom.
New York Resources for Cyberstalking Arrests:
- Stalking | New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV) – The OPDV is the only executive-level state agency in the nation dedicated to the issue of domestic violence. On this section of the OPDV website, you can find information related to stalking offenses. In addition to differentiating stalking from cyberstalking, you can also learn more about common stalking behaviors and the impact the crime has on victims.
- New York State Stalking Laws | Safe Horizon – As the largest non-profit victim services agency in the United States, Safe Horizon provides support for victims of domestic and intimate partner violence, including stalking. On this section of the organization’s website, you can read about the various statutes relating to stalking offenses. You can also download a free “Stop the Stalker” Tip Card and Tech Safety Brochure.
- Tech Safety and Privacy for Survivors – https://vawnet.org/sc/considerations-advocates-and-organizations-serving-survivors-abuse
- Promoting Safe and Healthy Online Communities – https://vawnet.org/sc/data-security-and-privacy