(NaturalNews) Cyberstalking leads to more fear in its victims than "real world" stalking, causing victims to spend more money and take more protective measures, according to a study conducted by researchers from Sam Houston State University, Weber State University, Arizona State University, the University of Cincinnati and published in the journal Justice Quarterly.
"The evidence shows that cyberstalking is tremendously disruptive to the lives of the victims," researcher Matt Nobles said. "The financial cost of cyberstalking is also very serious."
Outside of a legal context, cyberstalking can be difficult to define, but it is typically considered to consist of repeated harassment or threats using electronic communication methods such as the Internet, e-mail and social media. All 50 states have passed laws criminalizing either cyber harassment, cyberstalking (in this context, cyber harassment plus a threat of violence) or both.
The researchers analyzed data from the 2006 National Criminal Crime Victimization Survey, a crime statistics sample taken by the U.S. Census Bureau. They compared and contrasted the data on stalking and cyberstalking.
The researchers found that while 70 percent of conventional stalking victims are women, only 58 percent of cyberstalking victims are. In addition, the average cyberstalking victim is 2.4 years younger than the average stalking victim (who is 40.8 years old).
"The study showed [that] both groups ... experienced fear, acknowledged they were victims and had out-of-pocket costs," researcher Bradford Reyns said. "The difference was in the level of fear and money spent to protect themselves."
More fear, extreme measures
The fear experienced by both groups of victims was similar when the harassment began, the researchers found. Over time; however, fear continued to increase only among victims of cyberstalking. This led to a steady increase in protective behaviors, such as changing e-mail addresses, locking down or closing social media accounts, avoiding friends, relatives or celebrations, and taking time off from, changing or even quitting jobs or schools. All these behaviors were significantly more common among cyberstalking victims than among victims of traditional stalking.
Financial costs for victims of both stalking and cyberstalking included expenses associated with property damage, legal fees and protective behaviors (such as child care, moving and changing phone numbers). The average cyberstalking victim spent $1,200 on such expenses, while the average stalking victim spent $500.
The researchers are now working on a supplement to their study, featuring interviews with college students about their experiences with cyberstalking.
"All of us have Facebook, Twitter, something," said Breka Garcia, a sophomore at Weber State University. "Our photos are out there. They're exposed. I don't even have my job put on there. I don't have, specifically, where I live because anyone could see it and it's very scary."
Nobles said he hopes their research will help people who have not been victimized by cyberstalking understand what victims go through.
"Cyberstalking isn't checking out someone's Facebook profile several times a week," he said. "It isn't cute or funny. The data tell us that it's very real and it can be terrifying."