Cyber stalkers have access to information at their fingertips in a digital age, security experts have said, as they urge people to share the burden and not struggle alone.
Tony Neate, chief executive of Get Safe Online, said it is easier with the advance of technology for stalkers to gather information about an individual and use it against them. But, he said, the key thing for victims to remember is that they aren’t alone, and to seek the help of family and friends as well as protecting themselves online.
“It’s never the victim that’s to blame - stalkers are vicious, nasty bullies,” he said. “We’ve got to make them realise they will be reported, that there’s no hiding place for these online trolls. We’ve got new technologies, and that makes it easier for the stalkers. They wouldn’t dream of doing it in real life - they wouldn’t do it at the bus stop. They are only doing it behind the anonymity of the internet, which is why police take it so seriously now.”
An estimated 5m people experience stalking each year, official figures show, with research suggesting as many as one in five women will experience it in their adult life.
Research summarised by Paladin, national stalking advocacy service, found that victims did not tend to report it to police until the 100th incident, while half of those affected either curtailed their working or gave it up altogether.
Mr Neate said enormous amounts of information were now available about individuals on the internet, from email addresses to photographs. “We’ve got to keep our personal data private,” he said.
“The big thing is making sure your information is safe.
“And telling someone when it happens - don’t go through it alone, share with family and friends and ask for help.”
Stalking and harassment have always existed, the company has said, but with the growth of the internet it has become easier for the perpetrators to gather information and hide online.
It is important for victims to review what information is available about them publicly, to keep changing passwords and to limit what they share.
Among incidents reported are the creation of false profiles on social media sites as well as direct threats to the victim. Family and friends will also often be harassed, the company said, with a stalker on average contacting 21 people connected to the victim.
“Cyber stalking can devastate lives and families,” said Mr Neate.
“People are often unable to get away from what’s going on.”