Cyberstalking: are we on the same (web)page? A comparison of statutes, case law, and public perception

Published date10 April 2017
Date10 April 2017
AuthorDavid DeMatteo,Suraji Wagage,Jaymes Fairfax-Columbo
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology, policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
Invited paper
Cyberstalking: are we on the same
(web)page? A comparison of statutes,
case law, and public perception
David DeMatteo, Suraji Wagage and Jaymes Fairfax-Columbo
Purpose As society becomes more technology oriented, cyberstalking is becoming an increasing concern.
The purpose of this paper is to compare US state and federal statutory and case law to a survey of public
perception of cyberstalking to examine if cyberstalking laws reflect public opinion.
Design/methodology/approach A national sample of 303 participants ranging in agefrom 18 to 69 years
(M ¼33.35, SD ¼10.45) completed a novel cyberstalking survey and demographic questionnaire.
The survey encompassed participantsperceptions about the scope of cyberstalking as a crime, views on
punishment of cyberstalking, and behaviors they have engaged in online or experienced from others that
could constitute cyberstalking.
Findings Findings indicated numerous areas of disagreement between public perception and statutory
case law, such as a public preference that cyberstalking be treated as a separate offense from stalking, that a
threat of violence is not required for behavior to constitute cyberstalking, and that there should be a private
civil cause of action for cyberstalking. Findings also indicated that a substantial minority of participants had
engaged in or been the victim of cyber actions that could be considered cyberstalking, and that the public
preferred sanctions other than incarceration for cyberstalking.
Originality/value This is the first study to examine whether cyberstalking policy in the USA reflects public
perception of cyberstalking.
Keywords Policy, Perception, Survey, Case law, Statutes, Cyberstalking
Paper type Research paper
As society becomes more technology oriented, web-based versions of criminal offenses are
receiving greater attention. One such offense is cyberstalking, or the use of electronic means to
harass others (Parsons-Pollard and Moriarty, 2009). Reliable statistics relating to the prevalence
of cyberstalking are only recently beginning to emerge, with estimates ranging from 6.9 percent
for an adult population (Dreßing et al., 2014) to 40 percent among a college-student sample
(Wolford-Clevenger et al., 2016). Numerous US jurisdictions have enacted laws to combat
cyberstalking, but these laws are often vague and encompass a large swath of activity, including
libel, identity theft, threats of harm, sexual harassment, and, in a recent case, death (United
States v. Matusiewicz, 2015). Previous studies have examined the prevalence of cyberstalking
(Bocij, 2005; Dreßing et al., 2014; Strawhun et al., 2013), perceptions of cyberstalking and
victimization among college students (Alexy et al., 2005; Lindsay and Krysik, 2012; Melander,
2010; Nobles et al., 2014; Short and McMurray, 2009), subtypes of cyberstalking (Ménard and
Pincus, 2012), and motivations and profiles of cyberstalkers (McFarlane and Bocij, 2003).
Received 25 June 2016
Revised 27 July 2016
Accepted 28 July 2016
David DeMatteo is an
Associate Professor of
Psychology and Law at the
Department of Psychology,
Drexel University, Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, USA.
Suraji Wagage and
Jaymes Fairfax-Columbo are
students, both at the
Department of Psychology,
Drexel University, Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, USA.
DOI 10.1108/JACPR-06-2016-0234 VOL. 9 NO. 2 2017, pp.83-94, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599
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