Cyberstalking: Harrassment in the Internet Age

Bocij, Paul
Praeger, London

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Cover of book Cyberstalking sketches the rise of the worldwide web, focusing upon the darker side of the Internet and the dangers this poses to users of technology. Particular emphasis is placed upon the safety of vulnerable groups, such as women, children and young people. Cyberstalking refers to harassment operating within the Western world, and Bocij concentrates specifically on cases in the UK, the US, Australia and Canada. This main concern of this book is to highlight the prevalence of this form of harassment, and to draw attention to the effects of cyberstalking. Despite a general reluctance within society to recognise the serious nature of Internet harassment, the outcomes of cyberstalking include 'serious emotional and mental harm, physical and sexual assault, kidnapping, and even murder' (p xii).

The book is accessible to those with personal experience of cyberstalking, and offers practical advice about how parents can minimise the risks to their families posed by the Internet. Whilst not strictly an academic text, Cyberstalking may be of interest to researchers and students working in the field of new technology, harassment and child protection. Although the book sometimes focuses on quite technical computer procedures, I am impressed at how effectively Bocij explains these in lay terms, allowing non-specialists to follow the discussions. In addition, he also includes a glossary of technical terms to explain the concepts covered.

The book is split up into 10 chapters. The opening chapters examine various definitions of stalking and cyberstalking, and Bocij argues that while stalking refers to offline harassment, cyberstalking involves stalking aided by technology. The incidence of cyberstalking is examined in Chapter 3, and Bocij provides an overview of various estimations concerning the prevalence of cyberstalking within the Western context. Estimating the incidence and prevalence is a complicated task, he argues, not only because figures used by organisations are often based on outdated research, but because an estimation depends on the exact definition of cyberstalking, which varies from country to country. Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the characteristics and personality traits of cyberstalkers and their victims, and the impact that this sort of harassment has on the victims is examined. In Chapter 6, questions of what motivates someone to cyberstalk are explored, and why exactly the Internet is used as a way to harass others. The cyberstalking of children and young people forms the subject of Chapter 7, with special emphasis upon issues of child pornography and paedophilia. Chapter 8 shifts emphasis from individual cyberstalking towards an approach that considers the growing importance of 'corporate cyberstalking' involving companies and organisations, either as victims or perpetrators of cyberstalking. Next is the discussion of legislation within various countries, and the effectiveness of legal systems in the prevention and punishment of cyberstalking. The final chapter emphasises pro-active ways in which individuals can protect themselves against the risks of harassment on the web, in particular, the procedures to take if one becomes a victim of cyberstalking. The author also includes a useful section on further reading, including articles, books and Internet resources relating to various themes and chapters.

This is a very interesting book, which I enjoyed reading. In particular I found the combination of quantitative (statistics) and qualitative (case studies) data to be an interesting way to provide an overview of the existing literature.

However, although Bocij draws attention to the problem surrounding the absence of academic materials dealing with Internet harassment, I also found this work somewhat lacking in academic discussion. Cyberstalking is primarily modelled as a 'how-to' guide for victims of harassment, or for parents concerned about child safety on the web. I have two points to raise about this approach. Firstly, it might have been interesting if the author had employed a greater level of engagement with feminist debates on power and surveillance, contextualising this work on cyberstalking more thoroughly within existing literature on harassment. Secondly, I feel that the danger of an approach which places high importance on individual methods in preventing this form of harassment can encourage a blame culture which can position the victim as somehow being responsible for her own harassment.

Despite these reservationsthis is a useful book. Bocij raises some interesting points about the changing shape of harassment within Western contemporary society and sketches how the development of the Internet has enabled the harassment of vulnerable groups to intensify.

Jody Mellor
Centre for Women's Studies, University of York