Stalking, Safety Plans, and Dreams of a Life without Fear

“Stalking is unpredictable and dangerous. No two stalking situations are alike. There are no guarantees that what works for one person will work for another, yet you can take steps to increase your safety.” — National Center for Victims of Crime

Israel - Lisa-Michelle Kucharz

For the first time in four and a half years, I hope to have a break from the overwhelming stress of having a stalker. You may not have realized the extent of the threats of violence and stalking I experienced, as most of the media coverage of my story focused on cyberstalking, often referring to it as cyberbullying.

All forms of harassment can be devastating, and my ordeal broke me in ways I didn’t think were possible. In addition to the defamation of character, ridicule, and hate speech, there were constant claims of stalking, intimidation schemes, and threats of violence. I had to completely change the way I thought about professional opportunities, posting my location, sharing personal information about myself with anyone other than the tightest group of friends, making new connections, getting from one place to the next, and even just being in public places.

Like many people who have orders of protection against those who may cause them harm, the documents don’t relieve my fears. Don’t get me wrong, they help in some ways, knowing there are court ordered conditions which bind my harasser to stay away from me and places I may go, as well as prohibit her from contacting me — official notification of unacceptable behavior with clear ramifications.

“Victims of stalking cannot predict what stalkers will do but can determine their own responses to the stalking behavior. Personal safety and harm prevention is of the utmost importance for victims. While victims cannot control the stalking behavior, they can be empowered to take steps to keep themselves, family and loved ones safe.” — Stalking Safety Planning, National Center for Victims of Crime

I’ve lived with my safety plan for four and a half years, adapting it along the way through the advice of law enforcement, probation officers, victim services, and consultants. The best information I found online is from the National Center for Victims of Crime’s Stalking Resource Center.

My safety plan is now engrained in who I am, and I can’t imagine life without it. My family, friends, colleagues, and others have been helpful in ensuring my safety and understanding that my plan also includes their protection.

While living with a safety plan can be somewhat of a relief, constantly considering harm prevention also can be draining at times.

As I head off to Israel — the first time leaving North America since my ordeal began and a country that most likely would not allow entry to someone with five recent convictions, including death threats and criminal harassment, who is currently serving a two-year probation and 10-year weapons prohibition — I’m hoping my trip will also give me some peace of mind, even if it’s only temporary. I’m not sure it can or what that would even feel like.

Of course, I have a safety plan in place for my trip, but there’s part of me that would love to wake up in a couple of days feeling completely safe and free from worry about my stalker.

Posted in Cyber-harassment, cyber-safety, Cyberbullying, Cyberbullying Prevention, Online Harassment, Online Hate, stalking | Leave a comment

Digital Gossip: How It Leads to Cyberbullying

By Sue Scheff

Gossip can be mean, especially when it’s online. Bullies can build on gossip and create stories and ugliness about a student that can go viral in seconds.

In today’s internet age, gossip can be spread at lightning speed to hundreds, thousands or millions of people. The new party line is cyberspace where millions of people can all access the same information instantaneously. Just get on your computer, iPhone, iPad or smartphone and let the rumors fly.

Here are 10 ways people (including kids) can use new technology to rapidly spread gossip (in no particular order).

  1. Email – One way to spread a rumor quickly is to send an email to all the contacts in your account, except the one the rumor is about, of course. Then they can forward it to all their contacts and on it goes from there. You better hope they delete your name when they forward it, or you might get blamed for starting it.
  2. Facebook – Post your gossip on facebook and all your friends will know about it instantly. If they “like” it, comment on it or repost it, all their friends will see it too. Pretty soon you’ve got the rumor spreading quickly.
  3. Instagram – Another social networking sight great for gossiping is Instagram. Post an innocent picture and watch a rumor start and spread like wildfire.
  4. Twitter – You can tweet a rumor and all your Twitter followers will know your juicy gossip in 280 characters or less. They can re-tweet it to all their followers and in no time the gossip is flying through cyberspace.
  5. Blogs – Some people love to spread gossip through their blogs. Even unintentional rumors are sometimes started by bloggers.
  6. Website – You won’t believe some of the stuff you find posted on websites, and you shouldn’t either. There are whole websites put on the web just for the purpose of spreading misinformation. Always remember to check their sources.
  7. YouTube – If you have a registered YouTube account you can upload an unlimited number of videos. If you have a video of someone doing something dubious, this is the best way to spread that rumor to millions of viewers.
  8. Comments – A great way to anonymously spread gossip is to post a comment on a website, blog, YouTube video or any social platform. You can log in under an assumed username and say all kinds of outrageous things without revealing your identity.
  9. Chat rooms – Another anonymous way to spread rumors are internet chat rooms. You can start with an offhand comment and embellish it as you go.
  10. Texting – If you see or hear something juicy to gossip about, you can send a text message to all your friends. That will get the thumbs flying as the rumor gets spread.

The new social media available has taken gossiping to a whole new level. Unfortunately this can lead to cyberbullying and be very traumatizing to vulnerable people. Celebrities and politicians are easy targets for internet gossip and careers are ruined by unintended tweets.

Everyone should use the new technology responsibly, but many abuse their new found privileges. Be careful what you put out into cyberspace or it may come back to haunt you and always check the sources of what you see or read. Chances are it’s just more cyber-gossip.

The consequences of what you post. Take the time to consider what you’re about to publish online – and remember, it can and will impact your future.

Originally posted on Sue Scheff Blog.

Posted in Cyber-harassment, cyber-safety, Cyberbullying, Cyberbullying Prevention, Online Harassment, Online Hate | Leave a comment

How to talk with your kids about social media safety

By Jennifer Bridges, Reputation Defender

There are certain risks involved in using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter—and these risks are especially dangerous for young people, who may not be aware of these threats or fully understand their consequences. As such, all parents should teach their children how to stay safe on the Internet.

The best way to protect your child is to start an ongoing conversation about cybersafety. But, what’s the best way to go about this?

Keep reading to learn:

  • When you should start talking about social media safety
  • Some ways to make the conversation more insightful
  • What topics you should cover
  • What other steps you can take to keep your child safe on social media

When should you start talking about social media safety?

Ideally, you want to have your first discussion before your child goes online. For some families, especially those in which one or more parents are heavy social media users, this might mean initiating a conversation with your 7-year-old. Other parents might not need to start these talks until a year or two later. The key is to watch your child closely and start the conversation as soon as he or she shows any interest in social media.

Discussing positive online behavior with children is important. Sharing expectations and online safety best practices are critical for their well-being and protection, especially when they begin to independently use the Internet or have their first cell phone.” — Lisa-Michelle Kucharz‏, cyberbullying prevention and cybersafety advocate

Tips for getting the most out of the conversation

Talking about sensitive issues with your child can often be an awkward and frustrating exercise. To make these discussions easier—as well as more productive—do your best to avoid lecturing your child.  You want these conversations to be a two-way street. Moreover, talking “at” your child (instead of “with” your child) will only ensure that he or she will avoid bringing up this subject with you ever again.

Another good tactic is to ask open-ended questions that make your child think and require more than “yes” or “no” answers. For example, (assuming he or she is already on social media) instead of merely asking your child if he or she has ever seen anyone being attacked online, you could ask him or her to describe a hurtful online interaction that he or she has witnessed. This approach not only provides you with more information about your child’s online experiences, but it also furthers the conversation by naturally leading to additional questions like “what constitutes online abuse?” and “what should you do if you witness someone being attacked online?”

Some important thought-provoking questions to ask are:

  • What are the best/worst aspects of social media?
  • How could you use social media to uplift someone?
  • What would make you feel safer online?

Your teens may always be an app ahead of you, but they will always need our offline wisdom.” — Sue Scheff, author and family Internet safety advocate

What topics should you include in your discussions?

There are many topics to choose from when it comes to staying safe when using social media, including:

But, don’t worry. You don’t have to cover all of these things in your very first discussion. Just make sure to touch on the following basic concepts over the course of your ongoing conversations. As your kids get older and gain more online experience, you can adjust the subject matter and the depth of your discussions to accommodate their new level of understanding.

The Internet is forever

This is perhaps the most crucial thing your child should know: Anything you put online will live there indefinitely and have the power to affect your life for many years to come. And more importantly, once you post something, it is out of your control.

Even if you regret a post and decide to delete it, this does not guarantee that it is gone forever. It can still come back to haunt you if someone managed to take a screenshot of it before you took it down. Social media posts have cost people jobsruined their chances of getting into the university they wanted to attend, and even put a damper their dating lives.

Therefore, your child needs to think very carefully before he or she says or shares anything on social media. The things your child shares online should always represent his or her best self. A good test before your child posts anything is to ask “What would my grandmother think of this post?”

People aren’t always who they appear to be

There are 750,000 predators online at any given moment, and children need to how to avoid falling prey to them. One way to warn them is to explain that everyone on the Internet is essentially hiding behind a “mask” that they’ve created.

As such, you don’t know who’s really behind the profile you are interacting with. That sixth-grade girl to whom you’ve been confiding your secrets could really be a 50-year-old man who’s trying to meet you offline, scam you, or steal your personal information.

To stay safe, your child should follow these privacy guidelines:

  • Limit your social media friends to your real-life friends.
  • Don’t chat with or send pictures to strangers.
  • Never share personal information like your last name, phone number, the name of your school, or where you live.

It’s important for your child to follow his or her instincts. If anyone they talk to online ever makes him or her feel uncomfortable in any way, there’s no need to respond to that person. Instead, your child should:

  • Make an excuse and leave the conversation.
  • Block the person.
  • Take a screenshot for evidence
  • Report the person to the platform.
  • Tell an adult.

Continue reading on Reputation Defender.

Posted in Cyber-harassment, cyber-safety, Cyberbullying, Cyberbullying Prevention, Online Harassment, Online Hate | Leave a comment