Tag Archives: Stalking

The Heavy Cost of Revenge Porn

Last week, the fight against revenge porn had several major victories, as Vermont, Oregon and Texas all passed laws criminalizing revenge porn. Google also announced that it would allow victims of revenge porn to request that their images be removed from its search results. Revenge porn is the practice of publicly sharing nude or sexual photos and videos taken in the context of an intimate relationship in order to seek revenge on a former partner. These photos can be uploaded to a website with a global audience within minutes, but the repercussions for the victim can last a lifetime. In 59% of cases, these images are posted alongside private information such as full names, links to social media profiles, phone numbers and home addresses, leaving the subject open to a wide range of harassment, discrimination, stalking and violence.

Revenge porn victims suffer from severe consequences after having their private photos shared online.  One survey found that 93% of revenge porn victims reported significant emotional distress, and many experienced psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety. Victims can also experience major threats to their economic security. Their photos are widely accessible online and if co-workers or employers find the images, it may put their career in jeopardy. Many victims report losing their job after their pictures were discovered and some offenders will even send the photos directly to victims’ workplaces in an attempt to get them fired. These pictures may also complicate the search for a new job, since 80% of employers conduct web searches on potential new hires before an interview. A photo posted with identifying information may come up in search results, influencing employers’ hiring decisions. Some victims must also take drastic and costly steps to protect their safety, including changing their names, leaving their jobs or schools, or moving to new residences to escape pervasive harassment.

In states without revenge porn laws, victims may face staggering financial hurdles in their efforts to have their photos removed from the internet. Many victims have to rely on civil suits to attempt to receive compensation, and must hire a lawyer for a lengthy legal battle that may draw even more attention to the photos. Others may claim that they have a copyright over nude images that they took themselves, and send takedown notices to each website hosting their images, which may also require a lawyer to draft an effective letter. The cost of these legal services may be prohibitive for many victims. Even for those who can afford an attorney, winning a single suit or having one website take their photo down is not the end of the battle. Photos can be continually shared and reposted, making legal efforts to locate and remove the photos a process that can last years. This can exhaust a victim’s resources without any guarantee that the photos and the resulting harm and stigma will be gone for good.

Fortunately, the national climate around revenge porn is changing. States are rapidly implementing revenge porn laws that give victims a greater opportunity for justice and discourage perpetration, and sharing revenge porn is now a criminal offense in 23 states. Google’s new policy may also have a powerful impact in freeing victims from the fear that their images will pop up in web searches by employers, family, friends or romantic partners, particularly if other major search engines follow Google’s example. While the costs and consequences of revenge porn can be high, these changes provide hope that soon victims across the country will have the protections they need to take back control of their lives and keep revenge porn from damaging their happiness, safety and economic security.

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FY16 Budget Would Help Minimize Key Economic Barriers to Survivor Safety

Violence can impose significant costs on survivors, including physical and mental health care, lost wages, safety planning and relocation costs. Furthermore, economic abuse can result in life-long consequences due to job loss, debt or damaged credit. When combined with today’s high cost of living, shortage of good jobs and diminished safety net, these impacts severely limit survivors’ options to achieve safety and justice. WOW applauds the Obama Administration for increasing investments in programs that support the safety and economic security of intimate partner violence, sexual assault and stalking victims in their recent Fiscal Year 2016 budget.

The primary source of these programs is the Office on Violence Against Women within the Department of Justice, which was allotted nearly $474 million for a proposed increase of $44 million. This includes funding for shelter and housing services, which are critical in light of how often survivors cite housing, employment and other economic needs as barriers to recovering from violence. The additional $10 million for the Legal Assistance Program would also greatly help the safety and recovery of survivors by improving their ability to access remedies that only exist within the justice system, such as restitution and economic relief in protection orders. Although the general sexual assault services program was unfortunately budgeted at $3 million less than last year, we are pleased to see a $14 million increase to funding for campus violence. Addressing campus-based sexual assault is especially important considering the impact violence has on college completion and how critical education is for economic security and stability.

Beyond the Department of Justice, there are proposed investments to other federal agencies that directly or indirectly support survivors. Specifically, the budget provides $37 million to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for 5,000 new housing vouchers for survivors in need of emergency transfers from their existing assisted housing as well as vouchers for survivors through the Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program. The Department of Health and Human Services increased their budget to help survivors through shelters, support services and the national domestic violence hotline from $138.5 to $162 million. The shelter services are largely coming through Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) funds, which provide badly needed support to local programs. Lastly, survivors are better able to escape and recover from abuse if they have access to quality employment with an adequate wage and supportive leave policies. For these reasons, we commend the President for his recommendations to encourage state paid leave policies, raise the minimum wage, strengthen pay discrimination enforcement and expand job training programs.

We are encouraged to see some of the economic barriers that prevent survivors from seeking safety and justice being addressed in the Obama Administration’s budget. These investments are necessary to provide survivors of intimate partner and sexual violence and stalking the resources needed to move forward. We remain hopeful that Congress will take steps to make these proposals a reality.

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A Focus on Student Impacts During Stalking Awareness Month

January marks a time to acknowledge and renew the fight to reduce the dangerous realities of stalking. With the spring 2015 semester underway, college students between the ages of 18 and 24 in particular are at a heightened risk of being stalked. In just one six to nine month period, 13% of college women were stalked. Although many young people make light of stalking, such as by saying that they “Facebook stalked” someone, stalking is a serious crime that can psychologically and emotionally damage a victim and reduce their sense of safety. According to the Stalking Resource Center, 46% of stalking victims fear not knowing what will happen next; while 29% of stalking victims fear the stalking will never stop. It can also turn physically violent—89% of femicide victims who had been physically assaulted had also been stalked in the 12 months before their murder. In addition, most stalking victims know their stalker. On college campuses, 80% of victims knew their stalker, many of which were current or former intimate partners.

As technology has evolved, so has stalking: 78% of stalkers use more than one method to track their victims. Means of approach can include but are not limited to mobile phones (text messages and phone calls), computers (instant messaging, emails and monitoring internet histories), social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook, GPS, as well as modes of public transportation and physically following the victim. Advanced technology makes it more convenient for perpetrators to track or contact their victims more often. In fact, two thirds of stalkers pursue their victims at least once per week, many daily. Criminal justice and direct service professionals can learn more about the use of technology to stalk through the Stalking Resource Center’s online course.

Stalking can also have an economic impact on victims, whether they are in school or the workforce. Stalking can cause students to miss classes or even drop out of school to avoid the stalker. One in eight employed stalking victims will lose time from work as a direct result of their victimization, more than half of which lose five days of work or more. Missing days of work as well as the increased loss of productivity at work could lead to lost employment opportunities such as promotions or obtaining a better job and even termination. In addition to education or employment disruption, stalking can pose other economic hardships on victims. Significant property damage and costs associated with safety, such as alarm systems, changing residences, legal fees, as well as health and mental treatment are just some of the costs paid by victims.

To learn more about the economic impact of stalking on college students and potential legal remedies, see our latest ESS Project newsletter. For additional information on stalking and materials related to National Stalking Awareness Month, visit http://www.stalkingawarenessmonth.org/.

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The Horrors of Cyberstalking

I’m still in shock after reading about Ms. Johnson, who made a terrifying discovery while looking through craigslist for an explanation as to why a stranger had recently knocked on her door stating that he was responding to her invitation for sex. She saw an ad titled “Rape Me and My Daughters” and was horrified to find her own picture alongside her home address. Orchestrated by her ex-husband following a domestic violence assault conviction, Ms. Johnson was visited by over 50 men, some of whom attempted to break into her home.

This example is not an isolated event; experiences like Ms. Johnson’s are on the rise. Cyber stalking, like stalking, is characterized by the same power and control dynamics as other forms of intimate partner violence.  As stated by the National Institute of Justice, cyberstalking is the use of technology to stalk victims, involving the pursuit, harassment, or contact of others in an unsolicited fashion initially via the Internet and e-mail. It can involve obscene messages, photos and threats; the stolen web identity of a victim in order to post information or images on his or her account; and the collection of data to intimidate, harass or, in the case of Ms. Johnson, incite violence against the victim.

One in six women experience stalking during their lifetime and one in four of those victims have reported some of cyberstalking. It can cause dire emotional, physical and economic consequences for a victim. The constant fear of not knowing what a cyberstalker will do causes victims to suffer anxiety, depression, insomnia and social dysfunction at rates much higher than the general population. They tend to skip school and miss days from work at even higher rates than survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence.

This abuse and intimidation often leads to purchasing expensive security systems, cameras, gates and even guns to defend one’s children. As law enforcement and the criminal justice system aren’t as well trained to respond to cyberstalking as to other forms of intimate partner violence, a victim’s ability to purchase these protective devices may seem like the only option – an option not available to economically disadvantaged victims. Maintaining economic security, while paying for cyber protection, damaged property and emotional or physical healing, can become insurmountable. In addition, victims of these crimes may have to move, switch jobs or school, or engage in costly and lengthy legal battles to remove false internet postings. Such fraudulent online identities in and of themselves may also keep a victim from receiving a job, scholarship or loan.

Public awareness and prioritization are essential to influence policies that will protect victims like Ms. Johnson. Law enforcement, prosecutors and judges have the ability to set a precedent and criminalize cyber predators while supporting victims by providing restitution for both the tangible and intangible costs incurred. However, early intervention and prevention are the most cost- effective alternatives. Intervening as soon as possible will protect victims from emotional and financial harm as well as avoid the progression from cyberstalking to physical violence and from a rising pattern to an epidemic.

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