The term “Facebook stalking” is entrenched in our generation’s vernacular – a playful way to say that we were checking out old photos of a friend or crush.
But there’s a much more sinister type of cyberstalking, and it’s part of a growing trend around the country and at GW. Many of the harassment cases reported to the University Police Department this fall have involved texting or social media. Stalkers now follow victims’ digital trail, not just their route home.
Don’t let our colloquial use of Facebook stalking dilute the more serious consequences. Despite the physical distance between the victim and harasser, students must not be afraid to come forward to report cases of cyberstalking to UPD.
There isn’t any perfect remedy for cyberstalking. If you’re looking to go through District courts, the full weight of the law and a restraining order are notoriously hard to apply to online interactions. Often, police must witness the interaction, or the victim must file an official report with substantial evidence to compel law enforcement to take action.
But this is an area where UPD, as it discovers new ways to deal with these issues, can have a great deal of authority.
It’s a message worth spreading. Since the University began pushing the city to expand UPD’s power off campus to help GW take more disciplinary actions against students, distrust has developed. Some students may no longer see University police as resources, but as foes.
But with all disciplinary actions, students are subject to a different set of rules when they sign up for GW housing or attend an individual school. If students are to be held accountable when it comes to school policies, students should feel they can rely on UPD’s security system.
In this case, UPD can help you. You don’t just have to handle cyberstalking on your own. GW can issue an order for one student to stay away from another and issue suspensions.
Cyberstalking can make victims feel more helpless than you may think. Many victims of stalking hesitate to change their phone number, fearing the professional and social ramifications. Blocking a stalker’s number can only do so much, given the stunningly simple ways to get around caller ID.
Services and settings exist that can mitigate the intrusion of a stalker. But the only way to completely escape cyber harassment would be to abandon the internet and one’s phone altogether, an idea unthinkable to our generation. It would be an academic and professional disaster.
So the right solution – the only real solution – is to get UPD involved. This is why our campus authorities are seeing an increase in these cases. It was the predictable, inevitable result of an eternally plugged-in generation.
UPD should also aid the student body through education – helping students understand that harassment includes unsolicited attention on the internet. UPD must come up with a plan, sharing not only knowledge about the rise in cyberstalking, but also the necessary channels to combat it, through student groups like Students Against Sexual Assault.
The only way to help stem the rising tide of cyberstalking is to make potential victims aware of the resources that exist.
And evidently, most students don’t yet have this knowledge. Eight of the 15 harassment cases reported to UPD so far this year have involved cyberstalking. On a campus of over 20,000 students, it is fair to assume that there are likely many more incidents that are never brought to the attention of campus authorities.
So next time you laugh and ask if someone was “stalking” you, keep in mind: Stalking doesn’t mean what it used to.
The writer is a junior majoring in international affairs.