We now live in an increasingly digital age, one in which the use of cash, train tickets and even everyday shopping is all managed electronically. The downside of the digital lifestyle is the rise of online harassment and stalking, often referred to as ‘cyber stalking’. In truth, all harassment and stalking now is cyber enabled. So how do you feel safer in the digital age?
Here are 10 tips to feel safer in 2022
- Digital MOT: having a professional digital MOT or audit conducted enables you to identify exactly what is ‘out there’ about you. You may be a very private person but companies and brands that you engage with all collect data, such as with your Nectar card or your iPhone. Almost all of them have been hacked at some point and their data sold on the Dark Web. It is likely that your personal private data is available online enabling others, be they an ex-partner, an overly interested colleague or another type of fixated person to find out where you live, your phone number and what gym you visit.
- Use Pseudonyms: you may have heard of Hollywood stars using Disney characters names when they book into hotels. Silly as this may sound, it is a useful tactic. However, this tactic can be used by anyone. Harassment and unwanted attention can emanate from the most mundane scenario. Whether that be the person that serves you your morning coffee, the local taxi driver, or another regular engagement, it can be prudent to use a pseudonym, although calling yourself Snow White or Pocahontas is not advisable.
- Trust your instincts: have you ever used the expression ‘they make my skin crawl’ or ‘the hairs on the back of my neck’. That is your instinct warning you of a threat. The oldest part of our brain is programmed to look for danger. It is our instincts that have kept us alive…hence the term ‘gut instinct’. What often happens is that our instincts are screaming at us, warning us of a threat, but our desire not to offend or be impolite means that we suppress this key warning system. Only after that fact do we say’ I knew there was someone wrong with that person, I could feel it’.
- Hunters & Howlers: there is a general rule when it comes to abuse and threats, especially those online, that people that pose genuine threats don’t make threats. This rule is especially relevant when the unwanted communication comes from a stranger. This rule, however, does NOT apply when threats are made by someone who has or believes they have been in an intimate relationship with you. Therefore, domestic stalkers are more dangerous that stranger stalkers.
- I’ve had enough: one of the key indicators that a person who is engaging in unwanted communication with you is escalating and becoming more of a problem and a threat is what is called ‘end of tether’ language. This is where they indicate linguistically that they have run out of options and may now resort to violence. Examples of this may include ‘I have had enough’, ‘You give me no option’ ‘I’ve got no other choice’. Any examples of this type of language must be taken seriously and reported to the police immediately.
- Am I being stalked?: Harassment and stalking are two terms, often confused and misunderstood. They are both a result of unwanted communications or behaviour and nearly always have some forms of cyber activity. Harassment includes repeated attempts to impose ‘unwanted communications and contact’ upon someone and which is likely to cause distress or fear in them. Stalking is pattern of fixated and obsessive behaviour which is repeated, persistent, intrusive and causes fear of violence or engenders alarm and distress in the victim.’ Both offences must have what is called a ‘course of conduct’ which means that they must have at least two incidents. If you feel scared, it is likely that you are being stalked. It is strongly advised that you always report this and engage the help of a support organisation such as the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.
- Review your settings: whether you are the subject of unwanted attention or not, it is good practice to conduct a regular review of your security settings. Review your privacy settings and ensure that you are aware of which apps that have tracking, or locations services turned on and whether that is necessary. Consider changing your home Wi-Fi password regularly with keep you safe from ‘The Internet of Things’. Use a password manager to help safely store your existing passwords, alert you to any compromise of your existing ones and provide secure new ones. If you are unsure how to do this, there is almost always a YouTube video to explain how to do so.
- Keep private things private: there is a tendency to want to publish the fun we are having in our lives with selfies and online posts. Be mindful what you are posting, and if you feel you have to post something, do so after you have arrived home. However, if you visit somewhere on a regular basis, such as a gym or a yoga class, don’t publish or check in to that venue. By doing so you are declaring a pattern of your lifestyle and an adversary can then plan where to intercept you. Your privacy is a personal matter, so ensure that friends and acquaintances aren’t posting images or accounts of your movements without your knowledge.
- Keep a diary: if you feel that you are being harassed or stalked, be that on social media, via emails, text, whatsapp or in person, start recording what has happened and how that has made you feel. How their behaviour makes you feel is crucial as it gives context to what they are doing and can be great evidence. If they suddenly start appearing at venues that they have never normally attended, like your favourite bar or coffee shop, this is a form of intimidation, record it and how their presence makes you feel. If the communications are digitally enabled, take screen shots and keep a record. Any evidence of the ‘course of conduct’ will be required and any escalation will need to be seen. It is especially important when via social media as once the person of concern deleted their message, on most platforms it will be irretrievable. If you can’t screenshot it, take a picture of it.
- Tell someone: when someone is being targeted, they become hypervigilant. In essence this means that they begin to see threats everywhere and with that their levels of anxiety dramatically increase. This can be even more severe when the person targeting them is unknown. In those cases, they ‘see’ the potential person of concern everywhere. One of the most important solutions is to talk to someone and share what is happening with a friend or trusted person. They say a problem shared is a problem halved, but the other benefit is that the trusted person will notice changes in your behaviour and be a huge support.