In the U.S., 7.5 million people report stalking each year, and 1 in 4 of those victims reported cyberstalking. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we communicate, learn, and live. Students now spend more time on the computer than ever. Consequently, they face a far greater danger of cyberbullying and cyberstalking. It’s important for schools to know and understand relevant laws and determine how to respond to digital dangers. In Alabama, this means understanding how cyberstalking laws affect schools.
What Is Cyberstalking?
The official legal definition of cyberstalking is ”the use of electronic communication to harass or threaten someone with physical harm.” Cyberstalking is often perpetrated by predators who wish to take advantage of their victim. Women and girls are most likely to be stalked online by sexual predators. Often, cyberstalkers use something called “sextortion.” This means obtaining personal information then threatening to release it to get a victim to send illicit photos or perform sexual favors.
Cyberstalking vs. Cyberbullying: What’s the Difference?
Although cyberstalking is a type of cyberbullying, there is a reason for the distinction in the law. Cyberstalking refers to a more experienced or older predator targeting specific prey. They have a specific motive and wish to fulfill it by finding out personal information in order to harm or take advantage of someone. Cyberbullying, on the other hand, tends to be erratic and less premeditated. Additionally, cyberbullies wish to harm the mental or physical wellbeing of the target. Also, they use technology like social media. In schools, cyberbullying is more common than cyberstalking. A fellow student is more likely to attack another out of spite rather than with a specific motive.
How Do Alabama Cyberstalking Laws Affect Schools?
Often, Alabama public schools adhere to the 2009 Student Harassment Prevention Act. The Act defines harassment as ”a continuous pattern of intentionally harmful behavior that takes place on school property…including, but not limited to, written, electronic, verbal, or physical acts that are reasonably perceived as being motivated by any characteristic of a student, or by the association of a student…” Unfortunately, this Act only applies to students who harass another student. As for cyberstalking, Alabama’s general stalking laws apply. Alabama Code Title 13A. Criminal Code 13A-6-90 states that anyone who ”repeatedly follows or harasses another person and who makes a threat, either expressed or implied, with the intent to place that person in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm is guilty of the crime of stalking in the first degree.” The resulting charge is a charge of a first-degree class C felony.
How Schools Can Protect Students and Prevent Cyberstalking
A school’s response to potential online harassment can prevent student harm. The best stance that can be taken is to make sure the harassment doesn’t harm students. By implementing training and teaching programs that raise awareness of cyber-dangers, students can learn to recognize the signs and protect themselves. A cyberstalker can seem friendly and easy to talk to, so it is important to explain that personal information should never be shared with anyone online. Additionally, screen monitoring programs such as LearnSafe detect incidents of online harassment, bullying, and stalking. LearnSafe alerts administrators of these incidents, allowing them to intervene. Therefore, LearnSafe helps schools prevent dangerous situations from escalating. The presence of LearnSafe on school computers can also prevent online stalking and harassment from happening in the first place.
Text by Kassie Roberts