By: Brooke Throckmorton


With the frequent use of technology today, it should come as no surprise that its reach is abused. While technology can be entertaining, helpful, and time-saving, it can also be terrifying, intrusive, and ultimately enabling to those who want to intimidate or harm others.

In 2009, 14 out of every 1,000 people, age 18 or older, fell victim to stalking.[1] One in four of these stalking victims reported some form of cyberstalking (83% by e-mail, 35% by instant messaging).[2] Stalking is often defined by its effect on the victim, namely, the fear it produces.[3] Stalking creates a type of “psychological prison” for victims that includes feelings of fear, paranoia, shame, isolation, depression and in severe cases, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).[4] Stalking is legally defined as “following or loitering near another” to “annoy or harass that person or to commit a further crime such as assault or battery.”[5] Some statutes incorporate additional elements such as requiring the victim feel “distressed” about their own personal safety or the safety of close friends or family.[6] The definition of cyberstalking adds the element of intimidation through the use of e-mails or the Internet to place “the recipient in fear that an illegal act or injury” will be inflicted upon the recipient or a member of that person’s family or household.[7] The rise in availability of cheap technology has allowed cyberstalking to replace traditional approaches to stalking.[8]

Advanced technology allows stalkers to constantly terrorize their victims by “tracking and monitoring them” as they move throughout the world with their smartphones, computers, and I-pads.[9] In addition to GPS tracking systems installed in virtually every smartphone, social media plays a huge role in enabling abusers to reach their victims. With multiple social media outlets to choose from, it allows stalkers multiple options to observe and intimidate their victims. For example, a 2017 feature introduced on the Snapchat app, called Snap Map, allows your “friends” to view your location at all times if you are “opted-in”.[10] If a user chooses to opt-in and share their location with “friends”, these “friends” can view the user’s location at all times, even if the user is not chatting with them in the app or sending them snapchats.[11] The biggest concern with this new feature is that some users may not understand the implications of turning on their Snap Map location.[12]  In turn, they may be inadvertently sharing their location at all times with potential cyberstalkers.

You may be asking how the law deals with cyberstalking. Good news! There is a federal statute that specifically speaks to the crime of cyberstalking.[13] The statute is titled “Stalking” but contains a provision that refers specifically to using “any interactive computer service or electronic communications service or electronic communication system of interstate commerce” with intent to do harm or place a person under surveillance for such harm.[14] A Virginia man was recently charged, convicted, and sentenced to 41 months in jail under this statute in March of this year.[15] Richard Killebrew, a resident of Norfolk, Virginia, used a computer and cell phone to communicate threatening messages, some of which contained death threats, to multiple victims in Nebraska.[16] As for the state law frontier, some states have enacted specific cyberstalking statutes. Others continue to rely on their stalking statutes and apply the terms to electronic communications.[17] This can be problematic given the unique nature of cyberstalking.[18]

While there are laws in place to bring relief to victims of cyberstalking, you can be proactive by monitoring your own Internet activities. For example, if you have Snapchat, ensure that you are either opted-in or opted-out of Snap Map. If you have a smart phone, you can monitor which apps are using your location. You can find location services in your privacy settings. In these settings, you can view if you are sharing your iPhone location. You can also scroll down to view which apps are using your location, indicated by “never”, “while using”, or “always.”

While the federal government and select state governments have expanded their statutes to explicitly include cyberstalking, all states should have such a provision. Since cyberstalking can be done at any and all times, there should be unique statutory language to speak to the solely electronic communications. While cyberstalking is not wholly preventable, there are means that you can monitor your online activities that can make you less susceptible to cyberstalking.



[1] Katrina Baum, Shannon Catalano, Michael Rand, Stalking Victimization in the United States, U.S. Dep’t of Just., (Jan. 2009),

[2] Katrina Baum, Shannon Catalano, Michael Rand, Stalking Victimization in the United States, U.S. Dep’t of Just., (Jan. 2009),

[3] See Melvin Haung, Keeping Stalkers at Bay in Texas, in Domestic Violence Law 282, 284 (Nancy Lemon ed., 2013).

[4] Id. at 285.

[5] Stalking, Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014)

[6] Id.

[7] Cyberstalking, Black’s Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014).

[8] Supra note 3, at 282.

[9] Id.

[10] See What’s the Deal with Snap Map?, Tech. Safety (Sept. 21, 2017 3:13 PM),

[11] See id.

[12] See id.

[13] See 18 U.S.C. 2261A(2).

[14] Id.

[15]  Virginia Man Sentenced for Cyber Stalking, U.S. Dep’t of Just., (Mar. 13, 2017),

[16] Id.

[17] Is There a Law Against Cyberstalking or Cyberharassment?,,

[18] Id.

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