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Stalking in the 21st century: Protecting yourself online

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Tim Johnson, 20th Judicial District deputy district attorney, discusses Rise of the Technology Stalking in the 21st Century at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, June 27, 2018. Johnson shared methods Peterson AFB members can use to prevent cyberstalking. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Justin Beebe)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Tim Johnson, 20th Judicial District deputy district attorney, presented Rise of the Technology Stalking in the 21st Century at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, June 27, 2018. Johnson explained to Peterson AFB members what to do if they or someone they know are being cyberstalked. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Justin Beebe)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Tim Johnson, 20th Judicial District deputy district attorney, briefs Rise of the Technology Stalking in the 21st Century at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, June 27, 2018. Johnson explained stalking and how it has changed into cyber stalking over the years to Peterson AFB members. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Justin Beebe)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Cyberstalking is what experts call stalking in the internet age. Technology has made it easier for stalkers to find people and stalk them, said Tim Johnson, 20th Judicial District deputy district attorney, during a visit to Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.

Johnson, a career prosecutor who has trained hundreds of law enforcement officers and university students on cyberstalking, came to Peterson AFB to brief members on what cyberstalking is and how to prevent it, as well as how to respond to it if it happens, June 27, 2018.

As DA, Johnson became an expert in stalking cases. In the early 2000s, cases were beginning to involve computers and new technologies, such as email. With the rise of technology, the cases changed. Johnson was the DA on Colorado’s first known cyberstalking case to proceed to trial.

“The crimes of stalking, along with sexual assault and domestic violence, cuts through all demographics and socioeconomic groups,” Johnson said. “We know there are huge barriers to reporting these kinds of crimes, especially in law enforcement and military situations where the offender may be another member of that group. It is important for victims to prepare with ways to protect themselves and collect information, which can be used by investigators to stop this kind of conduct.”

While technology can be used by stalkers, it can also be used as a force for good. Technology can protect you from stalkers, if you know how to use it, Johnson said.

“Use strong passwords, make sure you are occasionally looking yourself up online, and don't maintain open profiles, also, if you suspect someone is stalking you, keep records, take photos, record contacts and use video,” Johnson said. “Make sure the person you suspect of stalking you knows the contact is unwelcome and to stop. We encourage reports to be made to law enforcement so proper safety planning can happen.”

Other tips Johnson provided include:

  • Destroy old devices and keep track of what devices you own
  • Ensure no private information is on devices used by children
  • Protect your at home Wi-Fi with a strong password, including the administrator settings
  • Use two step verification on all services it’s available on
  • Disable location services such as geotagging whenever possible
  • Keep anti-virus and anti-spyware software up to date
  • Make your social media accounts as private as possible
  • Use wikihow.com to find instructions on any of the above tips

Supervisors can also help protect their subordinates.

If a subordinate finds out they are a victim, tell them not to delete anything. Keep a written record of what is going on and all of the suspected contacts that could have happened such as blocked calls, someone driving by the house, etc. Make sure the victim is safe, has a safety plan in place, and is supported by friends and family, Johnson said.

“There isn't a single industry, career, location, or age which is more at risk in the area of cyberstalking,” Johnson said. “The first victim we identified in a stalking case was in her mid 40s. While many of our victims are younger and more engaged with current technology, there is nothing about cyberstalking which limits it to a certain demographic. It truly affects everyone. Stalking is all about power and control. It is about exercising that over a victim.”

Like many crimes, cyberstalking is often unreported and not talked about.

“I cannot tell you how many times I have done a training to have a survivor approach me and tell me they thought it had only happened to them,” Johnson said. “Stalking is very common and affects more people than we think.”

Cyber is a tool which makes stalking easier and often more invasive than traditional stalking, Johnson said. Getting the message out alerts members of the public that cyberstalking is happening.

Contact Family Advocacy Program personnel Kisa Corcoran at 719-556-7156, or Shirley Crow at 719-556-8571 if you have additional questions. If you need an urgent response call the Crisis Line at 719-291-6625.  More information is also available on the web at www.safehorizon.org/get-help/stalking/ or http://victimsofcrime.org/our-programs/stalking-resource-center.