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Does online harassment have you spooked?

Research indicates that more than half of those who experience online harassment do not know who is behind it. It is unsettling when you have no idea whether your tormentor is a stranger or an acquaintance.

Online harassment is not new; it has been going on for years. Law enforcement personnel and policy makers say that more attention should be brought to this issue.

The first case

Cyber harassment has been in the news since 2004, when the first federal prosecution took place. James Robert Murphy, a Columbia, South Carolina resident, was found guilty of using the internet with the intent to "Annoy, Abuse, Threaten or Harass."

His victim was a Seattle resident and former girlfriend. He harassed her every day for years with dozens of obscene emails, but she collected the evidence and took it to the police, who engaged the services of a crime task force. The courts eventually indicted Murphy on 26 counts of sending harassing emails, but he was able to avoid prison through a plea agreement.

Defining online harassment

According to Pew Research, 40 percent of those who use the internet have experienced some form of online harassment. Name-calling, efforts to embarrass and threats of physical harm are among the issues. Women often experience more serious problems than men do. Younger women especially are targets for stalking, sexual harassment and prolonged harassment, as in the case of James Robert Murphy's victim.

Little to no clue

In studies undertaken by Pew Research, 38 percent of those asked said the perpetrator was a stranger, and 26 percent admitted they had no idea who was harassing them. However, friends and acquaintances were the most common types of perpetrators mentioned. As to where the harassment occurs, 66 percent of respondents cited social media apps and websites, but online harassment also happens in the workplace.

What you should do

If you are harassed online, report it. Keep records of dates and times. Take a screen shot and make hard copies. You may wish to consult an attorney experienced with employment law if this is happening to you while at work. Online harassment can be scary, and no one should take it lightly.

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