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Ruchi Sharma

Manish Kathuria was recently arrested by the New Delhi Police in India's first case of cyberstalking. He was stalking Ritu Kohli by illegally chatting on the Web site MIRC using her name. He used obscene and obnoxious language, and distributed her residence telephone number, inviting people to chat with her on the phone. As a result of which, Ritu kept getting obscene calls from everywhere, and people promptly talked dirty with her. In a state of shock, she called the Delhi police and reported the matter. For once, the police department did not waste time swinging into action, and a case has been registered under Section 509 of the Indian Penal Code for outraging the modesty of Ritu Kohli.

There's somebody else stalking Julie. His identity isn't known, but he says he became infatuated with a young woman named Julie when she rented a movie in the Los Angeles video store where he works. He looked up her address on her video account, broke into her apartment, where she lives alone, and installed a voyeur cam in her bedroom that streams video directly to his website, For The Love of Julie. This one could be the creepiest yet - the site was so convincing that the LA County Sheriff's Department strongly suggested the owners take the site down. But thanks to the firewalls and spoofing systems in place, the person responsible could not be caught. The site, however, is down.

These cases may be isolated from each other, but they all raise a pertinent point - in the freedom of cyberspace, how safe are people? Especially women, since research indicates that 80 per cent of those stalked are women and 95 per cent of all stalkers are men.

The case of Ritu Kohli throws up the question: What exactly is cyberstalking and how prevalent is it in India? Defined as 'unwarranted, threatening behavioural patterns or advances directed by one Internet user against another with the purpose of harassing the latter, by using the medium of Internet', cyberstalking is a relatively new phenomenon.

As the penetration of the Internet in India is growing, newer and more complex issues concerning the law are emerging. Online cash transaction frauds are now old hat. Furthermore, those do not pose a danger to life and limb. Sadly enough, we have minimal protection against cyberstalking. An overview of websites indicates a very strong form of online assistance. You will find guidelines on how not to get caught up in the snarl of evil. However, when it comes to seeking assistance, India-based and India-relevant websites are practically zilch.

Stop Net Abusers is a non-profit corporation based in the Unites States. Here, you can find links to anti-stalking websites, where you can learn about stalkers and stalking, why stalkers do what they do, the different types of stalkers and their impacts on victims.

You can learn what to do if you become a victim; what kind of security precautions to take, whether or not to obtain a restraining order, and how to tell if a stalker will become violent. It would be best to arm yourself with research, which would make you better equipped when faced with the problem. But you could hardly depend on this site of you are caught in a particularly nasty situation. Stalking also gives invaluable information on cyberstalking, especially as a phenomenon that goes offline and enters someone's real life. It usually occurs with women, who are stalked by men, or children who are stalked by adult predators. Research and case studies reveal that paedophilia is also a predominant psychological warp when it comes to stalking.

Typically, the stalker feels empowered by the perceived anonymity online. They feel they can hide behind their monitor. But, unless you have found a truly sick and depraved stalker, most lose interest quickly if they don't get the reaction they seek. Details on simple things like basic netiquette are provided here. Don't respond to flaming (provocation online), choose a genderless screen name, don't flirt online unless you're prepared for the consequences, save offending messages and report them to your service provider, don't give out personal information about yourself or anyone else, get out of a situation online that has become hostile, log off or surf elsewhere.May sound a lot like telling a child not to put its hand in the fire. But research reveals that these are effective safety tactics. It's all like real life - you have the right to flirt and have a sexy nickname, but know your limits.

The site also offers a large amount of research. Estimates show that there are 2,00,000 real-life stalkers in America today. Roughly one in 1,250 persons is a stalker - and that is a large ratio. Of course, no one knows the truth, since the Internet is such a vast medium, but these figures are as close as it gets to giving statistics. Out of the estimated 79 million population worldwide on the internet at any given time, we could find 63,000 internet stalkers travelling the information superhighway, stalking approximately 4,74,000 victims.

Boggles the mind, doesn't it?

The site also tries to simplify things further by offering victim psyche profiles and psyche profiles of stalkers, which can also make you determine whether you fall in either of the categories.

Those stalked could mostly be females and children new to the net. A strong characteristic is that they could be mostly emotionally unstable, and in search of emotional security. Being dominated by men, the quest for female companionship may be hard sought online. This may leave them with a hurt ego and, being jilted, a man may seek revenge. A warped perspective of a twisted mind might start seeing his 'jilter' in every woman. And thus a stalker is born.

Stalkers are also observed to be control freaks, which is why they don't pick victims that are on an equal footing. A submissive victim is deemed important.

As for the victims, on the other hand, they are often caught in the guilt that they brought this upon themselves - which is wrong. A stalker knows what he is doing, and consciously works at keeping his victim feeling this way. Observation and isolated cases have also brought to note that there are three basic kinds of stalkers - simple obsessional stalkers, delusional stalkers and vengeful stalkers.

There is nothing simple about a simple stalker, and everything obsessional and delusional about the other two types. A lot of them were found to be emotionally abusive and controlling in the relationship, and many even had criminal records unrelated to stalking.

Yet another site for detailed information on sexual harassment, love-obsession, hate, revenge, vendettas, ego and power trips, is Austin-Safeplace. Findlaw has a collection of articles on various legal standpoints on the subject of stalking. However, these are largely relevant to the US alone. The site also offers links to various social abuse organizations.

TechTV has an introduction to the world of video as part of cyberstalking. But, since we as a country are far removed from the world of the camcorder, it will be a while before this phenomenon hits us.

There is, however, a faint glimmer of hope, though currently only in Mumbai. The Mumbai police has decided to extend its jurisdiction beyond regular cop duty and move into cyberspace. The cybercrime cell, which was launched and started registering complaints on December 26, 2000, is headed by Senior Inspector I M Zahid.

But, for this purpose, they say that they may need aid and assistance form Interpol. Deputy Police Commissioner (Economic Offences Wing) Himanshu Roy says that if a message was sent to one Indian destination from another, it would be easy to route it through three countries, which is where Interpol assistance would come into play. Law enforcing agencies everywhere would have to unite in order to nail such culprits.

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