UK survey aims to quantify prevalence of cyber stalking

The Network for Surviving Stalking says there's little research concerning online stalking

A U.K. organization is conducting a survey to gauge the prevalence of cyberstalking, an undocumented problem that may be becoming increasingly prevalent.

The Electronic Communication Harassment Observation questionnaire has been commissioned by the Network for Surviving Stalking, a registered U.K. charity that supports stalking victims and raises awareness about the issue.

The survey asks a series of questions about whether respondents have been been harassed online on social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

It also asks whether users were harassed over instant messaging services, text messages, or e-mail and how frequently they were harassed. The survey was designed by the psychologists from the University of Bedfordshire.

Preliminary results will be compiled around the end of the year, although the survey will stay online for a year, said Emma Short, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Bedforshire. The program needs funding, however, and is looking for sponsors, she said.

There have been general studies on stalking. The British Crime Survey from 2004 estimates that some 1 million women and 900,000 men experience some form of harassment or stalking annually in the U.K. But no studies have focused on online stalking or harassment through electronic means. The survey will establish baselines for the prevalence, duration and impact of cyberstalking, Short said.

Stalking or harassment done that way can be very frustrating for a victim, as it is easy for the offender to approach a victim with a made-up identity.

Stalkers "are very often very technically sophisticated," Short said. "It's quite hard to evade them."

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