Cyberstalking, a New Crime: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Current State and Federal Laws


Imagine a distressed woman discovering the following message on the Internet that was falsely attributed to her: “Female International Author, no limits to imagination and fantasies, prefers group macho/sadistic interaction . . . stop by my house at [current address] . . . . Will take calls day or night at [current telephone number] . . . I promise you everything you ever dreamt about. Serious responses only.” This is an example of cyberstalking – which involves the use of the Internet, e-mail, or other means of electronic communication to stalk another individual. Current statistics suggest that tens of thousands are being cyberstalked annually in the United States.

This article analyzes why the nature of cyberstalking represents a form of behavior that is distinct from “offline stalking” such that the interpretation of many of the statutes dealing with offline stalking may be inadequate to address the problem. The article first explores theoretically what a criminal cyberstalking statute should include. It then considers what aspects of cyberstalking the current state and federal laws may not cover. The article also deals with potential issues, including constitutional issues, that may arise from criminal cyberstalking statutes. The article also has an Appendix which individually sets forth all state and federal stalking laws and how those laws might currently deal with cyberstalking, if at all.

Here is an outline of the article:

Introduction I. Cyberstalking vs. Offline Stalking a. Review of Offline Stalking b. Similarities and Differences II. Examining the Criminal Elements of cyberstalking a. The “intentional” mens rea requirement b. The need to criminalize a “course of conduct” that would cause a “reasonable person” to fear for her safety III. Current Laws Dealing with Cyberstalking a. Addressing the Gaps in State Laws b. Addressing the Gaps in Federal Laws c. Potential Statutory Barriers IV. Potential Problems with Criminalizing Cyberstalking a. Constitutional Considerations b. Lack of Cyberstalking Data Conclusion APPENDIX: Summary of State and Federal Stalking Laws as Applied to Cyberstalking


Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Internet Law | Law and Gender

Date of this Version

September 2006