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Cyberstalking: What You Need to Know

As January is Stalking Awareness Month, representatives from the Division of Public Safety & Security (DPSS) Special Victims Unit (SVU) and U-M Police Computer Forensics Unit provide information on resources and support at U-M. 

According to Michigan law, stalking is defined as “a willful course of conduct involving repeated or continuing harassment of another individual that would cause a reasonable person to feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened and/or harassed.” In other words, stalking is any unwanted contact between a stalker and their target that directly or indirectly communicates a threat or places the target in fear.

Stalking is a crime that affects millions of people each year. University of Michigan police officers receive about 21 inquiries on average each year related to stalking behavior affecting students, faculty, and staff. The Division of Public Safety and Security is dedicated to educating the campus community about how to identify and report it.

Stalking can extend to electronic communications as well; this is known as cyberstalking. Although Michigan does not have a specific crime called “cyberstalking,” it falls under the stalking statute cited above. A cyberstalker relies upon the anonymity afforded by the internet to allow them to stalk a target without the stalker’s identity being revealed. There has been a steady increase in the number of stalking complaints DPSS receives each year, and most of the incidents involve some form of cyberstalking.


How can you identify cyberstalking? What are some of the typical behaviors of cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking can be defined as unwanted contact by a known or unknown suspect over the internet or by other electronic communication. If you block someone or tell them to stop contacting you and they continue, this could fall under the purview of the stalking law.

Unwanted contact can occur: 

  • By phone, text, or email
  • In person or through a third party
  • Through social media apps

Stalking behaviors include:

  • Unwanted contact
  • Friend requests from fake accounts
  • Extortion threats to post compromising photos
  • Posting disparaging information online
  • Contacting friends, family, and associates 


What resources does U-M offer to survivors of cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking is not your fault, and U-M is here to help. 

  • DPSS Special Victims Unit provides a trauma-informed response.
    • Supported by DPSS Computer Forensics Unit, which provides forensic analysis and evidence recovery
  • No-contact directives
  • Assistance with filing a police report
  • Thorough investigation when a report is filed
  • Assistance with obtaining a personal protection order and other resources
  • Safety planning
  • Connections to confidential advocacy/support, SAPAC, OIE, DOS, Housing, etc.


How can students protect themselves against cyberstalking?

  • Be mindful of where your personal information is publicly available online.
  • Consider removing or shielding your private information on social media sites and the MCommunity online directory.
  • Use privacy settings on social media, and limit location sharing on apps.
  • If you are being stalked, contact DPSS Special Victims Unit (SVU) to discuss your options.


What resources are offered to U-M students who file cyberstalking claims, and are they available throughout the entire investigation process?

After an initial complaint is filed with an officer, the case will be assigned to a detective within the Special Victims Unit (SVU). The Digital Forensic Unit offers assistance with acquiring digital evidence, such as mobile devices, computers, vehicles, etc. Once the data has been acquired,  it’s examined for evidence to support the case. A report that summarizes the findings is then written  and given to the detective in charge of the case. 

Survivors can then create a safety plan to protect themselves against further harm. This can include filing for a personal protection order, making accounts more private, and blocking the perpetrator.  


How can students take preventive measures to protect themselves against cyberstalking? 

Be aware of the privacy settings on your accounts. Knowing who has access to your account is very important: make sure to only accept follow requests of people you know and trust. Avoid posting your location, plans, or routine online. 

And remember: the internet is forever. Anything you post is no longer private and can be copied, saved, and shared indefinitely, long after you have deleted the post.