Monday, July 06, 2009

This year's Digital Safety Conference

by Jan Collie

Cyberstalking is the new urban terror – the message rang home loud and clear at the Digital Safety Conference in London.

For although, in Cyberspace, no-one hears you scream, increasing numbers of people are getting off on imagining it.

The evils of instant communication – texting, live chat, social networking – were laid out in lurid detail before delegates meeting in a brick-lined space known as The Brewery, near the city’s Barbican.

Tales of horror: physical threats and psychological manipulation, poured out. The family pursued relentlessly via emails, bulletin board postings and websites dedicated to damaging their names for more than five years. The teenager who suffered Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome following a campaign of anonymous texts. The Information Age exposed in all its gory.

This, said former Scotland Yard detective, Hamish Brown, was the intimidation that kills lives, the silent terror that dogs every waking moment for harassed victims. Who stalks and why is the subject of ongoing research but the trend is that more men stalk women than the other way around. The style of mental torture is similar to that shown in cases of domestic violence, Brown asserted, and the perpetrator often has no previous convictions.

As the first police officer to charge an offender with Grievous Bodily Harm of the mind, Brown passionately believes that victims of cyber violence should be taken more seriously.

“It’s not right that you should have to be punched on the nose for something to happen,” he commented, and asked for a campaign to educate the public on the issue.

Two alarming presentations based on personal experience followed. Graham Brown-Martin described how he, his wife and small child ran from Jamaica to London after enduring a series of death threats and vicious slanders posted on the Internet. The virtual bullying followed them and has continued for five years. Despite continued threats, including an invitation to all-comers to murder the family published with a map of their whereabouts, the authorities have been unable to help. Differences in international law were quoted as the main difficulty

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