Cyberstalking: The emerging form of partner violence

Violence in intimate relationships is all too common - just ask any cop who's responded to the calls. But younger generations who grew up with computer technology have more to worry about then a punch or slap.

Cyberstalking is emerging as a form of partner violence that differs from traditional domestic abuse and is troubling in the ease in which it occurs.

In a study published this month, Kansas State University researcher Lisa A. Melander shines a light on how cyberstalking impacts college-age students.

Gathering data in male-only or female-only focus groups, Melander found a range of cyber harassment, including sending unsolicited or threatening emails, posting hostile internet messages and obtaining personal information about the victim without his or her consent.

The study found some differences in cyber harassment compared to face-to-face domestic violence.

One, the conflict is quick and easy, so flare-ups occur in cyberspace when they might have blown over if people were only communicating in person.

Two, matters that would typically be private become public very quickly - meaning friends, relatives and others can be pulled into the situation and also suffer from the conflict.

And, three, geographic location has no bearing on the situation. Victims can't always escape by changing their physical location.

Melander also found that, contrary to traditional violence where there is likely one abuser and one victim, cyber harassment can often involve both partners because of the back-and-forth that takes place.

Moreover, when people communicate via computer they are less inhibited and don't have visual cues, such as facial expressions or tone of voice, to guide their interactions. That too can aggravate conflict that is being played out in cyberspace.

Melander concludes that computer technology "may change how relationship violence occurs among younger generations."

A previous study suggested that about one-third of college students reported some form of computer-based harassment. But much more research is needed on the impact of the "darker side" of technology, she said.

The study is published in the June issue of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

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