How to fight back against a cyberstalker

I have a new heroine, and her name is Carla Franklin.

Franklin's story, detailed on Web site The Daily Beast as told to journalist Abigail Pesta, is an excellent read. It details how a competent young professional became a target of cyberstalking, how the legal system doesn't process the concept well and how she now uses that system to fight back against a potentially dangerous man who harassed her online and in-person.

Again: please read her entire story. It gives sharp perspective on real-world cyberwarfare on a personal level. It details how Franklin uncovered the man behind the harassment and what she did about it. She's now, as she puts it, "an anti-cybercrimes advocate"--one who appears on various media and worked as a legislative consultant with the New York Senate.

This isn't an isolated problem. Hong Kong needs a grassroots-level anti-cybercrimes advocate--there are women in Hong Kong who've experienced unwanted attention from people on the Net. Via Facebook, WhatsApp, e-mail, SMS or any of the communication-vectors we now enjoy, if there's someone who's pestering you, it's usually best to ignore them. Most people will take the hint.

But Franklin's story is about a man who didn't take the hint. Instead, he allegedly conducted a campaign of harassment primarily using the Net, a campaign that escalated from annoying to horrifying over its six-year span.

The short version: Franklin went on a few casual dates with a man she met at a networking mixer in a large city on the US East Coast. He was in an MBA program at a local university, and when she mentioned she was working on MBA applications, they agreed to meet at a later date. The type of thing professionals do constantly: building networks. That was the event's intent.

But after a few meetings, Franklin saw a different side to the man, one less-than-professional. As she put it: "When he started grilling me about other men, I suspected that he had peeked at my cellphone texts. We argued. We had been on just a few dates; we were not a couple--I hardly even knew him. I told him this wasn't going to work, and stopped communicating with him."

"Sporadic, obsessive bursts of emails, texts, and calls followed," she wrote, "to the point where I told him outright that we could not be friends, eventually changing my cellphone number." There was a time when you could change your phone number and change a stalker's dynamic. But with our new communication-vectors, it's just a blip.

Franklin was pushed to the wall by a potentially dangerous creep. She pushed back, and found out how hard that was in the current judicial system.

"I had lawyers telling me they didn't know anything about Internet harassment and judges telling me I was wasting their time," wrote Franklin. "One judge told me point blank that I didn't belong in her court, saying she had more important cases of abuse to deal with--because I had no physical signs of trauma, she didn't think my battle mattered."

This is a facet cyberbullies benefit from--directly or indirectly. Physical abuse leaves physical evidence. Online abuse leaves a trail of hurtful text and Photoshopped-images. This is difficult for busy judges to understand when they have a full docket of legal cases. But that's no consolation to a victim of cyberstalking.

"Adding to my anxiety, some of my 'friends' told me I was making a big deal out of nothing. I found out who my true friends are--the cream rises to the top," wrote Franklin. "I became exhausted, depressed. But all the while, I continued to fight to expose this bully and regain my peace of mind. At every step, I studied the laws myself, becoming my own legal advocate."

She filed a court order in the New York Supreme Court to get his IP address, filed another court order to get his physical street address from the ISP, learned about cellphone spoofing and got a subpoena for US telco AT&T to produce phone records, which showed that the alleged perpetrator had been behind that particular nastiness too. And: "a police detective told me there was a criminal complaint against [the alleged perpetrator] from another woman, in 2008--for alleged stalking and harassment. I wasn't alone."

Franklin recently filed a lawsuit against the individual to collect damages for stalking, harassment, criminal impersonation, and defamation. " I refuse to live in fear, quietly hoping he will go away. My goal now is to help educate people about online crimes and how to fight them," she wrote.

The world needs more Carla Franklins.

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