How Cyberbullying and Cyberstalking Play Into Dating Abuse

Cyberbullying refers to any kind of harassment, embarrassment or bullying that occurs online, through cell phones or other interactive technology. It uses communication technologies like the Internet and mobile devices to intentionally to harm another person, and deliberately repeats hostile behavior against another person, whether it’s one person bullying or a group.

Sending mean messages to others via instant messaging, harassing via text messaging, stealing password, posing as the victim or editing their online profiles, creating insulting web sites or blogs, posting personal pictures and information or uploading private photos to programs where others can download them are just some examples of cyberbullying. The bully’s actions are intended to intimidate, control, manipulate, discredit and humiliate the victim.

Sound familiar?

In healthy relationships, all communication -- online and offline -- is respectful. Many of the elements of cyberbullying closely resemble digital abuse in relationships. Cyberbullying, or more specifically cyberstalking, includes repeated behaviors of monitoring behavior, making threats and harassing. One partner may constantly “check in” on the other by obsessively watching their online movements, or looks through their phone to check pictures, text and outgoing calls. They may send negative or insulting emails, Facebook messages, and tweets, or belittle their partner in their own status updates. Or they may pressure their partner to send explicit pictures and videos, or send unwanted pictures and videos of themselves and demand some in return.

If your child, a student or someone you know comes to you for help, listen. Let them know it’s not their fault and that a partnership includes relationship boundaries. It’s okay for them to turn off their phone and spend time alone or with friends and family without their partner getting angry. Furthermore, if they feel uncomfortable with texting explicit pictures (or “sexting”), they do not have to under any circumstances. That said, they also need to understand that they lose control of any electronic message once their partner receives it. They could forward it or put it up online without their permission. The same goes for sharing passwords.

Cyberbullying and cyberstalking are serious offenses that can lead to misdemeanor and criminal charges. Save and print all cyberbullying or cyberstalking evidence. Set up privacy controls on web sites and messaging programs your child may use so they can control who sees their profiles and who can contact them. Warn them to be mindful of using social media check-ins, which let an abusive partner know where you are and could be potentially dangerous. If you feel this person may be in danger, develop a safety plan.