Harassing texts not uncommon

Victims can get help to combat abusers who exploit technology



It's 4:30 on a recent afternoon, and Chasity Newman has just sent her 300th text message of the day.

Chasity, 14, obviously has no qualms about a high volume of text messages; her friends have replied to every one.

But even Chasity and other teenagers know that there's a line that can be crossed in cyber communication.

A 2009 study by MTV and The Associated Press found that half of people ages 14 to 24 have experienced some form of digital abuse, which ranges from hateful Facebook messages and blackmail to harassment via text messages.

Cyber harassment is different from traditional stalking and bullying in several ways.

Unlike physical stalking, cyber harassment can be done at home or on-the-go without ever coming in contact with the intended victim. It's easy to barrage the victim with hundreds of messages at all hours of the day and night because the detached and impersonal nature of cyber harassment allows the harasser to threaten his victim without seeing the pain and fear it causes.

Because texting is a major form of communication for teenagers, they often feel compelled to answer their tormentors -- even at 3 a.m., said Jill Murray, an advisory board member for MTV's cyber harassment project, A Thin Line.

It usually shocks teens when they are told that they can decide whether they want to answer the text or block it altogether, Murray said by e-mail.

Paige Lariscey, 15, knows from experience how scary threatening text messages can be. A boy she broke up with bombarded her with messages, asking her whereabouts, who she was hanging out with, what she was doing.

"He was already kind of controlling" before the breakup, she said.

She refused to answer the messages at first, then demanded he stop. When he refused, Paige told her mom, who called the boy. The messages immediately stopped.

Harassment via texting is most common among young adults, but certainly not limited to that age group. Yasmin Thomas-Goodman, the senior domestic violence advocate for Safehomes of Augusta, estimates that about 80 percent of women seeking shelter complain of cyber stalking.

Frequently, women try to block the number or avoid his calls, but the disgruntled husband finds new numbers from which to call, Thomas-Goodman said.

She has also helped a woman whose movements were followed by a GPS tracker attached to her car.

"The more technology we get, the more the batterer uses that to stay in control," Thomas-Goodman said.

Cyber stalking and harassment is much easier than driving by a house 15 times in an hour; all it takes is a phone or a computer. The flip side is that cyber stalking leaves evidence that's useful for prosecution.

"Technology does leave a paper trail," said Nancy Johnson, the chief assistant solicitor general in Richmond County. "If I can print it, I can prove it."

Because teenagers are constantly texting, it's tough sometimes for them to know when a line has been crossed. Murray said teenagers should not be receiving texts at 3 a.m.

"Everyone has the right to sleep, and when you fear turning off your phone when you go to sleep, that's a huge red flag," Murray said.

She adds that if a texter "insults, threatens or demeans you" or if texts are being forwarded without your permission, then lines and boundaries have been crossed.

Learn more

For more information about cyber stalking and resources for teenagers, visit www.athinline.org.