Electronic harassment, not to be confused with cyberstalking, describes any situation where a person or property is being covertly harmed or bothered using an electronic device. Microwaves and electronic surveillance devices are some of the weapons used by electronic harassers. Signal jamming and lasers have also been used on targets of electronic harassment, also known as e-harassment. E-harassment can be incredibly difficult to detect because of its discreet nature.
One method of electronic harassment is made available by the popular microwave oven. All someone needs to do to turn this common household appliance into an electronic weapon is to remove the door and bypass the door interlock switch. When this device is properly rigged and held against the wall of the harassment target, it can cause some severe medical symptoms. Microwave exposure can lead to early Alzheimer's, cancer, as well as heart and blood pressure problems. This type of harassment can also cause headaches, cataracts, and memory loss.
Electronic surveillance is another form of electronic harassment. As technology advances, surveillance devices are getting smaller and more discreet, which is bad news for targets of e-harassment. GPS tracking devices and video or audio recording mechanisms, when used illegally and without the target's consent, can be used for e-harassment. Unfortunately, these devices are very easy to come by in spy novelty shops and online stores and equally difficult to detect when hidden well.
Jamming and other electronic interference devices also constitute e-harassment. GPS device jammers are often used by truckers in order to remain hidden during unauthorized stops, but they can also be used more directly to harm someone. One case of widespread e-harassment was reported when North Korea temporarily disabled GPS signals in a large portion of South Korea, where the U.S. Navy was running drills. Electronic noise generators can also be used to disrupt cell phone and other signals of an e-harassment target.
Lasers have provided yet another avenue of electronic harassment. No matter the cost or technological complexity of the device that produces the laser, this type of harassment can be very dangerous or just annoying. Some of the more juvenile attempts at laser harassment include shining the red dot produced by the laser within the target's view. People have been temporarily blinded by electronic harassers shining the laser into their eyes. Traffic accidents have also been caused by lasers shined in the target's eye while driving.
Who Can I Report Electronic Harassment To?
Electronic harassment laws vary widely, but it is important to know who to report it to should you fall victim to it. It is especially important to report harassment if you feel that you are a victim of cyberstalking. Reporting these types of crimes helps law enforcement to see how serious they are and may even lead to better laws. At a minimum, law enforcement can create a report and help you to determine what your next steps are.
If you feel that you are in immediate danger, such as someone coming to your home, then it is important to call 911. This way, should the unthinkable happen, you will already have someone in route to help you. If you don't feel that you are in any immediate danger, then call your local police department's non-emergency phone number and tell them that you would like to file a report about cyber harassment. The police department will follow local or state regulations regarding handling your type of case. Typically, you'll need to provide them with your personal information as well as details about the incident. You may be asked to provide evidence, such as the offending text messages, social media contact, or emails.
In addition to cyberstalking, other types of crimes that fall under cyber harassment include threats of bodily harm, unwanted sexually explicit messages, hate crimes, or pictures of yourself or someone you love in an area where you'd expect privacy, such as in your home.
What Is the Penalty For Electronic Harassment?
America's anti-stalking, slander, and harassment laws list cyberstalking as a criminal offense. Some laws, such as the Violence Against Women Act, specifically name cyberstalking an offense. Depending on the specific charge, it can result in restraining orders, probation, or more serious penalties, including jail time. However, the United States still needs to enact federal legislation that specifically addresses cyberstalking. For now, that is left up to the states, of which only about a dozen have any laws.
How To Protect Yourself From Electronic Harassment
The first thing you should do if you are experiencing electronic harassment is to block the offenders' email addresses, social media accounts, and any methods that have of contacting you. If they continue to contact you from other accounts, block those as well.
After blocking the person who is harassing you, it may also help if you update your privacy settings. Even forums or social media platforms that have policies against harassment can't catch it all. Update your social media privacy settings to prevent people who aren't your friend from finding you on the websites. Never allow people to search for your accounts by your email address or phone number. Websites like Facebook allow you to provide that information on your profile, so it is also important to keep the sharing settings to private. Even sharing them with friends can compromise your privacy.
Even if you don't feel that the harassment is serious enough to contact your local police department, it is important to document the harassment in case it escalates. Save the messages or take screenshots of them and save them in a folder specific to the situation. This way, you won't always need to see them in your phone's gallery, but you'll also have them if you need them to report them in the future. Be sure to document it even if the harassment is anonymous. A log of the problematic behavior may lead the police to identify patterns if necessary.
How To Block Electronic Harassment
If you aren't used to blocking people via email and social media, figuring out how to do it can feel overwhelming, especially if you're already feeling stressed due to the situation. Luckily, blocking people on some of the most popular websites is easier than it may seem.
Gmail is the most common email client used, and blocking someone on the platform is easy. Simply open the email from the harasser and click on the three dots next to the sender's details. Click on "block sender," then click "block" again when Gmail asks for confirmation. From there, any emails sent will automatically go to your spam folder.
Next, you'll want to block the person on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, if possible. On Facebook, navigate to the harasser's profile and tap on the three dots next to the "message" link. Tap on "block." On Instagram, the three dots are at the top right of the person's profile. Again, you simply need to tap on "block." The three dots are also on the top right of the person's profile on TikTok, and the "block" feature will be at the bottom of the screen that pops up. Remember to block all known accounts to prevent further harassment.