Cyberstalking Victimization: Impact and Coping Responses in a National University Sample

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Cyberstalking, or technology-aided stalking, is the use of electronic communications or tracking technologies to pursue another person repeatedly to the point of inducing fear. This study investigated the impact of cyberstalking victimization on psychological trauma and impairment of academic/career functioning, controlling for ongoing cyberstalking. Financial impact also was examined. The potential moderating relationship of resilient coping on the association between cyberstalking victimization and the outcome variables was explored. In addition, the study investigated the potential mediating relationship of perceived threat on the associations between victimization and: trauma, academic/career impairment, and formal reporting. The study explored relationships between the reported effectiveness of coping responses and: victim's sex, self-defined victimization, and type of prior relationship with pursuer. Finally, the study investigated predictors of cyberstalking victims' informal and formal reporting behaviors, as well as frequency of reporting, disciplinary outcomes for the cyberstalkers, and victims' reporting satisfaction.

Participants were 452 female and male, currently-enrolled, U.S. college/university undergraduate and graduate/medical/law students who responded to an online survey requesting individuals who had been stalked via technology. Results indicated that the experiences of almost half (46%) of the university sample met legal criteria for cyberstalking victimization. Cyberstalking victimization predicted psychological trauma and impairment in academic/career functioning; significant predictors of both outcomes included self-defined victimization and the number of distinct cyberstalking behaviors experienced. In addition, prior dating/intimate partner-stalkers were predictive of psychological trauma, while unknown and female stalkers were associated with more academic/career impairment in university victims. The present study found no evidence for a moderating effect of resilient coping. Perceived threat was found to partially mediate the relationships between cyberstalking victimization and psychological trauma, impairment in academic/career functioning, and formal reporting. Coping response effectiveness was consistent with limiting one's exposure and accessibility; lack of effectiveness was characterized by contact with the pursuer. Coping responses were less effective for students whose victimization met legal definitions of cyberstalking and for those stalked by dating/intimate partners. A majority of students did not formally report victimization; approximately 14% indicated that formal reports resulted in disciplinary action for their cyberstalkers. Additional findings and implications for future research, practice, and policy/advocacy are discussed.