Ariane Friedrich and What To Do About CyberStalking

German high jumper Ariane Friedrich should be every girl’s new role model for several reasons. One, she’s an Olympic athlete. Two, when she’s not jumping over vaults and winning medals, she’s doing the public good as a police offer in her native Deutschland. Yet despite these great accomplishments, it’s the recent news reports about Friedrich’s outing of an internet stalker that make her very important right now.

Apparently, Friedrich is not new to internet stalking, a terrifying yet common occurrence in our technological age, so when a man messaged her and sent her pictures of his genitals, the incident made Friedrich all kinds of zornig, and led her to post the man’s name, address and pictures online in an attempt to challenge her attacker.

“It’s time to act, it’s time to defend myself. And that’s what I’m doing. No more and no less,” Friedrich stated on her Facebook page.

Although many are standing behind Friedrich’s actions, it is in conflict with Germany’s strict online protection laws that state one cannot post another individual’s personal information without their consent. As a police officer, Friedrich is surely aware of these laws, another reason why she is receiving strong backlash in the stressful wake of the 2012 London Olympic Games. As the case is under investigation, there are no new reports and Friedrich intends on minimizing publicity now that she has filed formal charges against the man.

A situation like Friedrich’s raises the important discussion of how to handle internet stalking. At what point does someone cross the line with his or her communication, and what should you do about it? If someone morally and ethically crosses the line with you in a violent or unwelcomed sexual way, why should you have any fear in exposing them?

Stalking and harassment aren’t like they used to be. Back in the day, being an overzealous admirer took a lot more organization and gas money. Now that the source of our communication relies on cell phones and laptops, stalkers can easily hide behind a shield that make their attempts even simpler, and therefore more irritating.

Although I’ve personally never had to deal with a stalker, I have had encounters with unwanted attention on the internet, all purely relying on the fact that I’m a woman.  In the heyday of MySpace, I began to receive plenty of friend requests from complete strangers once I turned 18. No pictures of mine were ever sexual or suggestive, but I was a female and I was legal and I was on the web. I’ve even had a recent occurrence on Twitter, when a male comic decided to follow me, a female comic, which one would assume would be due to the fact that we’re comics and he wants to read my super great funny tweets. Instead, he tweeted at me, not even direct messaged, that I “looked good enough to follow”. I retweeted it in an attempt to mock him, made some snarky remark about the whole thing, but he only tweeted at me more. Why? I made fun of him! Didn’t he get that I didn’t take that as a compliment? The only way one can flatter me on a medium like Twitter is by liking my jokes, since that’s what I use it for! But he kept tweeting at me because now he had gotten my attention. Going through his other postings, he seemed to be a slightly off individual, writing nonsensical things to many others he follows. He probably wouldn’t even consider what I did as a negative reaction. Regardless of what I wrote to him, I still wrote to him and in some sick way he thought he was doing something funny and not necessarily inappropriate. I knew I wasn’t dealing with a completely sane person here, so I backed off.

I suppose I should consider myself lucky, that, at almost a decade of social networking usage, this is my worst case of unwanted attention from the opposite sex, but it’s disgusting that it even has to be a concern and that I should have to use the word “lucky” to describe being free of something that I shouldn’t have to deal with in the first place.

As a woman living in a major city like Los Angeles, I get cat-called so often it affects the way I dress and even my temperament with male strangers. It’s something that most women have to encounter on a daily basis in public and have to develop a tough skin for, because, hey, men will be men, right? We’re told to protect ourselves against potentially dangerous situations instead of telling men, “hey guys, how about you just not rape ever? That’d be nice.” Well, the same seems to go for the internet. Things that people wouldn’t have the gumption to say to you in public they can take online, from complete strangers, to rejected dates, and most commonly, bitter exes. In fact, cyberstalking has increasingly become a prominent form of domestic abuse.

In 2000, the Violence Against Women Act made cyberstalking a part of the federal interstate stalking statute, but there is still a lack of legislation to fully address and define cyberstalking and cyberbullying, as they find it difficult to prosecute. Most laws uphold that violent threats towards the victim or victim’s family are considered criminal, but VAWA does not expand to include nonconsensual sexual advances online. Hmm, so what can we have to protect ourselves with when it comes to sexual harassment in cyberstalking?

A federal judge even dismissed a case in late 2011 regarding several years worth of Twitter harassment, where William Lawrence Cassidy tweeted thousands of death threats to former friend Alyce Zeoli. Since it was public, it was considered freedom of speech, despite the clearly violent message. How can this still be justified as freedom of speech when it clearly intends to attack and cause distress in a specific individual, and is in obvious contradiction with the Violence Against Women Act? Since these were public tweets and not private messages, do they believe it’s easier to argue that the defendent wasn’t serious in his claims to kill someone?

I sincerely hope something like this won’t happen with Friedrich’s case, and considering the publicity and supporters she has, one can only hope it will further enhance laws regarding cyberstalking, as well as strike a fear in other perpetrators.

As Friedrich’s case is still under investigation, I really want to open this up for discussion amongst readers. What are people’s opinions of her actions? Do you support her and or do you think it was over the top? Has anyone been in a similar situation? If so, what did you do about it?

And here’s where I get motherly. If anyone is a victim of online stalking and sexual harassment, know that you can do something about it. Call your local police department, keep ALL evidence of communication, and if you ever respond to your cyberstalker, only do it ONCE. Just be smart about it, guys. By speaking out you’re helping  yourself and others.

For more information, check out these great sites:

Quit Stalking Me

Safety Web

Working to Halt Online Abuse

12 Tips to Protect Yourself from Cyberstalking