When Will the Internet Be Safe for Women? – The Atlantic
“When I report a serious death threat to the police, this is what happens,” Wu, the video-game designer, told me in April. “Invariably, a local cop comes to my house and instructs me to stay off social media. I cannot have a career without that online presence.”
In Clark’s view, the disconnect between what people are experiencing online and how police officers are responding represents a training opportunity. That’s why, in March, she introduced the Cybercrime Enforcement Training Assistance Act, a proposal that would provide federal grant money to local law enforcement for the prevention, enforcement, and prosecution of online crimes against individuals. Funding for better resources is also one clear legislative path on a subject that is, for many reasons, tough to address from a regulatory perspective.
“I really think with local police, it comes down to just nothing in their training presents [online harassment] as a crime,” she said. “Law enforcement and judges need to have some fundamental understanding of the nature of these crimes, because many of them are crimes under existing laws.”
In most states, there are already laws pertaining to cyberstalking or other escalated forms of online harassment, according to Police Chief magazine. At the federal level, the Justice Department defines cyberstalking as using “the Internet, e-mail, or other electronic communications devices to stalk another person,” with “stalking” referring to repeated harassing or threatening behavior. Enforcement, however, is tricky. If someone reports being harassed, and if local police decide to seek the perpetrator—both are big “if”s—investigations often cross state lines, and involve seeking perpetrators who are hiding behind anonymous accounts. Beyond that, even in cases where police identify the person responsible for the harassment, the results of an investigation get passed through a legal system that, historically, has not prioritized prosecuting online harassers.
Last year, when the FBI told Clark that cases involving online harassment are not priority for them, she called on the Department of Justice to intensify their efforts to use existing laws to investigate and prosecute the worst cases of abuse. “The federal government is not responsible for policing the Internet, but it is responsible for protecting the women who are being threatened with rape and murder in violation of existing federal law,” she wrote in an op-ed for The Hill last year.
“In 2006, Congress recognized the real-life dangers of online harassment and amended the Violence Against Women Act to make online threats of death or serious injury illegal,” Clark wrote. “Yet, even though it is a federal crime, federal prosecutors pursued only 10 of the estimated 2.5 million cases of cyber-stalking between 2010 and 2013.”