Cyberstalking victim struggles to bring her abuser to justice

Cyberstalking victim endured months of being terrorized online by ex-boyfriend
(Image: Courtesy)
(Image: Courtesy)
(Image: Courtesy)
(Image: Courtesy)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The abuse was constant.

Day after day, multiple times a day, it came in -- through emails, texts and messages on social media. The cyberstalking from an ex-boyfriend was unavoidable, relentless.

"I was losing my mind," said the woman, whose identity Hawaii News Now is protecting. "I was literally thinking of trying to commit suicide, just to end it all."

Cyberstalking is a form of domestic violence, and advocates say it's becoming increasingly common in the digital age.

Victims are taunted online and threatened by text message and email. But even more than traditional forms of domestic violence, bringing perpetrators to justice is proving a challenge.

The woman who spoke to Hawaii News Now says her ex-boyfriend terrorized her, even after a restraining order was granted. And that he has never faced charges for his alleged crimes.

One of the messages he sent her via social media read, "Bad things happen to good people."  Another read, "Make sure you tell your brother how much you love him, (because) accidents happen all the time."

And in an Instagram message, he made it obvious he was following her: "Lets play a game called 'I spy.' I spy with my little eye, someone at the Toys for Tots."

Nanci Kreidman, CEO of the Domestic Violence Action Center, said stalkers can use cell phones and GPS to track their victims.

"Knowing where you are, knowing who you are with, knowing where you're going, knowing where you've been, that's pretty scary," Kreidman said.

For the woman, things got worse and worse.

She said things got really bad when he started creating fake Instagram and Tinder accounts in her name. He posted pictures of her sleeping in her underwear that she never knew he took, and he would post those online along with her phone number, home and work addresses.

Men started showing up to meet her.

After about a year of this, the victim was finally able to get a restraining order that forbids electronic communication. She said he has already violated it multiple times and each time, she has called the police.

So far, nothing has happened to him, despite multiple police reports. Only a few of the cases were forwarded to the Honolulu Prosecutor's Office for review, all but one were declined. The last one is still being reviewed.

"He was able to hide behind the internet," says Jeff Willard, the attorney the woman hired to help get the man charged. Willard is a former prosecutor who worked in the domestic violence unit.

"I sent them all the evidence and recommendations. I do believe that they had enough to charge and I believe the reason they didn't charge is because it wasn't easy," he added.

Cybercrimes expert Chris Duque, who now works for the prosecutor's office, said that unlike traditional stalking and domestic violence, there is very little physical evidence in cyberstalking cases.

"It's not impossible, but it's very difficult and it's time consuming," he said.

Duque says tracking the Instagram account, for example, would have required multiple search warrants, some to mainland entities.

He advised victims to screen grab every post and message and turn those into authorities right away. He acknowledged that the victim in this story did the right thing, but adds it is a waiting game.

The victim, meanwhile, says police and prosecutors need more training to keep up with cybercrimes.

"Staying strong and being extra cautious in everything I did, everything I did.  it was stressful," she said. "It was to the point where I just decided to get up and move. I was literally scared for my life."

Her cyberstalker was recently arrested for separate crimes against another victim. He still hasn't been charged in that case, however, and was released pending investigation.

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