Q. You are the founder of an organization called WHOA. How was WHOA started?
JH: I was cyberstalked in 1996 and at the beginning of 1997, a friendintroduced me to a Lynda Hinkle, who was also being cyberstalked. We co-founded WHOA, at that time it was called Women Halting Online Abuse. When she left in 1999, I took over and changed the name to Working to Halt Online Abuse, as we were seeing more men coming to us for help and they were leery because it looked like we only helped women. We are all-volunteer, including me, and help victims online anywhere in the world for free.
Q. Can you explain cyberstalking and cyberbullying?
JH: The Department of Justice defines it as repeated communications online after the stalker or bully has been asked to stop. We see everything from email exchanges, Facebook posts, forged profiles, online games arguments and more. If you can think of it, it can be used against you online.
Q. Tell us more about your own cyberstalking experience.
JH: I had moved back to the states from Japan and had published five books while there. I wanted to find an agent here and began taking part in a newsgroup called misc.writing. Someone posted on there that they were an agency, I sent in my proposal and they came back asking for a reading fee. A red flag went up in my head and I asked on the group about this agency and we had a discussion that it was probably a scam. Soon after, several writers who had paid them money got in touch with me. Some paid over $1,000 to this “agency” before realizing there was something wrong. I contact the attorney general’s office in NY (where the agency was located) and helped these writers file complaints. Soon after, someone began posting as me online. It started off innocuous enough, then expanded to writing that I was into sado-masochistic sex and posted my home address and phone number. It took me 10 years to get justice, but I finally did. It turned out to be a husband and wife team – he got nine months in jail plus three years probation; she got probation. And I got my life back, although it turned out to be a very different life. Where my books had previously been about Okinawa, Japan, now my life was cyber crime oriented!
Q. As a result of your own experience and your experience with stalking victims through WHOA, you wrote about a book about staying safe on-line. Can you talk a little bit about that book?
JH: Net Crimes & Misdemeanors came out in 2002 – chapter one was about my own cyberstalking case. It also included chapters on spam, viruses, online auctions, other people who had been stalked online, how law enforcement deals with online cases and more. The second edition came out in 2006 – there is a companion web site at netcrimes.net.
Q. More recently, you’ve expanded the services of WHOA to something called WHOA-KTD, aimed at child and teen victims. How did WHOA-KTD come about?
JH: We started having kids and teens under the age of 18 or their parents coming to us asking if we could help. So, WHOA-KTD was formed. I now go to schools to speak to students about staying safer online and to parents about how to keep their kids safer online.
Q. You also use your dog, Phoebe, as part of your outreach to child and teen victims. Tell us about Phoebe, and please, do you have a photograph?
JH: Phoebe is a Siberian Husky, a former sled dog from Canada. We rescued her four years ago. Our vet said we needed to socialize her as much as possible – she’d been living outside 24/7 in a blue barrel in a fenced in area with five other dogs, so it was like having a big puppy. She had to learn to pee outside only, that dog beds are comfy, and that yes, those treats are just for you (she would hide them around the house at first). It took us a year to get her to sleep on the bed with us. I was scheduled to speak at a school and asked if I could bring her. They let me and afterwards, the kids would come up, pet her and begin to talk to me about problems they were having online. Bingo! I began bringing her with me, taught her some tricks (double high-five, right shake, left shake and when I ask “What do you say to cyberbullies?” she goes “Roo roo!”) and the students love her! It’s amazing how much they open up to me when I bring her. She is also a certified therapy dog, so now I can take her pretty much anywhere.
Q. Is it true that Phoebe has her own facebook presence?
JH: Yep. She has almost 3,000 friends and a lot of those are students. They still come to “her” for help with online problems. I know they know it’s me, but they like to talk to “her” instead of another adult, which is fine by me. Her profile is at https://www.facebook.com/phoebe.crimedog. She also has a Twitter account at https://twitter.com/Cybercrimedog and posts links to interesting news articles and such. She’s very popular!
Q. You don’t simply have an internet presence to assist victims of cyberstalking, you frequently speak at schools and colleges, and do trainings with police and other organizations. I know that you often do some prep work before you speak at a school. Can you talk at bit about that?
JH: I have two alter egos on Facebook. One is male, one is female. When I am booked to speak at a school, one of my alter egos makes friends with students from that school, usually between 25-40 of them. Once they accept me as a friend, I have access to their profiles, photos, etc. When I do my presentation, I show them what I found out about them because they accepted a complete stranger as a friend. I go through all the photos and videos and do screenshots, block out their faces and show them those photos that should NOT be up there. They know who they are and they are pretty shocked that it’s so easy to get the info. All the schools love that I do this, because it’s tailored to their school, not just a generic presentation. . .and it works. I call it the Internet Scared Straight.
Q. What are some of the questions you’re most frequently asked when you speak at high schools?
JH: The first one is always, “Who is your alter ego?” I tell them that if they are asking, then they have too many strangers on their friends list. After that, it’s usually what to do to stay safer, online gaming and of course, questions about Phoebe.
Q. Jayne, you have a new book coming out in January, don’t you? What is the title of that book, and tell us, please, what this one is about?
JH: It’s True Crime Online: Shocking Stories of Scamming, Stalking, Murder and Mayhem. There is a Facebook page for it at https://www.facebook.com/truecrimeonline – I took some of the more sensational cases of online crimes and wrote about each one. Included are the Craigslist Killer, Phoebe Prince (who was cyberbullied), the first known online cannibal, the first online serial killer and much more. All are true stories and quite interesting.
Q. Jayne, most of us are too trusting or naive about the safety of the internet, aren’t we? What are some of the pitfalls that are out there, and how can we be smarter and safer internet users?
JH: Just like in real life when you are near a dark alley, alone in a parking lot, etc., there are places you put your guard up online. Honestly, you should never let your guard down. If you question it, it is more than likely a scam or a bad person.
Q. What are some steps kids and adults can take to prevent cyberbullying/cyberstalking?
JH: You can never prevent it from happening to you, but to minimize the chance, I offer these tips:
1. Try to use a free email account like Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmal for¨your online presence and keep your private email for family and close friends.
2. Make sure your email/username is generic, not too cute or something that may be frowned upon by a potential employer, school,¨or your parents
3. When you join a web site, open a social networking profile, chatroom, message board or group, lurk before posting your comments. Make sure that you feel comfortable and if you don’t, leave and find another place to socialize! The internet is so vast, it won’t be hard to find a place where you feel comfortable and safe.
4. Don’t join in online arguments, even if it involves a friend or family member, or someone you work with. You could end up being the target of a cyberstalker or bully or it can get out of control and *you* become the bully or stalker.
5. If you feel you are being stalked or bullied online, respond only once to the person doing it to you. Write something simple, such as “Please stop communicating with me.” And don’t respond after that, but keep anything they may send as evidence, just in case you need to report it the web site, ISP or police.
6. If you’re being harassed or bullied on Facebook, report the profile, group or page to Facebook, then block them. Any posts they made on your wall should be saved as a screenshot, then delete them. Don’ get caught up in the drama! Facebook never lets the bully/harasser know who reported them, so you remain anonymous.
7. If it’s gotten out of hand, then come to our organization for help. Just click on Need Help? and follow the steps there.
Q.: What are some resources WHOA can provide for victims of cyberbullying/cyberstalking?
JH: In addition to helping victims resolve their cyberstalking situations, we offer lists of lawyers and private investigators, the latest in cyberstalking statistics and online safety tips and more!
Q. How can people help your organization?
JH: If someone does want to donate money, they can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or if they want to volunteer, go to our web site and fill out an application. We’re always looking for volunteers!
Jayne A. Hitchcock is an author and cyber bullying and cyber crime expert. She volunteers with the U.S. DOJ Office for Victims of Crime, the National Center for Victims of Crime, and law enforcement agencies worldwide. She has worked tirelessly with legislators in the drafting and passing of many of this country’s Internet laws. As president of WHOA (Working to Halt Online Abuse) at haltabuse.org and WHOA-KTD (Kids/Teens Division) athaltabusektd.org, Jayne continues a mission to educate adults and children in online safety.
Jayne conducts law enforcement training for local, county, state, military and federal agencies. Her speaking schedule on cyber crime and cyber bullying includes elementary/middle/high schools, universities and colleges. She also lectures at libraries, conferences, and corporations. She has been featured on Swift Justice, America’s Most Wanted, 48 Hours, Good Morning America, Cosmopolitan and TIME magazines, and local, national and international newscasts, and was selected by Lifetime TV as their “Champion For Change.”
Jayne’s eighth book, Net Crimes & Misdemeanors 2nd edition, covers just about anything that can happen online and how to stay safer (netcrimes.net). Jayne’s ninth book, True Crime Online: Shocking Stories of Scamming, Stalking, Murder and Mayhem is now available. She is also on the editorial board of the International Journal of Cyber Crimes and Criminal Justice. She is a member of Operations Security Professionals Society, Sisters In Crime (national and New England), Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, National Rifle Association (Life Member), The American Legion, and 3rd Marine Division Association (Life Member).