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Cyberstalking: A Growing Challenge for the U.S. Legal System

NCJ Number
David M. Adamson; Annie Brothers; Sasha Romanosky; Marjory S. Blumenthal; Douglas C. Ligor; Karlyn D. Stanley; Peter Schirmer; Julia Vidal Verástegui
Date Published
20 pages

This report presents an empirical analysis of Federal cyberstalking cases, characteristics, and outcomes to better understand cyberstalking as a crime and its impacts.


Social media and other sophisticated communications technology have enabled a new kind of crime: cyberstalking. Cyberstalking involves using communications technology in threatening ways to stalk, harass, or share embarrassing information about victims, and it often involves the threat of intimate partner violence. As online platforms and messaging technologies have multiplied, cyberstalking has become more prevalent. Yet the problem has been understudied, and its dynamics are not well known.

In this report, the authors enhance the understanding of cyberstalking by offering the first empirical analysis on federal cyberstalking cases: In particular, they analyze the number of federal cyberstalking cases filed over time, the characteristics of these cases, and the outcomes of these cases. The results of in-depth interviews with prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and victims' advocacy representatives are also presented.

Key Findings:

  • The number of federally prosecuted cyberstalking cases has grown steadily since 2014, reaching a peak of 80 cases filed in 2019 (then falling slightly in 2020), with 412 total cases filed between 2010 and 2020.
  • In the majority of federally prosecuted cyberstalking cases, the victim knew the offender.
  • The legal system is underprepared to handle cyberstalking cases: Law enforcement is seldom able to prioritize or allot substantial resources to cyberstalking, and many agents and officers lack training in how to investigate the crime or help victims.
  • A major challenge in prosecuting cyberstalking cases involves tying the digital evidence to the offending individual or group because tech-savvy offenders can be sophisticated at hiding digital tracks.