Monday, January 26, 2015

(Series Piece 11) Anna Kavanaugh - Syndicated Columnist. Column - Cyber Abuse: The Virtual Violent Crime

Written by: Anna Kavanaugh, Syndicated Columnist
Published for syndicated by: The Global Institute for Cyber Safety and Standards

It is an ugly truth. Our society victimizes its victims. To face that reality is a heavy cross to bear. That’s why we don’t.

This is the real world. We all know it can be rough. We are taught that to survive it we just have to learn to take a punch and turn the other cheek more often than not. Sage advice but it neglects to acknowledge the certitude that there are only so many hits a person can take before they break. This is real life. And if you have been targeted by a cyber-abuser, you already know they will go to any length to end yours.

When revictimization is discussed it is generally in reference to the recurrence of extreme personal violations seen in survivors of rape, sexual abuse, and domestic assault cases. Those are the instances that get most talked about, as they should. Unfortunately, our social and judicial system is geared for the revictimization of victims in a myriad of other circumstances as well and, because it is, too many of them are falling through the cracks.

It happens with victims of voyeurism. Not only does a victim suffer the initial discovery and resulting trauma in realizing their most intimate moments have been videotaped or recorded, they are made to suffer it multiple times. The police become involved and countless officers watch the evidence as do the victim’s attorney and legal team. The details of that evidence are spelled out in court documents and then the victim must recount it as it is replayed again at trial only this time, they must do so in the company of the very offender who so grievously violated them. Similarly, this is also what rape victims must endure. These are just two extreme examples to demonstrate the ongoing trauma and psychological damage that our system, by its very nature, imposes on victims seeking justice, remedy, and relief for the criminal offenses committed against them.

The virtual violent crime of cyber-abuse is about dehumanization. Cyber-abusers aim to kill. They do this by exploiting social media platforms to relentlessly assault the self-esteem and dignity of their victim and by launching deliberate “kill campaigns” designed to assassinate the reputation, career, livelihood, relationships, and overall life of their target. It is not a singular event and allows abusers to reign over their victims in the public domain for years. The residual effects of such a campaign also creates ongoing trauma and damage as the planted false realities and blatant lies about a victim can be indefinitely preserved on the internet and available for perpetual access and propagation.

Revictimization is a common and key contributing factor to the long term suffering of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder often diagnosed in victims. There are many avenues in which this occurs, beginning with the public longevity and sustaining presence of a “kill campaign” and the intentional falsehoods on which it is founded. Victims also suffer from the inaction or silent condoning of bystanders who are too afraid to speak out for what is right when they can clearly see what is wrong, or worse yet, refuse to acknowledge they see anything at all. This is another form of dehumanization serving to condition a victim to believe that in the face of gross injustice and violation they do not matter, nobody will help them, and they are worthless in the eyes of others.

When a victim of cyber-abuse reaches out for professional help they are often revictimized again. Law enforcement may not be in a position to intervene due to the lack of physical threat or the needed state legislation allowing them to act. A victim then retains an attorney to pursue litigation only to find the costs are so prohibitive they cannot proceed unless they are willing to mortgage their home, empty out their savings, or sell their possessions… all of which place a further burden and hardship upon them. A victim may also need ongoing psychological counseling to help them deal with suicidal thoughts or clinical depression as they try to reclaim their lives by learning to cope with the indefinite perpetuation of the damages they have sustained.

This all revictimizes the victim and creates a cruel and vicious cycle of emotional trauma sustained.

Victims of cyber-abuse do not want sympathy. They are not looking for attention. Nobody would want the type of focus that a “kill campaign” thrusts upon them. All a victim wants is to return to a state of living their life without the criminal psychological terrorism, harassing interference, false realities, and blatant lies that have all been wielded against them by pathologically driven cyber-abusers who feed on destroying or humiliating others as much, and as publicly, as possible and who are intent on maximizing the murderous destruction they aim to exact in their victim's tangible "real world" existence.

Sadly, once much of the damage is done, there is no repair.

It is imperative for our federal and state legislators to pass consistent laws that better enable enforcement agencies to respond promptly to cyber-abuse cases. The revictimization of cyber-abuse victims by a systematic failure of our social and judicial system only compounds, and effectively assists, the criminal intentions of online abusers in the achievement of their ultimate goal, and makes suicide look to victims like the only available option they have for escaping their tormentors.

The virtual violent crime of cyber-abuse is real. It is rampant. It is relentless. Our system in dealing with crime, particularly new forms of crime, is broken. When the very legal system put in place to protect our citizens finds itself in the position of helping criminals fulfill the harm they intend to inflict, something is catastrophically wrong.

This is real life. And too many victims of cyber-abuse are losing theirs. It is long overdue for us to do something about that. We cannot change yesterday. We can change tomorrow… and as they say, it’s better late than never, though that will forever fall short in bringing solace to the loved ones of the online victims we have already lost in their desperate search for relief by fulfilling suicide.


  1. Everything said here is so true. Our legal system in the physical world is sorely lacking in help given to victims and in the online world there is no legal system that's easily enforceable so yeah, sad but true.

  2. It's a weird thing about society. During times of crisis we all come together and support each other (I think of 9/11 of what just happened in Paris) but outside of a crisis that affects a lot of people we let the lone person in crisis fall through the cracks as you say. I don't know why it's like that but you call it out perfectly here Anna.