Online to Offline - Taking the Leap
by Paula Host
So the person you have met on the internet has passed all the tests and you've decided to take the next step - a face-to-face meeting.
Don't assume that because the object of your affections has not tripped any warning lights during your online relationship, it is perfectly safe to meet. Keep in mind that when chemistry is the strongest, you are the most vulnerable. Before you dismiss an online relationship as "harmless," remember that the lack of accountability, the ease of deception, and the anonymity provided by the keyboard all make the online relationship a potential source of instability and even danger.
If you do decide to meet someone offline:
[list][*]Always meet in a public place! Don't even agree that the parking lot is a good idea - you have NO PROTECTION from anything in a parking lot, and no, your car is NOT SAFE! You can be easily overpowered, you don't know if other cars in the parking lot are safe, and nobody from within another car is likely to see you.[*]Always tell a friend or relative where you will be and write that information down![*]Never allow yourself to be picked up for the first meeting. If you don't own transportation, get a ride from a friend, take a cab, or bus. Do not become a statistic! It is never safe to leave your home with a total stranger or to give a total stranger your address - and no matter how well you think you know someone you met online, at this point he or she IS a total stranger.[*]Women - never leave your purse unattended, even if the person you are meeting offers to watch it for you. Contained within your purse or whatever you carry is not only the obvious personal information, but your car keys and your house keys. You may not notice they're gone in time.[*]Never leave your drink on the table or bar! If you have to go to the bathroom, or leave for whatever reason, take your drink with you. If that is not possible, dump it out! Order a fresh one when you return. Rohypnol - commonly known as the date rape drug - is not the only drug you need to be concerned about.[*]If possible, get a cellular phone. Even if everything goes great, what if the unthinkable were to happen and you were followed home? Lock the car, drive to a busy lighted area, and don't open your car door for ANY reason unless you see the red lights of a police car in your rear view mirror ... and even then, only open that window about an inch. You are safe inside your car if you restrict access. The cell phone is your friend - use it.[*]Be very aware of your surroundings! Memorize important landmarks such as where the telephone is, park in a well-lit area, and ask someone to walk you to your car in the event the meeting does not go as well as you had hoped. You only have one life, protect it![/list:u]
A Note About Stalking and Harrassement
Cyberstalking is defined as "the use of the Internet, e-mail or other electronic communications device, including IM services, to stalk or harass a person."
Cyberstalkers usually target their victims through chat rooms, message boards, discussion forums and e-mail. Cyberstalking takes many forms such as: threatening or obscene e-mail; spamming (in which a stalker sends a victim a multitude of junk e-mail); live chat harassment or flaming (online verbal abuse); leaving improper messages on message boards or in guest books; sending electronic viruses; sending unsolicited e-mail; and electronic identity theft.
Online stalking can be a terrifying experience for victims, placing them at risk for psychological trauma and possible physical harm. Cyberstalking shares important characteristics with offline stalking. Many stalkers - online or off - are motivated by a desire to exert control over their victims and engage in similar types of behavior to accomplish this end. In many documented cyberstalking cases, the cyberstalker and the victim had a prior relationship, and the cyberstalking began when the victim attempted to break off the relationship.
Many cyberstalking situations do evolve into off-line stalking, and a victim may experience abusive and excessive phone calls, vandalism, threatening or obscene mail, trespassing, and physical assault.
Experts suggest that in cases where the offender is known, victims should send the stalker a clear written warning. Specifically, victims should communicate that the contact is unwanted, and ask the perpetrator to cease sending communications of any kind. Then, no matter the response, victims should under no circumstances ever communicate with the stalker again.
As soon as you suspect you are experiencing online harassment or cyberstalking, start collecting all evidence and document all contact made by the stalker. Save all e-mail, postings, or other communications in both electronic and hard-copy form. Record the dates and times of any contact with the stalker. If the harassment continues, you may wish to file a complaint with the stalker's Internet service provider, as well as with you own service provider.
Finally, under no circumstances should victims agree to meet with the perpetrator face to face to "work it out," or "talk." No contact should ever be made with the stalker. Meeting a stalker in person can be very dangerous.