“I would never wish what I went through on my worst enemy. Moving on has proven harder than what I thought. I still catch myself screening all my phone calls, becoming weary of phone numbers on my caller ID that I don’t recognize, receiving emails from strangers (that turn out to be spam) and avoiding all social networking sites. I guess you can say I’ve become accustomed to hiding and am really cautious about what I do online now. Even with the settlement in place, I’m still afraid he’ll find me (or find information on me) and post that online. His actions will just follow me for the rest of my life regardless of what I do.”
-Jane Doe, 7 years after harassment began
and 1.5 years after case settled
Online harassment comes with devastating and real consequences to the victim and society. An individual’s right to the protection of her/his own good name reflects no less than our basic concept of the essential dignity and worth of every human being. The perpetrators who engage in online invasions of privacy are generally hoping to intimidate the victim through public shame and humiliation, thereby depriving the victim of dignity and worth. The harm to the victim can be viewed as subjective and objective. Subjective harm includes unwelcome mental states such as anxiety, humiliation, and fear, that stem from the unwanted perception of observation. Objective harm includes negative external actions such as the loss of education and employment opportunities. See M. Ryan Calo, The Boundaries of Privacy Harm, Indiana Law J., Vol. 86, No. 3 (2011).
Though not always, invasion of privacy and online harassment predominantly impacts women and minority groups. Just as society dismissed sexual harassment in the workplace and domestic violence as trivialities until advocates, courts, and policymakers signaled their harmfulness to women, we should take on-line gender harassment seriously as well. See Danielle Citron, Law’s Expressive Value In Combating Cyber Gender Harassment, 108 Mich. L. Rev. 373 (2009).