May 1, 2007 -- A disturbing new trend in the blogosphere shows that in the online world, sexual harassment and stalking know no bounds.
Blogs opened up the Internet, allowing just about everyone to have a say with a few keystrokes and a click of a mouse. But with an increasing number of female bloggers being attacked online, some are starting to shut up.
Kathy Sierra, a software developer, gained a large following on her design blog. She never dreamed her benign postings would attract an online attacker.
"I started getting comments on my own blog that were really threatening like, 'I'm going to slit your throat,'" Sierra said.
Then the threats became more personal. Her attacker posted a photo of Sierra in a muzzle as if she was being smothered, along with the words, "I dream of Kathy Sierra."
"At the time, I thought, 'This is something serious. This is not some kids. This is someone going to great lengths to frighten me,'" she said.
She shut down her blog, and in her final posting wrote, "I am afraid to leave my yard. I will never feel the same. I will never be the same."
Harassment on the Rise
As more women enter the blogosphere, with sites running the gamut from professional advice to cooking recipes, they are increasingly being singled out as targets of threats and sexual harassment.
"Cyberharassing or stalking of a female blogger in particular will often be sexual harassment," said Internet and privacy lawyer Parry Aftab. "They will often take her head and put it on someone else's naked body. There may be threats to her children."
Aftab runs Wired Safety.org, an organization that has handled thousands of cyberstalking cases. She advises women who are targets of online harassment that they not respond to threatening posts.
"The easiest thing to do is turn around and attack your attacker, but that is exactly what they want," she said. "They will come at you more and more."
Kathleen Cooper, a single mom in Florida, never thought responding to a post on a friend's blog would bring on five years of online harassment.
"In the beginning, they were just cruel comments," Cooper said. "Then he started threatening me with child protective services, saying I beat my children. Then he was calling the police for abusing my children."
With her family's safety in jeopardy, Cooper went to the police. As in so many cases of cyberharassment, authorities did not take the threats seriously.
"I think it will take a blogger being killed before law enforcement will take action," Cooper said.