Cyberstalking and Stalking in Germany: Criminal Lawyers

Cyberstalking and Stalking in Germany: Criminal Lawyers

Due to the omnipresence of new information technologies, cyberstalking has become a socially relevant problem. Persistent online harassment often seriously impacts the victims’ mental health and sense of personal security. Some forms of cyberstalking, however, can be based exclusively on financial or business interests. For example, stalkers may act to expose the trade secrets of their competitors. In most cases, however, it is a matter of personal relationship issues.

Schlun & Elseven Rechtsanwälte offers comprehensive legal support to victims of crime. Our criminal lawyers ensure that all evidence of cyber-stalking is promptly secured and that all formalities required for a criminal complaint are duly complied with so that the perpetrator can be identified. We are also happy to represent you in so-called adhesion proceedings to assert your claims for compensation for pain, suffering, and damages.

For persons confronted with allegations of cyber-stalking, we offer a skilled and committed defence. With excellent expertise and many years of experience, our legal team is ready to provide you with comprehensive advice and defence.

Our lawyers ensure that you strengthen your position during the investigation process and that your rights as an accused person are always protected in the process.

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What is Cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking is the process of harassing and stalking another person using technology and electronic communication over the internet. Emails, social media accounts including fake profiles, instant messages via mobile phones, calls via the internet or other communication channels are used to pursue the stalking victim persistently.

The main goal of most cyberstalkers is to inflict long-term psychological and emotional harm on their victim. Their actions often extend to their victim’s family, friends and partners.

Cyberstalking and its consequences are often unbearable for the victim and their environment and are therefore taken very seriously as a criminal offence. Nevertheless, there are some difficulties in proving the offence, especially if the stalker successfully uses online anonymity. Consequently, it is essential to contact a lawyer for German criminal law in the initial phase of cyberstalking and to develop strategies to enable the provability of the act to avert psychological damage at an early stage.

Distinctive approaches of cyber stalkers, some of which – in themselves – may be punishable, are, for example:

  • Surveillance,
  • destruction or manipulation of data on the victim’s electronic devices,
  • threats,
  • publishing intimate photos of their victim on the internet,
  • sexual harassment through online communication or phone calls,
  • spreading false allegations about the victim as well as defamation,
  • constant contact, including through fraudulent online profiles,
  • identity theft,
  • abusive messages via platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and other forms of social media.

All of these activities, especially spreading false allegations about the victim, can be extremely damaging to their credibility, self-esteem and social and professional status and cause a permanent impairment of their daily life.

If you are a victim of such cyberstalking attacks, our experienced criminal lawyers can work with you to develop strategies and ways to defend against these attacks by cooperating with law enforcement authorities.

How is Cyberstalking regulated in Germany?

Stalking and cyberstalking fall under the criminal offence of stalking, regulated in § 238 German Criminal Code (StGB). According to this provision, anyone who unauthorisedly stalks another person in a way likely to affect their way of life seriously is punished with a prison sentence of up to three years or a fine. Actions committed by the offender include, among other things, persistently seeking out the physical proximity of this person or attempting to establish contact with this person using means of telecommunication or other means of communication.

According to the first offence variant, stalking under § 238 StGB is primarily based on the “traditional form” of stalking. However, in the second offence variant, i.e. “using means of telecommunication or other means of communication”, a connection to cyberstalking can be established.

Individual elements of cyberstalking are also punishable, such as online threats under § 241 German Criminal Code, defamation under § 187 StGB, and insults under § 185 StGB.

Which penalty applies always depends on the circumstances of the individual case and the severity of the stalking. In severe cases, where the offender puts the victim, a relative or another close person of the victim in danger of death or serious damage to health, the sentence is increased to imprisonment from three months to five years.

An experienced lawyer for German criminal law can advise you in your particular case and file the prosecution application with the prosecution authorities on your behalf.

Identifying the Suspected Stalkers

In cyberstalking cases, it can often be challenging to identify the perpetrators behind the individual cyberstalking attacks. After all, it is often the internet that is used to remain anonymous or to conceal identity with fake profiles in the case of threats, insults and the dissemination of false information.

It should be noted, however, that the vast majority of perpetrators behind cyberstalking attacks are known to the victim, or often only one specific person can be considered. In many cases, the suspect is the former partner or another person close to the victim.

It is advisable to talk to experts if such a suspicion arises and to get advice on how to proceed.

Victims and their representatives can take concrete steps to establish the identity of cyberstalkers by establishing IP addresses. In this way, the electronic means of committing the crime, such as computers, can be located.

What Actions can I take Against Cyberstalking?

It is essential to document the individual acts and contact attempts in detail to prosecute a criminal offence of stalking under § 238 StGB, including cyberstalking.

It is possible to do this by taking a screenshot of the messages and pictures you have received from the cyberstalker, recording your telephone conversations and saving the incoming e-mails or messages. You should also note each cyberstalking attack’s time, date and other details. You should save the phone number your cyberstalker used to send the messages or other contact attempts.

If the cyberstalking attacks culminate in suffering from anxiety-related sleep disorders or other psychological or physical effects, be sure to obtain a medical certificate to that effect. It is essential to acquire a doctor’s certificate to prove the element of serious impairment of life under § 238 German Criminal Code in court.

For sufficient online protection against cyberstalking attacks, the following should be observed:

  • Use a firewall and virus protection,
  • Make sure that the passwords you use are difficult to decipher (research common passwords and avoid them),
  • Do not share your passwords with third parties,
  • Change your password regularly,
  • Ensure you log out of websites / social media accounts (essential at public computers such as libraries or internet cafes).

As you can see, there are many steps that the victim can already take on their own against cyberstalking. However, it is well known that stalking and cyberstalking can severely affect all areas of the victim’s life and should not be underestimated.

Our German criminal law team will therefore ensure from the beginning of the stalking attacks that you can take preventive measures and, at the same time, stop the perpetrator by involving law enforcement authorities.

What is the Aim of the Cyberstalker?

A cyberstalker, like other stalkers, tries to attract their victim’s attention and then severely interfere with how they live their lives. Ultimately, they want to feel they control their stalking victim and the victim’s life.

Persistent perpetrators of cyberstalking are – as already mentioned – former partners or other persons closely associated with the victim. In these cases, the motive can range from revenge to hurt feelings, wounded pride or anger to general misogyny in female victims.

By severely affecting the victim’s life with stalking attacks, the perpetrators want to compensate for their own feelings and achieve a certain sense of power.

The perpetrators are in the majority – but not exclusively – male and can belong to all age groups. Compared to other crimes, the intention of the stalker is very personal, and usually, financial gain is secondary.

The respective forms of stalking also hardly differ regarding the effect on their victims and are usually intermingled.

Behaviours that may indicate stalking include:

  • Unwanted and unexpected phone calls;
  • The person following you in your daily life (work, social activities, etc.);
  • Sending unwanted gifts and gratuities,
  • Attempts to contact you through a third party,
  • Damaging property,
  • Trespassing on property, flats or houses,
  • Filling out documents, subscriptions, and online purchases in the victim’s name (providing their contact details/address).

These acts can become more dangerous and develop negatively over time. Therefore, it is crucial to first discuss these incidents with family and friends and to contact legal assistance as well as the police as soon as the situation threatens to escalate.

Ultimately, it is always the stalker’s goal to interfere with their victim’s way of life, with cyberstalking becoming more familiar with increasing digitalisation. Victims should seek legal advice and support so that law enforcement authorities can be notified if stalking progresses.

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Practice Group: German Criminal Law

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German Criminal Law

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