If you or someone you know has been the victim of online abuse, you CAN do something to stop it. Ignoring abusive e-mails, changing your e-mail address, and contacting the authorities can all help end the abuse.
Just like a malicious telephone caller, the online abuser hides behind the anonymity of the internet to cause distress and harm to the victim.
Anonymity is their only power, and you can take a variety of different steps to make sure they stop harassing you.
What is online abuse?
Online abuse can come in many forms, from insulting and inappropriate e-mail messages, aggressive chat room behaviour or continuous spam e-mails.
Just like in the real world, if you are offended by any form of online communication that is directed at you - this could be considered online abuse.
This doesn't mean that all the inappropriate spam or junk e-mail messages that clog up your inbox are a form of abuse.
Most often spam is sent at random by computers automatically rather than targeted at individual users.
But if someone gets hold of your personal e-mail address and continues to send offensive e-mails referring to you personally, then that is abuse.
On rare occasions, the online abuser can get hold of information such as your postal address or telephone number, and begin harassing you in the real world.
If this happens, you should treat the matter very much like you would a malicious caller and report it to your telephone operator and the police.
What can you do about it?
Once you are sure that someone is harassing you in an abusive manner, you might be tempted to respond with a lengthy and irate e-mail telling them to stop, but in most cases, you will only provoke them.
We suggest that you don't respond to an online abuser, but if you feel compelled to do something, then reply with one very short e-mail that simply states, "Do not e-mail or contact me in the future."
You might also be tempted to delete all the communications that have been sent between you, but remember that these messages are the only evidence you have that you've been abused.
Save every online communication you have had - including e-mail, message thread or chat log - and print them off and make a diary of when and how you were contacted.
It is difficult to know who to get in touch with, because it depends on what method of online communication the abuser uses.
Most chat rooms, message boards and e-mail servers will have a complaints procedure on their site. If you are residing in the UK you can also contact the Internet Watch Foundation.
You can also find some useful links for reporting Internet abuse at Google Directory.
If you are physically threatened contact the police.
Online abuse advice
1. Avoid replying to the abuser, it only encourages them.
2. If you must reply, keep it simple and brief.
3. Save every communication between you and the abuser.
4. Make a diary of when and how you are contacted by them.
5. If they contact you offline, save any letters and make a log of each telephone call.
6. Contact the appropriate chat host, ISP or e-mail server host.
7. If in doubt contact the Internet Watch Foundation and the police.
8. Be willing to change e-mail addresses, chat rooms or message boards to avoid the abuser.
9. Don't expect an apology.
10. Improve your online safety, but don't be scared away from the internet.