Police Can't Help Woman Who Has Been Harassed Online For 18 Months

Today's Washington Post features the terrifying story of Barbara Goddard, a 65-year-old woman who has been harassed over the past 18 months by men responding to a Craigslist personals ad- that she never even placed.

The men began showing up a year and a half ago, responding to an ad that someone claiming to be Goddard placed on Craigslist, looking for random sex. The listing had Goddard's name, address, and phone number. When the men arrived, Goddard had to explain that she'd never placed the ad, and though she attempted to get the ads pulled, they kept popping up, and so did the unwanted visitors.

Goddard's case, notes Marc Fisher of the Post, represents a need for stricter laws in regards to cyber-harassment. At present, police believe they know who is setting Goddard up and placing the ads, but there's not much they can do about it. "The men who came cannot be arrested," Fisher writes, "Technically, lawyers say, they've been invited. And the person behind the phony invitations remains uncharged — because the laws protecting people from such attacks aren't tough enough; because the culprits make themselves into phantoms, changing e-mail addresses and identities by the minute; and because the Web sites used for such harassment resist handing over records."

The person targeting Goddard has switched tactics whenever Goddard attempts to ward off uninvited guests; after she put a sign on her door, explaining the Craigslist set-up, the poster placed a new ad stating. "My cell phone isn't working, but I will be home, so bang on the patio door. Ignore notice on front door."

Goddard is understandably a mess from the harassment, resorting to medications for her anxiety and keeping meticulous track of the harassment via phone calls, emails, and online postings in the hopes that eventually there will be a way to prosecute the person responsible. "But the best police say they can do is to tell Goddard to ignore the culprit," writes Fisher, a statement that many stalking victims know all too well. The way we interact and communicate is rapidly changing; it's cases like this that prove that the law desperately needs to catch up.

A Twisted Case Of Cyber Harassment [WashingtonPost]