Don’t Let Online Abuse Destroy Lives

Lisa-Michelle Kucharz - Cyberbullying and Online Abuse Prevention Advocate

Standing Up to Cyberbullying

When you hear of cyberbullying victims, you expect to discover stories about teens or tweens. I was 44 when my ordeal began. The cyberstalking and harassment continued nonstop for more than a year before the offender was arrested and another year and a half until she pleaded guilty to criminal harassment and was sentenced.

‘This wasn’t supposed to happen to me,’ I remember thinking. I was in my 40s. I was a respected professional. I was an adjunct professor. I taught digital and social media. I didn’t know anybody who would do this to someone, who would behave this way. I learned the hard way that it can happen to anyone, and the results can be devastating.

I lost years of my life, and I will never be the same person I was before this period of being terrorized — harassed, threatened, intimidated, impersonated, defamed, humiliated, bullied, stalked, and tormented by hate speech.

The offender repeatedly told me to kill myself and hoped I would die soon. She claimed to put spells on me and to have hired other people to do so. The insults were constant. There were hundreds of menacing private messages and defamatory comments posted on various social media pages. She had other people cyberstalk me and often tried to question people about me.

Throughout it all, I contemplated the impact similar cruel cyberbullying had on teens and tweens, and I promised myself I would become an advocate for prevention and support when my case was resolved.

The personal and professional humiliation I experienced was overwhelming and harmful. I lost connections and shied away from making new ones or maintaining contact with people who were not part of my everyday life. I stopped participating in some activities and declined most online projects.

In addition to insults and horrendous defamation of character, I was intimidated by threats of violence and being followed. When alone, I slept with chairs and other items barricading my door in hopes that the threats would not be actualized, or at least I would hear someone trying to enter my apartment. I had people available to escort me to and from my car where I worked, and my friends accompanied me on the phone when I travelled alone till I safely arrived at my destination. At times, I also prepared my phone to call 9-1-1 with just one click. I was terrified that someone was following me and would attack me at any time. I lived in constant fear. At times, I experienced challenges breathing from the anxiety. I still look over my shoulder in public, enter and lock my car door quickly, and easily get startled when I hear an unexpected noise.

I had frequent nightmares and could not sleep. I was constantly tired, and this impacted my work, my relationships, and my mood. I often was in emotional pain and could not function well.

As a marketing professional and adjunct professor of new media, including social media, it was demoralizing to live in fear of the public defamation of character and the significant harm that was happening to my reputation.

I was advised to deactivate my social media accounts to help bring about an end to the harassment. I reluctantly did so, but to no avail. The offender then sent me frightening and disturbing messages through my website and email, while continuing to defame me online.

When I engaged a cyber investigator, I re-entered the social media world, and I was constantly being watched by the offender and some of her acquaintances. Being the victim of cyberstalking was unsettling and debilitating, impacting my ability to be myself and openly engage people online.

The repeated sentiments against Jews directed towards me and my family were sickening and heartbreaking. We lost many family members in the Holocaust, so seeing the disgusting hate comments was very painful.

Like many victims of online harassment, damaging defamatory remarks about me made before the offender’s arrest remain online and continue to appear in search engine results. Even though I succeeded in having a lot content removed, some third-party content sites do not consider removal without a court order.

A person I never met terrorized me and vowed to ruin my life. She set out to intimidate and humiliate me. She succeeded in doing so for years. She damaged my reputation, instilled fear in me, took away my peace of mind, and changed the course of my life.

Today, I’m an advocate for cyberbullying and online abuse prevention and support to help create a safer and kinder cyber-world.

Originally posted on Impact Stories by the American Society for the Positive Care of Children’s .