Online crimes include offences such as hacking into a database containing personal details or using a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack to paralyse a bank’s website. ‘Conventional’ offences can also be committed online, however. Examples of this would be online fraud, stalking, making threats, and distributing images of child sexual abuse. Online offences differ from ‘conventional’ offences in the scale and duration of their consequences, and through their relationship with offline criminality.
Images can be posted online, for example, during sexting, threatening or stalking. Such images can be widely disseminated at an enormous rate, becoming visible to a practically unlimited group of people. This spread can also continue indefinitely. Nude images and other materials can move around online and then suddenly, and unpredictably, turn up again. Victims can be terrified that this will happen long after the original offence, even if the perpetrator has been successfully convicted.
When offences such as stalking, threats and intimidation are carried out online, their consequences are aggravated. Sometimes these offences are first committed in the physical world, the perpetrator then continuing them through the internet. This gives victims the idea that nowhere is safe for them.
The financial losses incurred by the victims of cybercrime can be anything from a few hundred euros to over two hundred thousand euros. The psychological damage caused by these losses can be considerable, especially in cases in which the perpetrator first began a romantic relation with the victim online and then went on to blackmail them. Besides the financial consequences, the victim can experience feelings of shame and guilt, as well as grief over the loss of what they had taken to be a genuine love relationship.
Another possible side effect is large-scale ‘victim blaming’ in which the social environment and even complete strangers can harass, insult, or blame the victim. The victim may then feel that their only option is to withdraw from online society altogether. These negative consequences are exacerbated if it turns out that the police are not actively trying to find the perpetrator, or if officers at the police station make disparaging or critical remarks.
According to both victims and experts, the police are inadequately equipped to fight online crime. They claim that police officers do not receive adequate training and consider this type of criminality is too complex and widespread to tackle. They are also concerned about inadequate police capacity. Victims have cited cases of frustration arising from the fact that they were not even given the opportunity to make an official report.
Victims of online fraud have a need for redress: the NSCR study showed that they want to see the perpetrator punished and they want financial compensation. They have a need for clear information on what can be expected from the police and the courts. And they have a need for remediation; for instance, having images removed from the internet as quickly as possible.
Leukfeldt, R., Notté, R. & Malsch, M. (2019). Slachtofferschap van online criminaliteit. Een onderzoek naar behoeften, gevolgen en verantwoordelijkheden na slachtofferschap van cybercrime en gedigitaliseerde criminaliteit.