but looking news | Internet infidelity
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Today's divorce rate is higher than 50 percent -- and
it's increasing. Divorce lawyers and marriage counselors say Internet-abetted
infidelity, romance originating in chat rooms and fueled by e-mails,
is now one of the leading factors in marital breakdowns.
Log on to any search engine and query "married
and flirting" or "married but looking" and check out
the results. There's certainly no lack of outlets for people hoping
to find extramarital love on the Internet.
Internet infidelity is very common, says John Ciaccio,
owner of New Jersey-based A-plus Investigations, which does Internet
investigations and e-mail retrieval for customers in the Lehigh Valley
and northwest New Jersey.
"We've built an entire department to deal with
it," he says. "Each year people get new computers; they get
more computers. And each year we get more phone calls about spouses
His company has been investigating Internet infidelity
cases for the past five years.
"I've been in this business 25 years," he
says. "Cheaters used to communicate through beepers, then cell
phones. The Internet is the new way to communicate."
David Greenfield, of West Hartford, Conn., a psychologist
and author of the book, "Virtual Addiction," says the convenience
and seeming anonymity of the Internet have attracted a new breed of
adulterers, people who might have been too timid to make their first
forays into infidelity face-to-face.
Many spouses who engage in cyberaffairs consider their
online romances to be harmless, he explains.
"But the spouses of those who are cheating don't
see it that way," he says. "It's often done on the same computer
they both use at home. It's like having someone else in your own bedroom."
Perhaps that's why a whole host of Web sites and businesses
dedicated to stopping cyberaffairs have also been created. Web sites
like Chatcheaters.com and InfidelityCheck.org describe an array of surveillance
products capable of tracking a cheating spouse's e-mails and online
chats, including some that can monitor each key stroke in real time.
That's similar to what a real-life investigator does,
however, an investigator also knows what's in the fine print of Internet
monitoring software programs.
"Monitoring online activity is deemed illegal
by the court system," Ciaccio says. "But any information stored
on the hard drive is accessible and admissible in court."
Sandra Morris, a San Diego-based attorney who is president
of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, says the spread of Internet
infidelity has raised some complicated issues about computer privacy.
"A spouse may have a misplaced sense of entitlement
to spy," she says. "There are prohibitions against electronic
eavesdropping, though a lot of people feel that when someone's cheating,
all bets are off."
John Mayoue, a divorce lawyer from Atlanta, says federal
statutes outlawing interception of electronic communications can apply
within a marriage.
However, there is a perceived difference between information
obtained in password-restricted areas of a spouse's personal computer
and information obtained from a shared family computer.
"If the client owns the computer we can send a
technician in to image the hard drive," Ciaccio says. "We
can check out e-mail and Web sites visited if that's the case."
So how many of these online conversations lead to real-life
"It's been our experience that the more they communicate,
the more likely it is they will meet in person," Ciaccio says.
Such was John LaSage's experience. He founded Chatcheaters.com
after his wife of 23 years left him for a man she was having an online
affair with in New Zealand. Chatcheaters averages 400 visitors a day.
LaSage says he was devastated to discover, after his
wife had left, that she had engaged in erotic e-mail and chat room correspondence
with several men.
Betsy Walton-Phillips, a licensed clinical social worker
for St. Luke's Hospital's Behavioral Health Services in Fountain Hill,
says the devastation of discovering a virtual affair is no different
than finding out about a real-life affair.
Infidelity is a symptom of a greater problem in the
marriage -- whether the infidelity is committed online or in real life,
The big difference, she says, is that individuals committing
the infidelity on the Internet are more likely to deny or minimize the
importance of the online affair.
"Each case is different and each individual's
perspective is different," she says, "But the key common denominator
in all affairs is the accountability to fidelity. The Internet is not
an exception to that accountability."
Furthermore, she says by concentrating on an online
"friendship," the focus is taken away from the marriage and
the issues at hand. She has seen the success of marital counseling sessions
that were sought after online affairs can go both ways -- some end in
divorce, other couples choose to work through the underlying problems.
A University of Florida researcher, Beatriz Mileham,
studied Internet infidelity as part of her doctoral dissertation, interviewing
76 men and 10 women who used popular chat rooms for the "married,
but flirtin' " crowd.
Most of the participants insisted they loved their
spouses but sought a romantic encounter online because of boredom or
their partner's disinterest in sexy fun , Mileham found.
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