By Amy L. Hatch
I innocently answered my phone this week while I was out running errands, and when I saw that it was an Illinois number (not local to Chambana), I answered it.
A man replied, sounding flustered, that he must have the wrong number. He hung up and I went my merry way.
Until 10 minutes later, when I got a text message from that same phone number that included a very clear photograph of a man’s anatomy and the text, “u like?”
I deleted the photo, of course, and chalked it up to the whole wrong number thing. I mean, to each his own, right? I didn’t want to see that, but maybe someone else did. No judging, remember?
But then it happened again. And the phone rang again. And then another text. And then a voicemail.
And by the way, you can file this under “Stuff That Could Only Happen To Me.” No, seriously, it’s true. Ask Laura to tell you some day about the time my kitchen cabinet fell off the wall. FELL OFF THE WALL.
Back to my story.
I didn’t know what to do, so I called the police. The dude kept it up, and I’ll be honest, those photos felt pretty threatening. I know this guy probably couldn’t find me, but even this mild form of sexual assault is pretty unnerving. And this was definitely beyond creepy.
The police came and I filed a report, and she listened to the voicemail (I didn’t) and took a look at the guy’s photography skills. She promised to call the number (“He probably won’t answer, but I’ll leave him a message.”) and told me to call my cell phone carrier and have them block the number.
So what did I learn about random sexual phone harassment? That I did all the right things. If this happens to you, according to the Privacy Rights Clearninghouse, if you receive calls or texts like this on your phone, do the following:
1. Don’t respond, and don’t delete. Do not text back or answer the phone. And don’t delete the photos.
2. Call the police and file a report. There are 44 states that include electronic communication (including mobile phones) in their harassment or stalking laws, including Illinois. Show them the photos and let them listen to any voicemail.
3. Call your carrier and have them block the number. I had no idea this was even possible, but it is. My carrier is AT&T, and they have an option that lets you block a number fo 60 days for free. If you need to/want to block the number for longer, there is a fee. The lovely girl who helped me said that she once had a 96-year-old woman with the same issue, but her stalker was sending pictures via Yahoo! Messenger. She had to change her number. If your harassment can’t be managed by a block, changing your number is your only option.
These steps can also apply to bullying by mobile phone in the form of texts or calls, so keep that in mind if you — or more pointedly — your child ever has an experience like this from someone they do or do not know.
I hope this never happens to you (and it probably won’t, because again, this could only happen to me) but if it does, now you’re prepared.