Bullying calls, texts are illegal

Suzi Starheim

The victim often knows the offender

Today’s technology allows people to communicate their discontent differently than in the traditional face-to-face situation, said Christopher Jenkins, lieutenant of investigations for the Kent State police.

Telecommunication harassment, which used to be called telephone harassment, involves any harassment by means of landline, cell phone, text, voicemails or e-mails – in other words, harassment through technology, Jenkins said.

“Most of the ones recently are people using cellular telephones,” Jenkins said.

From Sept. 1 to Oct. 21, 2009, there were six reports of telecommunication harassment on campus, said Karen Landis, records management supervisor of the university police department.

Jenkins said in the majority of telecommunication harassment situations, the victim knows the offender.

“Most times, the victim knows who the suspect is, and we ask the victim what their choice is,” Jenkins said. “Do they want us to press criminal charges against the suspect, or do they just want us to warn the person to stop it?”

Crime prevention specialist Alice Ickes said when the victim knows the offender, there may be a simple way of stopping the harassment.

“The person who receives the call usually has a realistic idea of who is harassing them,” Ickes said. “If necessary, say you will report it to the police, and many times that stops the behavior. “

Ickes said a lot of times, this form of harassment results from a simple misunderstanding.

“The written word has no inflection, so it’s very easy to misunderstand,” Ickes said. “I often double and triple check e-mails I am sending, even in the professional world.”

Tracking telecommunication harassment isn’t always simple, Jenkins said.

“In cases where the offender is unknown, we can subpoena the cell phone records of the person calling if the number hasn’t been blocked,” Jenkins said. “If the communications are coming from a more legitimate service, like an e-mail or instant messaging account, then we can subpoena the Internet provider and find the person.”

Jenkins said oftentimes, this form of harassment involves a couple ending a relationship or a friendship gone awry.

Other situations involve random victims of harassment and, as uncomfortable as it might be, Jenkins said people have to realize that random calls involving harassment are not specifically aimed at the victim.

“What we commonly see are random non-targeted calls of a sexual nature where someone might be up late at night and find it humorous or mischievous to make random sexually oriented phone calls,” Jenkins said.

Social networking sites are also an easy way to access others, and Jenkins said these types of harassments might be treated differently.

“If you have a page on a social networking site that is open to view, we have to deal with charges case by case,” he said. “It really depends on the privacy nature of each site.”

Ickes said young people have to be careful and take responsibility for their actions because once information is sent out, it’s out there forever.

“In the old days, when you sat and signed your name to it, you were very conscious of what you said,” Ickes said. “Now things just fly through the air and things can be silly and people can act in the heat of the moment.”

Jenkins said he recommends victims in social networking cases to either block the person harassing them or change their own information.

“If you are being victimized, you have to take some responsibility to tell the person you don’t want these calls to continue and document that,” Jenkins said. “Also, log the calls you are receiving that might not be kept in a cell phone or other type of database.”

Jenkins said the penalty for a first violation would be a first-degree misdemeanor. Subsequent offenses would be a felony of the fifth degree.

Contact safety reporter Suzi Starheim at [email protected].