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Jun. 21 2010 - 4:03 pm | 1,461 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

How to deal with ‘Textual Harassers’

The Washington Post has an article today about the cell phone dangers for young people. And surprise: the article is not about sext messages!

It’s about scary, violent text messages. The tech age is opening new doors for harassers and stalkers (yeah, I know — it’s useful for reporters too). Just like sext messaging, the disturbing practice has a cutesy name: “textual harassment.”

Journalist Donna St. George leads the piece with an anecdote about a 22-year-old woman whose ex-boyfriend called and texted her over 700 times.

It is all part of what is increasingly called “textual harassment,” a growing aspect of dating violence at a time when cellphones and unlimited texting plans are ubiquitous among the young. It can be insidious, because messages pop up at the sender’s will: Where r u? Who r u with? Why didnt u answer me?

“It’s gotten astonishingly worse in the last two years,” says Jill Murray, who has written several books on dating violence and speaks on the topic nationally. Especially for those who have grown up in digital times, “it’s part and parcel of every abusive dating relationship now.”

The harassed often feel compelled to answer the messages, whether they are one-word insults or 3 a.m. demands. Texts arrive in class, at the dinner table, in movie theaters — 100 or more a day, for some.

Harassment is “just easier now, and it’s even more persistent and constant, with no letting up,” says Claire Kaplan, director of sexual and domestic violence services at the University of Virginia.

I’m well-aware of the heightened risk of cellular/digital harassment in the digital age, after a disgruntled subject of a story posted my phone number to Craigslist Casual Encounters last month.

Still, the technological age also offers us solutions. Solutions that the Washington Post article fails to address…

It’s called blocking. In the real world, it’s hard to make people you don’t like disappear (unless you’re Dexter Morgan), but in the digital/cellular world, you can.

Most Facebook users know that harassers can be put on a “limited profile” list with reduced access to their information. Or they can be blocked all together. Cell phone companies offer similar services.

If you’re a Verizon customer, for example, here are the instructions to eliminate a overzealous caller/texter, by blocking his or her number.

Of course, if someone crowdsources your harassment — ahem, M.I.A. – then blocking is going to a wee bit harder. After an unflattering New York Times magazine profile, M.I.A. tweeted the phone number of the reporter, Lynn Hirschberg, who wrote the piece. Hirschberg presumably got texts and phone calls from hundreds of people, as M.I.A. has over 100,000 Twitter followers. If that happens, blocking won’t help, but perhaps you can file a textual harassment suit?


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  1. collapse expand

    Thanks for discussing the ways to stop online harassment. I get annoyed any time there’s an article about cyber-bullying and no one mentions that to be bullied in such a way generally requires the victim to actively participate.

    If I yell at you in real life, you have no choice but to hear it. You can try to ignore it, and you can try to leave, but you don’t have much control over the sound waves reaching your ears.

    Online, once you’re aware that someone is trying to harass you, for the harassment to succeed, you have to continue reading. Pressing ignore or delete means their words will never reach you.

    Parents need to be more active in (1) understanding the technology their children are using, and (2) teaching them how to protect themselves.

  2. collapse expand

    I went out on a date with a girl a few years back. A couple of days later, she proceeded to call me repeatedly even though she knew I was at work. 40 missed calls and 30 something text messages in one shift. I chose the crowd source route. I put my phone on speaker phone and played all of the insane/needy/progressively angry and threatening voice mails she left me for everyone at work to hear. Since she was friends with some of the people I worked with, she was well aware of the amount of fun that was had at her expense that day.

  3. collapse expand

    At least with Sprint, you can stop text harassment with an online tool, but cannot block phone calls (maybe you can jumping through hoops with customer service or something, but there’s no easy way… on some phones you can send certain #s straight to voicemail or silence the ringer). So, would be harassers, there’s still a way.

    And, yeah, I think that text messages (and e-mail) can be criminal harassment. The woman could possibly get her ex charged if he kept it up.

  4. collapse expand

    Google voice has this feature, and you can report a call/vm/text as spam. It’s neat for other things too.

  5. collapse expand

    I put my phone on speaker phone and played all of the insane/needy/progressively angry and threatening voice mails she left me for everyone at work to hear. Since she was friends with some of the people I worked with, she was well aware of the amount of fun that was had at her expense that day.

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