Houston, we have a problem
Kate Smurthwaite // 13 February 2008
[Edit: Kate Smurthwaite, the comic and brilliant former guest-blogger here at The F Word, has let us repost this personal account. What follows originally appeared on Kate’s own blog]
Well I spend a lot of time addressing issues of misogynist violence, abuse and hatred. My first-hand experiences – with the exception of my abusive childhood – are generally at the less threatening end of the scale – guys shouting stuff at me when I’m on stage or whistling at me in the street, that kind of thing. Not nice but, for me anyway, not something that affects my life too much.
Recently that has changed. In December last year I had a crank phone call from a male voice who asked if this was the number for a brothel. I said no and asked where he got the number and he hung up. I figured it was either a genuine idiot mis-reading a number he’d read in a phone box or someone I knew a bit drunk thinking they were being funny. The number came up as “the caller withheld their number”.
A few weeks later my partner answered my phone and again a male voice asked if it was a brothel. He said no and again the guy hung up.
Another time my partner answered and the guy hung up immediately.
Another couple of weeks later and I answered one again. This time he had a lot more to say – still asking if it was a brothel, asking if I was a hooker (his word, not mine) and asking me to describe myself physically (“how big are your tits?”, etc). He also mentioned the area in which I live – which frightened me as evidently he knows my address. I told him I was going to contact the police if he didn’t stop.
This afternoon I had two more calls, back to back from the same voice. This time he said he was coming round straight away to “fuck” me “really hard” and a lot of very very unpleasant things. He also said my name (I haven’t told him so that’s another frightening sign, he evidently has access to my details). And he told me that I was a “bitch” and that this was why he was making these calls and if I didn’t want them I should “stop being a bitch”. He then told me he worked for the local police – and re-iterated that he was coming round immediately to “fuck” (i.e. rape) me.
Of course it would be the one morning this week when my partner was out, so by this stage I was in a total panic. So I called the police. I explained the situation in full, and that I was home alone. They suggested I contact my mobile phone company (yes really – as though the problem was the calls rather than the threat of rape – and also as if I should investigate the crime myself, rather than them doing it) and then said they’d “try” and send someone round. They also said I shouldn’t use the word “rape” since the caller hadn’t used it (the caller also didn’t say he was coming round to “fuck” me but only if I gave full consent… the threat is obviously rape).
I was then home alone for two hours. I did ring O2 and they said they absolutely could try to trace the call but they would need to speak to the police to do so, not me. As I thought.
Then my partner got back – in a rush, having come from Leicester to get to me and make sure I was ok. The police arrived more than two and a half hours after I called 999. They sent two male officers (despite me explaining that the caller had claimed to work for the police, etc, surely it was obviously a better idea to send a woman?), who refused to show my partner any ID and instead told him to go outside into the street (leaving me indoors alone) and look down the road at the police car parked there.
Then, finally they took down the info about what had happened. They were mostly interested in some pretty odd stuff like what make my mobile phone was, and whether I had called the police for any other reasons recently… But I went along with it to try to get to the bottom of the situation. Then they asked “Are you not too bothered about this?” in a way that they clearly wanted me to say “I’m not too bothered”. Of course I said “Yes I’m terrified I’m going to get violently raped”
Then they left telling me (a) to keep a diary of when the calls happen in future and (b) to give them a ring if there were further developments and (c) that they would send me a letter by the end of the week letting me know what was happening.
Not a very satisfactory state of affairs. I work in an industry where I’m forever giving my number out to anybody and everybody who might have work for me, so it’s not really feasible to figure out who it is. I have a couple of potential suspicions but definitely no clear answer. Advice – legal and practical – very welcome.