Houston, we have a problem

// 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.

Comments From You

Damon // Posted 13 February 2008 at 8:37 pm

I’m really sorry you had to experience this, Kate. Unfortunately, your story is cementing a belief I’ve had for a while now – that the police are absolutely USELESS.

It’s a totally disgusting state of affairs, where threats of rape aren’t taken seriously.

I hope your OK.

Josie // Posted 14 February 2008 at 1:42 pm

This is really dreadful Kate – I’m so sorry to hear that you’re going through this. My partner has just remarked that he would like to know what on earth the police actually DO with their time – as they certainly don’t seem to be concerned with actual crime. This scumbag has directly threatened you and they have been less than helpful to put it politely.

I had a similar situation with an ex-partner who was stalking me for 3 months several years ago – the police told me that he hadn’t actually “done” anything so there was nothing they can do. Nice to feel so supported and defended when your safety is under threat, isn’t it?

I wish I had some practical advice for you but apart from logging dates, times and content of calls I’m not sure what can be done. I just hope this situation will end very soon. Take care of yourself

m Andrea // Posted 14 February 2008 at 3:35 pm

Would you folks do an article for me? Or ask a lawyer about the following scenerio?

The chances of a rapist actually being convicted is about 1% — when you consider the number of unreported rapes, the rapes which are reported, the rapes which make it to the prosecutor’s desk, the rapes which make it to trial, the rapes which end in a conviction. The percentage might actually be smaller then 1% (I had figured it out at one time as being 0.4% IIRC)

Given that a man who rapes isn’t likely to face any kind of punishment, and that studies have indicated the threat of punishment acts as a deterrent, and without punishment the raping will only continue, and that fear of rape is a social control (HATE CRIME) used to keep women “in our place”; could it be argued in court that women have a “just cause” for vigilante justice?

Personally, I believe a real barracuda of a lawyer could argue this point. Men will of course resist, because the whole point of the game is to allow rapes to continue while simultaneously convincing women that men rilly rilly care about stopping rape. This is a painful reality; it’s much more pleasant to believe that most men care, but the facts say otherwise.

Also, stop answering the phone if there’s no number attached to the incoming call and get a new number. Start handing out business cards with an email address ONLY on it instead for random strangers to contact you. Get a website with a chatbox and/or set up your email account to forward any text messages to your cell — but really, why do random strangers need to be able to text or call you anyway? With them having to go through an email account, it will be much easier for someone to trace the computer where the message originates.

THIS GUY IS ESCALATING at least slightly AND NEEDS TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY. It’s perfectly okay to publish the names of those “helpful” officiers! ;)

Good luck and stay safe!

Eleanor T // Posted 14 February 2008 at 4:22 pm

I understand what m Andrea is saying, but Kate shouldn’t HAVE to change her way of life just because some bastard is threatening her. It’s his actions, not hers, that are affecting her life and it’s his actions, not hers, that need to change. It’s up to Kate how she handles her business, whether through phone calls or e-mails, and she doesn’t have to change a thing if she doesn’t want to. It frustrates me when victims are told to change the way they dress, behave, speak, etc. because of the behaviour of another… it’s as though it’s their own fault in the first place. As feminists aren’t we opposed to that?

I completely agree that something needs to give here and that frightening Kate into changing her lifestyle isn’t acceptable, but it should be the police and the criminal (for that is what he now is) who are reacting… not Kate.

What a horrible thing to have happen to you. Bastard.

Laura // Posted 14 February 2008 at 5:40 pm

My thoughts exactly, Eleanor.

mAndrea – The rape conviction rate is actually just under 6% (not much better, I know!), and yes is of course practically non existent when you take into account all those rapes which as not reported. I have no legal expertise so I don’t know whether what you suggest could be argued in court, though I doubt it. Personally, I don’t think vigilante justice is the answer – two wrongs don’t make a right, mistakes could be made, and the women who meted out the ‘justice’ would end up vilified and probably in prison.

Laura // Posted 14 February 2008 at 5:47 pm

Kate – this is just horrible, there really aren’t words…I hope you’re OK.

Yvonne // Posted 14 February 2008 at 6:35 pm

It is a shame that you may have to make changes for the random acts of a complete stranger, unfortunately that’s the world we live in.

I would advise getting a new number and setting your old number to voicemail. This way you can capture important calls and ring them back, whilst recording any message the perpetrator makes for professional/police analysis. It’s my personal experience that the police are not always as keen or knowledgable as they should be – perhaps try contacting rape/crisis hotlines as they may be able to give you some unbiased advice on what you are entitled to and what protection you can expect from the police force.

Yvonne xxx

Sam Jones // Posted 15 February 2008 at 7:00 pm

Hi Kate. Unfortunately the police have never been pro-active when it comes to taking harassment seriously. The only advice I can give is to keep a log of the calls to present as evidence in case the sh*tbag finally does get caught. You can even try putting him on speakerphone when he does call and make a recording of the call. Make sure you get him convicted of harassment cos’ then you can get a restraining order on his ass. Hope this is of some help.

Anne Onne // Posted 15 February 2008 at 7:07 pm

that’s terrible. I’m really sorry she has to deal with that. I hope that somehow it gets better. The police should be ahsamed of themselves for a complete lack of judgement where they could have helped more.

I’ll be crossing my fingers for her.

Sabrina George // Posted 7 April 2008 at 9:15 pm

Hi Kate, have not seen you for ages.

A few years back when I shared a house, an ex boyfriend kindly put cards up in all the local post boxes around Stockwell and Clapham, he was really cross. This promised all sorts of delicacies from us girls. The two girls were dealing with it all and the three boys found it hilarious. The police, just like yours, just added to the whole ordeal with no positive outcome at all.

I bought a referees whistle and chained it to the phone. We two girls blew it hard within seconds of the caller starting to speak. As the calls reached peak frequency late at night, this also had the effect of waking up the boys. They got so annoyed they went around all the phone boxes taking out the cards and taking the ex out for a quiet word involving some sort of injury I believe. The calls stopped.

Sadly girls still have to do it for themselves. The police are no help. As an adjunct, my neighbours, four single professional women and I have been harassed for over 12 years by a nasty, bullying neighbour. Who’s first words to me were “I will cut you from your throat to your cunt” and who like myself is a council tenant. He has threatened children with a sabre, used an air rifle on cats and spent many a night screaming and smashing the floor terrifying the old couple below.

In November 2006 things became a crises again. Again we contacted all the services, this was a reply I received tonight, 7 April 2008:

It is understood that your neighbour has been medically assessed by the Council and will receive a direct offer of alternative accommodation rather than being asked to Bid through the normal process. Once your neighbour has moved the Council will step down the legal action accordingly.  Councillor PC understands that your neighbour has a Solicitor now acting on his behalf and they are happy with this alternative to legal action that the Council are trying to pursue and they are encouraging your neighbour to accept the offer.

Councillor PC hopes that this offer will be made shortly but does also know that the Team will be following your neighbour throughout this transfer process and monitor him at his new address and trusts that it will be more suitable.

So I guess have at least another few months if not years to go yet. My outside balcony has no fence dividing us. I am not allowed to put one up, for the last year I have had scaffolding connecting my window to his three foot away. Hey Ho, another summer of a 6’4” violent man to contend with on my doorstep. My the way PC are the real initials of the Councillor

Sabrina George, fellow Comic

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