Phone harassment

From heavy breathers to outright abuse or the silent treatment, if you're the subject of obscene or harassing phone calls, here's what you can do.

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What counts as harassing phone calls?

Phone harassment is a general term used to describe any kind of unwanted telephone call that’s intended to cause upset, grief and alarm. It’s an invasion of privacy, and a form of bullying. The caller might know the victim, or it could be the result of a random dial. It may be a one-off call, or a campaign of abuse. Whatever the case, it’s unacceptable in any shape or form, and has to be stopped.

Why do people make harassing phone calls?

Everyone knows that bullies are generally cowards, which makes a threatening phone call more tempting to them than a face-to-face confrontation. You’re not going to reach down the line and teach them a lesson, Tom ‘n’ Jerry style. What’s more, a caller can easily take steps to withhold their number when making unwanted calls.

How should I respond?

In almost every case, your best bet is to say nothing. If you can deny them the pleasure of a response, you’re effectively taking away their reason to harass you.

How to report a harassing phone number

Ofcom (the UK communications services regulator) says you should report a harassing phone number or phone call to your network provider: ‘Malicious, abusive or threatening calls, whether from people you know or from strangers, are a criminal offence. If you receive such a call you should immediately call your phone company and ask for their nuisance or malicious calls team. It doesn’t matter whether you know the caller’s identity or not.’

How can I protect myself?

There are several steps you can take to minimise the damage, and even catch the caller out:

  • Record each incident. If you’re the victim of a continued phone harassment, make a note of when the calls came in and what was said. Take down as much information as you can, because you may need it as evidence later.
  • Inform your phone provider. All companies will have a policy for dealing with dodgy calls. Some may be able to trace the caller, or stop calls from that number. Others may advise you to contact the police. Whatever the case, you’ve done the right thing by making a complaint. Don’t suffer this alone.
  • Screen your calls. Either let it go to the answering machine, or talk to your phone provider about a caller identification service. A recorded message could help if you want to press charges, and this kind of tactic effectively prevents the caller from communicating with you directly, so you don’t have to answer the phone and give them a reaction.
  • Block the number on your phone. Some phones allow you to block numbers directly, which will mean your phone doesn’t even ring when they try to call you.

Obscene phone call laws

If the abuse continues, or you feel threatened in any way, consider handing it over to the police. Bring your evidence with you, too (notes/itemised phone bills) and let them make enquiries. 

So, can you go to jail for harassment in the UK? The law says malicious or abusive phone calls are a criminal offence, under section 43 of the Telecommunications Act, 1984. Alternatively, The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 covers many forms of harassment involving persistent contact that causes distress. 

Because this type of behaviour amounts to harassment, perpetrators could get up to six months’ imprisonment, or two years if it’s deemed to be racially motivated. If the offence is harassment (putting people in fear of violence) or stalking (involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress), the max sentence is 10 years, or 14 years if it was racially motivated.

If you’re being harassed and want to talk to someone about it, the team at The Mix are here to listen, speak to our team today.

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By Ally Thomas

Updated on 30-Mar-2023