People who make obscene phone calls share characteristics with exhibitionists. Thus obscene phone calling (sometimes called telephone scatologia) is viewed by some profes­sionals as a subtype of exhibitionism. People who make obscene phone calls typically experience sexual arousal when their victims react in a horrified or shocked manner, and many masturbate during or immediately after a "successful" phone exchange. These callers are typically male, and they often suffer from pervasive feelings of inadequacy and insecurity (Matek, 1988; Prince et al., 2002). Obscene phone calls are frequently the only way they can find to have sexual exchanges. However, when relating to the other sex, they frequently show greater anxiety and hostility than do people inclined toward exhibitionism, as revealed in the following account:

One night I received a phone call from a man who sounded quite normal until he started his barrage of filth. Just as I was about to slam the phone down, he announced, "Don’t hang up. I know where you live (address followed) and that you have two little girls. If you don’t want to find them all mangled up, you will hear what I have to say. Furthermore, I expect you to be available for calls every night at this time." It was a nightmare. He called night after night. Sometimes he made me listen while he masturbated. Finally I couldn’t take it any longer, and I contacted the police. Thank heavens, the calls eventually stopped. I was about to go crazy. (Authors’ files)

Fortunately, a caller rarely follows up his verbal assault with a physical attack on his victim.

What is the best way to handle obscene phone calls? Information about how to deal with such calls is available from most local phone company offices. Because these offices are commonly besieged by such queries, you may need to be persistent in your request. A few tips are worth knowing; they may even make it unnecessary to seek outside help.

First, quite often the caller has picked your name at random from a phone book or perhaps knows you from some other source and is just trying you out to see what kind of reaction he can get. Your initial response may be critical in determining his subsequent actions. He wants you to be horrified, shocked, or disgusted; thus the best response is usually not to react overtly. Slamming down the phone may reveal your emotional state and provide reinforcement to the caller. Simply set it down gently and go about your business. If the phone rings again immediately, ignore it. Chances are that he will seek out other, more responsive victims.

Other tactics may also be helpful. One, used successfully by a former student, is to feign deafness. "What is that you said? You must speak up. I’m hard of hearing, you know!" Setting down the phone with the explanation that you are going to another extension (which you never pick up) may be another practical solution. Finally, screen­ing calls with an answering machine or caller ID might also prove helpful. The caller is likely to hang up in the absence of an emotionally responding person.

If you are persistently bothered by obscene phone calls, you may need to take addi­tional steps. Your telephone company should cooperate in changing your number to an unlisted one at no charge. It is probably not a good idea to heed the common advice to blow a police whistle into the mouthpiece of the phone (which may be quite painful and even harmful to the caller’s ear) because you may end up receiving the same treatment from your caller.

Call tracing, a service offered by many telephone companies, may assist you in deal­ing with repetitive obscene or threatening phone calls. After breaking connection with the caller, you enter a designated code, such as star 57. The telephone company then automatically traces the call. After a certain number of successful traces to the same number, a warning letter is sent to the offender indicating that he or she has been identi­fied as engaging in unlawful behavior that must stop. The offender is warned that police intervention or civil legal action is an option if the behavior continues. Call tracing is clearly not effective when calls are placed from a public pay phone, and calls made from cellular phones cannot be traced.