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Handling Crank Calls

Elizabeth N. Baldwin, Esq.
North Miami Beach, Florida, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 33 No. 4, August-September 1997, pp. 95-96

Crank calls can intrude on anyone's life, LLL Leader or not. Some calls are merely annoying. Some silly. Some obnoxious. And some are downright scary. What should a Leader do when she gets a crank call?

Keep calm- As soon as you feel fairly sure that a call is a crank call, don't stay on the line. If the person is not abusive, vulgar or threatening, but you feel uneasy about the call, consider calling the person back or having another Leader call the person back. Keep in mind that most crank callers will not give you a valid phone number.

Hang up- If the caller is verbally abusive, vulgar or threatening, do not continue the conversation. Hang up immediately and contact your phone company. Phone companies in some countries have a variety of ways to handle such calls including referring you to the police and arranging for a method of call tracing. In many places it is against the law to threaten people, make obscene calls or harass someone. Do not try to reason with the person or continue talking. By doing so, you are encouraging their behavior. Often this is what the person wants-attention and a reaction!

Contact your LLL support person immediately- Call your District Advisor or other Area support Leader; HotLLLine volunteers should contact Marijane McEwan at LLLI Headquarters. It is important to report exactly what has happened. If the caller has contacted other Leaders, your information may help to end the situation.

Keep accurate information in your Leader log- Record the exact time the call came in and what was said. If the phone company or police trace the call they may need you to verify information. This is crucial! Without facts there is little authorities can do to help stop the calls. As soon as you get off the phone with a caller, write down the exact time and exactly what was said to you.

Trust your instincts- Does your gut feeling tell you that this does not seem right to you? Are there no baby noises in the background, no indications that a mother really exists? Easy solution! End the call by telling the caller you will call back at a later time or tell the caller you will have another more experienced Leader call the person back, if you know of another Leader who is more comfortable taking difficult calls. Do not give the caller another Leader's number: instead, ask for the caller's number. Keep in mind that most crank callers will not give you a phone number or will give a phony one.

Do not give out personal information- Do not volunteer information about yourself, your family or other Leaders. If someone wants meeting information and you are unsure of their motive, mail the information or ask for a phone number and call the person back.

Do not use last names or addresses - Use Leader's first names only in newspaper meeting notices and leaflets. People can call without having that extra information.

Ask callers for a name, address and phone number- This can discourage a crank caller who doesn't want to give you this information. Keep in mind that Leaders should ask for names and numbers for their records: hotline Leaders should also get an address with every call. If a caller is reluctant for fear of receiving unsolicited calls or being put on a mailing list, you can reassure them that this will not happen. Then be careful to note this in your logs so they are not accidentally added to a list that your Group calls.

Ask callers where they got your number- If it is from a source that seems to attract crank calls, look at other methods of publicity.

Don't answer personal questions- If someone asks personal questions that make you feel uneasy, don't answer them. Asking questions back is a good method of tactfully avoiding this type of situation. What exactly does the person see as the problem? Even basic questions to get more information can help confirm that a call is not legitimate or reassure you that it is genuine.

If you are sure a call is a crank, do not keep talking- Don't think for a minute that you can convince crank callers to stop making such calls or reform them. You are just encouraging them to call again by giving them the attention they seek.

Keep in mind that the vast majority of calls are legitimate and, as the police will tell you, the vast majority of crank calls are harmless, even the obscene ones. However, it can be upsetting to receive even one crank call.

It is important not to generalize. For instance, just because a crank call is from a male caller, does not mean that all male callers should be suspect. Many men call LLL for their wives; some even call with their own questions. The accurate information that a father hears from a Leader can make a world of difference in how he supports the breastfeeding relationship. We don't want to create the mistaken impression that we give information to women only.

If taking a call from a man is uncomfortable for you, handle it as you would any call that you feel you do not want to handle. Have another Leader who is able and willing to help return the call. Keep in mind that most Leaders are more than willing to talk to men; if you feel it is a problem for you, find out who in your area is willing to take these calls. If there is no one else, consider referring the person to the baby's doctor or other health care provider.

It is easy to become upset and scared when difficult calls reoccur. Seek support. Talk to your District Advisor and other Leaders in your community. Treat yourself well and remember that what you do in giving accurate information and support helps to make this world a better place!

For Example

Here are examples of crank calls Leaders have received along with suggestions for handling them.

The caller wants to know details of hand expression, asking the Leader to describe exactly how to hold the breast, etc. How about asking for the person's address and offering to send an information sheet? This method can be used for any question that involves describing something in detail. Remember, you don't have to put a return address on what you mail. You could also suggest a book on the subject from the library or bookstore.

An obscene caller talks when the Leader answers but hangs up when he/she gets the answering machine. A Leader could let her answering machine pick up all calls for a period of time, until the person tires of this. Letting your answering machine screen calls is a good way to feel in control of the situation; you return only those calls you want to.

A Leader has a feeling that a call is not legitimate. Tell the caller that something has come up and you will need to call them later. As parents, there are a variety of reasons why we might need to call someone back.

Co-Leaders have received similar obscene calls. Get together and determine the similarities in the calls. Advise other Leaders in the area of the methods the caller uses.

A Leader suspects a call is a crank call but the person never actually says anything improper. However, the person repeatedly asks for detailed information, calling Leader after Leader. Instead of answering all the questions, refer the person to resources that could answer the questions, for example, THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. If the call is legitimate, you have referred them to accurate information; if the call is a crank, you have ended your involvement.

A Leader suspects a call is a crank call but the real concern is that the person is sexually abusing a child. Some crank calls in the past few years have raised this issue. A Leader should contact someone in her Division/Affiliate before taking action on the call. In this way you benefit from another's objectivity and guidance before taking an action as serious as reporting the call to authorities which could result in the child being removed from the home. Contact your Area Professional Liaison or Area Coordinator of Leaders immediately if you have such suspicions.

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