In recent decades, comedians have exploited phone pranks to great effect. However, what one person may consider a joke may be considered a serious case of bullying for another. Especially when pranksters believe that your keen sense of humor wins out over your choice of abrasive words, the line between what is funny and what is offensive can become blurred. Pranksters must remember, however, that the person on the other end of the line cannot be sure whether the conversation is a joke or not.
If a joke takes an inappropriate sexual turn, what may have seemed like a harmless joke can turn into a criminal matter. Known as telephone eschatology, sexual gratification for unsolicited telephone calls is a legitimate paraphilia found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. While intent is the difference between a prank and an actual telephone eschatology incident, both are still sexual harassment cases and can be prosecuted as such.
From a criminal point of view, the law relies on state interpretations of sex crime laws when handling harassment cases like these. Some states consider this offense to be a mixture of stalking and sexual harassment, but may have additional charges of obscenity that can be attached. In general, although this crime does not carry penalties such as jail, it is still potentially dangerous to a person’s livelihood, as even minor sex crime convictions are taken very seriously by most Americans.
Knowing the difference between a well-intentioned joke and a stalking case is crucial for any would-be comedian. In general, unsolicited phone calls to random phone numbers are bad decisions for anyone. However, knowing the appropriate limitations with friends and acquaintances can determine whether a prank will be received correctly or will end in a police investigation. For more information on what a defendant can do to protect your rights, contact a sex crimes attorney.