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Harassing calls hound Federal Way woman

"Little did Brenda Nelson know how much she would come to regret telling a hang-up caller, If you're going to call here, talk.They started talking but it wasn't nice, she said.Instead of silence, the caller, using a disguised voice, began spatting derogatory, curse-filled remarks when Nelson answered the phone. Sometimes the phone would ring 24 to 27 times until as late as 2:30 in the morning.In December, four months after the calls began, the 36-year-old Federal Way woman started getting harassing phone calls at work, too. Every time the phone rang, she cringed. At home, Nelson would pick up her phone and hear the caller playing her Qwest voice mail messages back to her. That's when she realized she was the victim of a crime and called Federal Way police.I couldn't eat or anything. I was nervous, she said. Are they watching me? Are they trying to kidnap my daughter? All these thoughts were going through my mind. It's like they were stalking me.A few weeks ago, Nelson disconnected her phone number and exclusively uses her cell phone to make and receive calls. She expressed frustration with what she perceives as inaction on the part of the Federal Way Department of Public Safety and Qwest to nail who was making the calls.As far as I'm concerned I was let down by the phone company and I was let down by the police, she said.Phone company and police officials say they work together to try to catch telephone harassers, but that can be tough, especially if the victim has no idea who's making the calls, as in Nelson's case. Tangible evidence, such as a tape recording of the harasser's voice, rarely exists, said police spokesman Mark Harreus.From a review of the case file, it appears the officer assigned to Nelson's case made an effort to track down the harasser, including using an Internet reverse phone directory to try to locate the person connected with the phone numbers that popped up on her caller ID, Harreus said. Police have no leads at this time.In quite a few cases, the victim knows the harasser, whether it's a person harassing an ex-partner's new love or a scorned dating partner harassing a former romantic interest. The more difficult cases to investigate are those committed by strangers. Often times there are no leads because you don't know who called, there's no way to find the number they called from and you can't think about any reasons someone would call, Harreus said.The Federal Way Department of Public Safety received 282 reports of harassment in 1998, 212 in 1999 and 265 in 2000. The department doesn't track harassment reports by category so those include all harassment cases. However, police made 29 arrests for phone harassment in 1998, 30 in 1999 and 39 in 2000. By state law, calling someone with the intent to harass, intimidate, torment or embarrass, using licentious, indecent or profane words or language, or anonymously or repeatedly and at an inconvenient hour calling someone is a gross misdemeanor. It's punishable by up to a year in jail. A second offense, or threats to kill the victim, amounts to a felony, punishable by up to five years in jail.Qwest offers a Call Annoyance Bureau to help customers deal with harassing callers, said Qwest spokesman Michael Dunne. The bureau can do everything from providing tips for avoiding such calls to tracing harassing phone calls to find out who's making them, and then turning that information over to the police.Calls that make physical or emotional threats against someone can be extremely disconcerting and they are illegal, Dunne said. Being the local phone provider, we want to help our customer put an end to those things.For Nelson, who couldn't change her phone number because of unpaid debt with Qwest, the end came with her decision to disconnect her phone. The harasser was calling from so many different numbers, Nelson could no longer afford to block all of them. At work, the calls have died down to one or two a day now that she no longer answers the phone.They'd tell me at work I was very jumpy. You'd be jumpy, too, she said. I realized after they said it every time my phone would ring, I'd jump. I'd cringe. "

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