Telephone Scatalogia: Review of Current Literature

By Alexandra M. Zidenberg and Pamela Wan
2015, Vol. 7 No. 09 | pg. 1/1


This paper examines the limited research conducted on telephone scatologia. Research was found through mining key search terms, such as “telephone scatologia” on Google Scholar. Research shows offenders of telephone scatologia tend to be heterosexual males of average or elevated sex drive, no cognitive deficit, and a history of failed relationships and/or limited social interactions. Studies suggest that there are three main types of offenders, where the first type is profane and immediately suggestive, the second draws the listener in and eventually leads them into offensive suggestions, and the third tricks the listener into revealing personal information. Research reveals some overlap between telephone scatologia and exhibitionism, and that victims of telephone scatologia experience long-lasting psychological effects. There is very little research on the treatment of offenders, and possible topics of study may lie in technologically advancing applications such as text messaging. However, since very few offenders of telephone scatalogia are prosecuted, there continues to be a dearth in research on this subject.

Obscene and threatening phone calls have been described as the background noise of sexual intimidation in modern life, yet there has been very little research done in the area (Smith & Morra, 1994). Though obscene phone calls are non-contact offences, they can still have a profound impact on a person’s emotional wellbeing. It has been observed that obscene phone calls can produce feelings such as shock, fear, shame, and panic in victims (Larsen, Leth, & Maher, 2000). Receiving obscene phone calls can also produce long-term, persistent feelings of anger, disgust, and fear (Larsen, Leth, & Maher, 2000). Due to the potential harm to victims and the dearth of research in the area, it is important to examine the issue of telephone scatalogia; the definitions, typologies, impacts, and treatments of obscene phone calls.

What is Telephone Scatalogia?

Though often confounded, there is a distinct difference between common prank phone calls and telephone scatalogia (Newring, 2014). Telephone scatalogia involves sexual arousal derived from exposing an unsuspecting victim to sexually explicit materials where casual prank calls do not have the same level of sexual arousal (Newring, 2014). Telephone scatalogia involves using threats or ruses in order to coerce a victim into listening to or participating in a sexually explicit or intimate conversation. Often, the perpetrators of telephone scatalogia may masturbate during the calls or while remembering them which may not happen with common prank calls (Newring, 2014).Unlike prank phone calls, telephone scatalogia is covered in the DSM-V under “paraphilias not otherwise specified” (Newring, 2014; Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008).

The literature suggests that there is a common set of characteristics inherent to telephone scatalogia offenders. Offenders are typically heterosexual males with no significant cognitive deficits or psychopathology, they tend to have average or elevated sex drive, and they tend to have a history of failed relationships and limited social interactions (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008; Newring, 2014). Callers may also have a lack of self-esteem and feelings of anger towards women (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008). Furthermore, it is suggested that offenders may have criminal histories including theft, some college or a high school level education, and a work history of menial jobs (Newring, 2014). In some cases of telephone scatalogia intellectual disability, brain damage, psychosis, and intoxication can play a role in the offending behaviour (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008).


Search Strategy

Sources were selected after an extensive literature search using Google Scholar. The search strategy involved searching several key terms to describe the paraphilia. The terms used to locate articles included: Telephone scatalogia OR Obscene phone calls OR Sexual phone calls. The ‘paraphilia’ key terms were combined with further exploratory terms in order to target articles that would provide specific information about topics identified in the literature. These exploratory term included things such as: typologies, exhibitionism, adult victims, child victims, treatment, etc. These searches returned many results; articles that only mentioned telephone scatalogia in passing and did not focus on the paraphilia were excluded. The works cited section of the selected articles were then hand-searched in order to identify other important articles. This resulted in the selection of nine articles for the purpose of this review.



Masters, Johnson, and Kolodny (1982) identified three major typologies of telephone scatalogia calls. The first, and most prevalent, type of call are those in which the perpetrator boasts about himself and his sexual organs and describes his masturbation (Newring, 2014). The second type of call involves sexual and other violent threats towards the listener. The third typology involves the use of a ruse, such as posing as a female or acting as a sexual survey researcher, in order to gain personal and intimate details from the listener (Newring, 2014). Mead (1975) developed a typology in order to describe the types of scatological callers.

The first type of caller is one who uses profanity or makes suggestions almost immediately. Mead (1975) suggested that the majority of the first type of callers are in their preteens or teens. The second type is often called the “integrating seducer,” they are able to provide plausible backstories about love from afar, prior interactions, or mutual friends (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008). Though this approach is more subtle, the initial discussions lead to offensive suggestions. The third type that Mead (1975) suggested was that of “the trickster,” where the person uses a ruse in order to gain personal information about the listener. Matek (1988) suggested a fourth type of offender, who calls into a crisis line in order to speak to a female volunteer while masturbating (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008).

A courtship disorder model has also been proposed to explain telephone scatalogia offending behaviours (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008). The courtship disorder hypothesis argues that certain paraphilias, and even certain types of preferential rape, can be viewed as a distortion in the normal courtship process by males (Freund & Seto, 1998). The courtship model has 4 stages: selection and identification of a victim, pre-tactile interactions, tactile interactions, and genital union (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008). In greater detail, the first phase involves locating and assessing potential partners. The second phase involves verbal and non-verbal actions such as looking, smiling, and talking to a potential partner in order to foster an association or connection. The third phase is the tactile phase in which physical contact is made between the partners. The fourth stage in the courtship model is the copulatory phase where sexual intercourse occurs between willing partners (Freund & Seto, 1998). Courtship disorder theory hypothesizes that paraphilias and preferential rape can be viewed as a distortion or amplification of the courtship phases resulting in phases being skipped or retained (Freund & Seto, 1998).

Links to Exhibitionism

Based on case studies, there has been some interest in the reported overlap of telephone scatalogia and exhibitionism (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008). Some of the proposed overlaps between the disorders are that both types of offenders attempt to express aggressions, to exhibit power and control, and to gain recognition through offending (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008). An overlap has also been suggested in the fact that both types of offenders require the victim to be shocked or disgusted by the act (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008). A major difference between telephone scatalogia and exhibitionism is that some callers want a complete anonymity which is virtually impossible in cases of exhibitionism (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008).

Going back to the courtship model, it has been suggested that telephone scatalogia and exhibitionism are connected by a distortion in the same phase of the model (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008). Freund and Seto (1998) identified the distortion inherent to exhibitionism as existing in the second phase where partners are forming connections through non-tactile means. It has also been suggested that telephone scatalogia offenders have not been able to move out of the second, pre-tactile connection phase (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008). Many researchers and clinicians have been dissatisfied by this explanation as, though it describes many cases of telephone scatalogia, there are still many cases where offenders report having adequate courtship behaviour (Milner, Dopke, & Crouch, 2008).

Impacts on the Victims

Adult women

A study of women’s experiences of obscene phone calls conducted by Sheffield (1989) found that adult females had some variability in their reactions to obscene calls, but reacted much in the same way for the most part. Out of a sample of 58 participants, only 5 women reported that the calls had no effect on them; the other respondents reported feelings of anger, disgust, degradation, and victimization (Sheffield, 1989). Sheffield (1989) found that the level of harm experienced by the victim depended on her situational factors at the time of the call. When the victims were with other people, they generally felt safest and reported more feelings of annoyance than fright. When women were home alone or the calls came at night they reported having the highest levels of fear and anxiety (Sheffield, 1989). The calls had long lasting negative effects on the victims’ lives such as feelings of paranoia and increased stress levels. At the time of the calls, several women reported having issues with sleep, anxiety at being alone, and a reluctance to leave their homes (Sheffield).

Child victims

Larsen, Leth, and Maher (2000) conducted a study of 56 children who received obscene phone calls from one offender in Denmark. The children participated in a videotaped police interview which was then assessed by psychologists using the Children’s Global Assessment Scale and the Posttraumatic Stress Reaction Index (Larsen, Leth, & Maher, 2000). Responses to the caller varied based on gender with significantly more girls obeying the caller than boys. 2% of the children fainted, 12% managed to hang up on the offender, 36% answered questions posed to them by the offender (subjects included questions about physical development and requests for phone numbers of their most physically developed classmates), and 50% of the children obeyed the demands of the caller (which included commands to undress, measure the size of their genitals, insertion of fingers or objects, and performing oral sex on a classmate who was also present and obeyed the caller) (Larsen, Leth, & Maher, 2000). The children had various stress responses in the minutes and hours following the calls including feelings of fearfulness, worry, and embarrassment, experiencing shock, isolating themselves, and crying (Larsen, Leth, & Maher, 2000).

At the time of the interview, sometimes months or years after the incidences, many of the children were still suffering symptoms from the calls (Larsen, Leth, & Maher, 2000). Painful memories, intrusive thoughts, fear of being contacted again by the offender, fear of being alone, and fear of answering the phone were among the most common symptoms reported by the children (Larsen, Leth, & Maher, 2000). Many of the symptoms experienced by the children were very similar to common responses of children who have witnessed school shootings (Larsen, Leth, & Maher, 2000). Children who obeyed suffered more in psychosocial impairment based on the CGAS as compared to the children who hung up or only answered, obedient children also ranked higher in regards to scores of PTSD (Larsen, Leth, & Maher, 2000). Though the reactions of the children who obeyed seemed to be more severe, it is important to note that all of the children experienced symptoms of stress closely following the incident (Larsen, Leth, & Maher, 2000). Larsen, Leth, and Maher (2000) noted that the lasting psychological impacts on the children were about as severe as those who had experienced contact sexual abuse.


There was very little information in the literature about treatment of offenders. Newring (2014) described the experiences of a 61 year old offender in treatment named Mr. Graham. Mr. Graham was subject to a battery of tests including a clinical interview, functional analysis/behaviour chain analysis, the Static-99R, the Stable-2007, the Acute-2007, the Garos Sexual Behaviour Inventory (GSBI), the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory II (MMPI-II), and the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). His treatment included both group and individual therapy and utilized modules from Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, as well as acceptance and commitment therapy (Newring, 2014).

Limitations and Future Research Directions

A limitation of many of the studies is small sample size, reliance on self-report measures, and reliance on case studies of single offenders (Larsen, Leth, & Maher, 2000; Smith & Morra, 1994; Leander, Granhag, & Christinason, 2005). As there are generally few people prosecuted for the crime of telephone scatalogia, there are very few offenders to interview, assess treatment options with, and to follow in longitudinal studies. In fact, most of the information available on telephone scatalogia does not address treatment of offenders at all and focus on the experience of victims instead. Victims are often hesitant to go to the police, so the offenders who are caught may not be a representative sample of all those who commit telephone scatalogia offences (Warner, 1988).

Future research may want to focus on new technological advances such as the SMS/text message. In recent times there has been an increase in the number of people who report receiving obscene text messages from strangers (Kushairi, 2002). It would be useful to adapt the current definition of telephone scatalogia to the ever changing technological landscape that we live in.


In conclusion, telephone scatalogia is a non-contact offence but it still heavily impacts the lives of those who have been victimized. Telephone scatalogia is a distinct practice from casual prank calling that can be clinically defined under the DSM-V. There are several distinct categories of calls and callers including those who immediately use profanity, people who use more subtle and insidious methods to gain trust, tricksters, and those who call crisis lines to masturbate. There are many similarities between exhibitionism and telephone scatalogia which may be explained by the courtship model. Telephone scatalogia has a profound impact on adult and child survivors alike. Many of the literature available does not focus on treatment of offenders and many studies have methodological challenges such as small sample sizes, single case studies, and an overreliance on self-report measures. Future research should focus on the changing landscape of technology and how telephone scatalogia may adapt and change based on that technology.


Freund, K., & Seto, M. C. (1998). Preferential rape in the theory of courtship disorder.Archives of Sexual Behavior,27(5), 433-443. doi: 0004-0002/98/1000-0433$

Kushairi, A. (2002, March 21). Obscene SMS messages a serious intrusion to privacy.Computimes (Malaysia), p. 2.

Larsen, H. B., Leth, I., & Maher, B. A. (2000). Obscene telephone calls to children: A retrospective field study.Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 29(4), 626–632. doi: 10.1207/S15374424JCCP2904_14

Leander, L., Granhag, P. A., & Christianson, S. A. (2005). Children exposed to obscene phone calls: What they remember and tell.Child Abuse & Neglect,29, 871–888. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2004.12.012

Milner, J. S., Dopke, C. A., & Crouch, J. L. (2008). Paraphilias not otherwise specified: Psychopathology and theory. In D. Laws & W. O'Donohue (Eds.),Sexual Deviance: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment(2nd ed., pp. 384-418).

Newring, K.B. (2014). Telephone scatalogia. In W. O’Donohue (Ed.), Case studies in sexual deviance: Towards evidence based practice (p.168-194). New York: Routledge.

Sheffield, C. J. (1989). The invisible intruder: Women's experiences of obscene phone calls.Gender and Society,3(4), 483-488. doi: 10.1177/089124389003004006

Smith, M. D., & Morra, N. (1994). Obscene and threatening telephone calls to women: Data from a Canadian national survey.Gender and Society, 8(4), 584-596. doi: 10.1177/089124394008004007

Warner, P. K. (1988). Aural assault: Obscene telephone calls.Qualitative Sociology,11(4), 302-317. doi: 10.1007/BF00988968

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