“I received a text from an unknown number. It was a picture of me sleeping.”

 

I’m sitting at the dining table, eating dinner on a Sunday night and I see I’ve received a text message from a number I don’t recognise.

It’s a photo of me.

Looking at it, I can tell it was taken a few months ago while I was at a festival. I’m in my pink and blue pyjamas and asleep outside my tent.

The person taking the photo couldn’t have been more than five metres away, probably in the next campsite over.

Advertisement The image Jess received from the unknown number was disconcerting to say the least. (Image: Supplied)

I'm guessing it's a screenshot Snapchat, as the writing across the photo says: 'U ok?' There's a another message that repeats the question: 'U OK?'

I'm a little freaked out. This person must know who I am, what I look like and also have my phone number. But I don't have theirs. On the other hand, it could be a joke from one of my friends using someone else's phone.

I ask him who he is. (My instincts tell me this is a guy, but maybe that's just because I don't think a girl would do this.)

He replies: 'I dunno, lol somehow got your number and knew it was you'.

I call, distressed, and I don't recognise his voice. It's clear he thinks the whole thing is a big joke. He still won't tell me who he is.

Now I'm more than a little freaked out and tell him I'll call the police if he doesn't tell me who he is and keeps sending me messages.

But what if I did call the cops? I mean, what would I tell them? This guy hasn't said anything threatening. The photo of me isn't explicit. Maybe I'm just overreacting. What could the police do to help me?

Well, according to Victoria Police Sergeant Kris Hamilton, it depends.

"If a person receives a text message under these circumstances, and they felt threatened, harassed or in fear as a result of it, well then I would encourage they report it to their local police station where an investigation could be considered," Sgt Hamilton says.

"If the message was just a one-off, not in conjunction with any other set of circumstances or factors, it is unlikely that police would be able to trace the phone number and provide details of the sender's identity to them."

However, Sgt Hamilton adds, the police could contact the sender on my behalf and request he stop.

"At this stage, assuming it's just a one off, no legal power, just a request."

"After the request has been made, and the sender sent in another message, police will consider the appropriateness of obtaining an intervention order."

That night I decided not to call the police. The sender didn't call my bluff, but he didn't tell me the truth either, saying instead that he was my fellow festival-going friend Cam. I knew he wasn't, but that was enough to convince me he wasn't a stalker and that I could deal with this in the morning.

Sure enough, when sober he confessed he was Cam's friend and there was "no harm intended" - it was just meant to be "a bit of quality banter". Right.

But for thousands of women, it's not so simple. Creepy behaviour, taunting texts and social media comments escalate into explicit, abusive or event violent messages.

A recent national survey of girls aged 15 to 19 found 58 percent of those surveyed thought girls often received sexual photos or messages they didn't want or ask for.

But it's not just something that affects teenagers. Women of all ages can be the victims of harassment.

An Australian Bureau of Statistics Personal Safety Survey in 2005 revealed almost 1 in 5 women experienced at least one form of harassment in the previous 12 months.

So what if you get sent a "dick pic"?

Sgt Hamilton says if someone sends an unwanted naked image of themselves, police might ask that sender to stop - again a request, not an enforcement.

"Depending on how that goes, more options are available to police and you would start to look at the possible charge of using a telecommunications device to threaten and harass," he says.

He says people can also be charged with this offence when they send vile, vitriolic or abusive messages.

"In a situation like this, police would not only look at charging the offender with using a telecommunications device to harass, but they would also look at obtaining an intervention order to protect the complainant and stop the person from sending further messages."

He says if someone feels threatened they should contact police right away, and that in each case police look at all the details before making a decision.

"Police are guided by looking at the whole-of-picture when dealing with these types of reports."

"It's never clean cut and police assess all aspects before deciding on what the most appropriate course of action is."

As for Ryan - oh his name turned out to be Ryan by the way - I told him how unfunny I found his "banter" and I haven't heard from him since. Maybe he'll think twice before playing a joke like that again.

Unwanted attention takes many forms. It is important to know what you are comfortable with...

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