Abusive callers face legal action
By Kim Rahn
Those who make abusive comments or sexually harass Seoul City’s helpline counselors will face legal penalties.
The city government said on Thursday that starting July, it will file a complaint against callers to the 120 Dasan Call Center who habitually use abusive or sexually harassing language against counselors, saying that counselors are facing an intolerable level of vitriol.
It is a measure to protect the counselors, “emotional laborers” who have to put aside their own feelings and always be kind to customers, according to a city official.
“We’ve operated a separate team dealing with habitual malicious callers, with about 990 people blacklisted, but the team couldn’t take any active action. The counselors just had to wait until such callers hung up, enduring sexual harassment or listening to endless cursing,” the official said.
Of around 800,000 calls to the center per month, about 2,300 are abusive calls. “Those are very serious calls which counselors report, and the actual number is higher if including calls which they just endure and ignore,” he said.
“Some callers make threats or use abusive language, such as ‘I’ll smash your head with a hammer.’ As 87 percent of the counselors are women, verbal sexual abuse is also serious, with some callers asking them to have sex with them.”
One caller made 3,394 phone calls or sent text messages to the center over the last year, demanding long private conversations with the counselors, the official said.
“The counselors suffer from stress, even depression and other physical illnesses that arise from mental strain. Such calls are also one of the reasons they quit.”
Now the city government will actively cope with abusive calls: At first, counselors will tell the callers that they can face legal action for using abusive language or making sexually harassing remarks. If the callers continue, their phone numbers will be referred to the special team, and the conversation will be recorded.
As another step, the team will send a warning to the callers and if still they don’t stop, the city will file a complaint against them for intimidation or interference with public duty.