Originally created 07/12/97

Suicide hot line callers got phone sex message

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Callers to a toll-free suicide prevention hot line listed in more than a dozen phone books across the nation instead got a much different kind of counseling on phone sex.

Instead of help, callers heard a woman's voice giving "somewhat of a suggestive message, then basically there was some type of introduction and then you heard, `If you would like to hear more a charge will apply,"' BellSouth spokesman Buddy Bateman said Friday.

That upset Deborah Anderson a spokeswoman for the Alliance for the Mentally Ill in South Carolina, who alerted the phone company to the problem.

"This is not the kind of message a suicidal person needs to hear," she said.

The family of a depressed youngster who dialed the number during the July Fourth weekend reported the incident to Anderson, who then called BellSouth.

Network Telecommunication Service of Long Beach, Calif., which owns the 800 number, placed a busy signal on it Thursday after the company was told of the mix-up.

Bateman said the phone sex people took over the number in late June or early July after the suicide prevention hot line stopped paying for it.

"The listing should have come out and somehow - and we don't know exactly how - the listing stayed in the Columbia directory and the Sumter directory," Bateman said.

Harold Barron, a spokesman for GTE, which publishes the Sumter directory, said his company had no record of a request to remove the listing.

He said the wrong number appeared in at least 14 directories nationwide, including some in North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Indiana and Washington state.

Other South Carolina directories included those for Laurens and lower Florence County, he said.

The suicide prevention number was placed in June 1989 by an agency that sells national yellow pages ads, but in this case requested a number in the white pages, Barron said.

It was placed on behalf of the Humanistic Mental Health Foundation, he said, but Barron did not know where that organization was located and no telephone number or address immediately could be located for it.

Bateman also did not have any information.

Gary Walsh, spokesman for the state Public Service Commission that regulates in-state telephone service , said 800 numbers are in demand, so when the old suicide hot line number became free, Network snapped it up.

Directories in which the number appeared also included: Seymour, Ind.; Ashland, Grayson and Lexington, Ky.; Durham and Sylva, N.C.; Crockett, Tex.; and Whatcom County, Wash.


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