Bell Mobility hangs up voice of terror ringtone

Rights lawyer objects: realistic cries of terror 'too much' for assault victims

December 16, 2005
National Post
By Siri Agrell

There is no mistaking the terror in the woman's voice as she screams: "Don't touch me! Get back! No! No-o-o!"

"It's a real horror," said Elisabeth Bruckmann, a staff lawyer at the Parkdale Community Legal Clinic in Toronto.

It is also a ringtone that was available for download, until Wednesday, on the Bell Mobility Web site for the one-time price of $2.

The voice is that of Jamie Lee Curtis, the scream part of the 1978 horror movie Halloween.

But for women who hear it, the feeling of fear the screams conjure is real, not fictional.

Ms. Bruckmann was notified of the ringtone by a women's shelter employee, who had heard the clip while browsing for a new feature for her cellular phone.

Listening to the clip, entitled, "Woman Screams Don't Touch Me," and playing it repeatedly for Bell employees as she attempted to have it removed from the site, made her feel physically sick.

"The woman who sits next to me was seriously assaulted, and just hearing it is extremely traumatizing for her," she said. "The thought of this going off in a public place when one in four women in Canada have been assaulted is just too much."

Ms. Bruckmann, a human rights lawyer, said the ringtone trivializes violence against women and raises questions of Criminal Code violations because it is essentially "a publication that effectively encourages violence."

Bell removed the clip from its site within 20 minutes of Ms. Bruckmann's complaint, along with two other ringtones taken from the movie King Kong that feature the sound of actress Naomi Watts screaming.

"We removed it right away," said Paolo Pasquini, a Bell spokesman. "Obviously, the opinion of our customers and the public is very important to us and we take it very seriously. When we heard about the matter, we quickly removed it."

Mr. Pasquini said the ringtones were purchased by Bell as part of a larger package of clips and downloads from popular movies.

He does not know how long they were available or how many people downloaded the screams on to their phones.

In June, Bell also had to remove a series of clips promoted as "Pimp Tones" that featured references to "ho's" and the sound of people being slapped.

"We learned from the Pimp Tones incident and Bell does take these concerns very seriously," Mr. Pasquini said. "We try to create a balance between providing the widest range of content for our customers and also being appropriate. That process is constantly evolving."

The screaming ringtone is still widely available on the Internet and Ms. Bruckmann's opinion of it did not change when she learned of its cinematic origin. Without context, it is merely the sound of a scared and suffering woman, something companies should not be profiting from, she said.

"It seems like they're not getting the message that this is absolutely not acceptable," she said. "I would hope that their female customers are a higher priority than those who might find this amusing."