Online predators are a very real danger, especially for younger children and teenagers. It is easy for younger kids to be trusting and these sorts of people prey on that. Such was the case for Alicia Kozakiewicz, a woman who was involved in one of these internet predator stories as a young teenager and lives to tell the tale.
|SEE ALSO: What Is a Predator? |
Alicia Kozakiewicz’s story started out innocently enough. In 2001, when she was 13 years old, she met a friend online. Her name was Christine. She was 14, red-headed, funny and a good friend to her. They spoke online for months, talking about secrets, problems, crushes, and everything in between.
Eventually, Christine revealed that she wasn’t actually “Christine” but a 31-year-old man named John. When this was revealed to her, Alicia was angry, but still went back to talking to John. She felt, of course, that this was still her friend, no matter what.
Later, John introduced her to Scott Tyree, a friend of his. He was kind and listened to her just as well as John did. He became a close friend to her and a confidant. But soon Scott’s conversations became sexual in nature and Alicia, being young and naïve, just said things in response she thought he wanted to hear. They sent pictures to each other, and even texted late into the night.
The correspondence with Scott lasted for months, building a trust and chipping away at Alicia slowly. At 13, she was an easy target to manipulate.
On New Year’s Day in 2002, Alicia Kozakiewicz left her home to meet with Scott. He had driven all the way from Virginia to pick her up and, trusting him after months of talking, she got into the car. He drove her all the way to his home in Virginia and chained her in his basement. She was ensalved, abused and beaten, and only fed once in the 4 days she was held captive.
It was on January 4th, the day that Alicia feared would be her last, that Scott said to her in the morning that he was worried he was beginning to like her too much and that they would be going for a ride that evening. It was then that he left for work.
Alicia was sure that meant Scott was going to kill her that night, until the FBI showed up and rescued her. Scott had made the mistake of sharing a picture of her online and a viewer of the picture allegedly gave an anonymous tip to the local newspaper with that information. The newspaper then notified authorities, who were able to find and save Alicia. If it were not for Scott’s mistake, something even more terrible could have happened.
Scott’s long conversations over a many-months period of time is what is referred to as “grooming.” It’s a slow breaking down of someone; of creating a trust line with them, of making them discuss topics they may not normally have with anyone else, and of really getting into their minds. Our article What is a Predator? explains this phase further.
Because of this, Alicia dealt with years of therapy and working out what had happened to her. In fact, she still has difficulty speaking Scott’s name to this day, and only sometimes can talk about the things that happened to her. But she’s moved on since then to try and help others and to protect kids from having it happen to them. She also helps those who have gone through similar traumatizing experiences.
Alicia Kozakiewicz Today
The Alicia Project is a site built to help fight for more laws protecting our children on the internet and off, and that offers internet tips for kids and parents alike. Alicia’s Law, born of the incident and something Kokakiewicz fights for daily, is meant to give local law enforcement agencies the funding and tools they need to fight child crimes, especially child pornography and trafficking.
7 states have already made moves to further protecting children from exploitation; Virginia, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, California, Idaho, Tennessee and Texas have all passed or had partial passage of Alicia’s Law.
The Alicia Kozakiewicz testimony video portrays her at the age of 19 as she addressed the Judiciary Committee about her own experiences and what law enforcement can do to fight back.
There’s a lot of learn from Alicia’s experience and how neatly her case falls into statistics, like how most victims are between the age of 13 and 15, and none are younger than 12. Or how most offenders talk to their victims for upwards of a month before meeting in person. While what occurred to Alicia in terms of abduction is rare, her online interactions with Scott weren’t.
What Can We Do?
What can we do as parents and guardians to protect our children from these kinds of people?
- Teach your children to never share private information online, no matter who they think they are talking to. That includes full names, phone numbers, addresses, and even the school they attend.
- Talk to them about choosing usernames carefully. Sometimes a username chosen by a child or teenager can be the thing that attracts a predator in the first place.
- Explain to them the dangers of “checking in” on Facebook or apps like Swarm. It publicly shows where they are, almost instantly, and can increase the risk for abduction.
- Increase the privacy settings on all social network sites and have a copy of your child’s account name and password. Let them know you are monitoring the things they say and who they may be talking to.
- Disable geotagging on all apps, phones and other devices. This, like “checking in,” will auto locate your child and can be potentially dangerous information if placed in the wrong hands.
- Monitor their online activities when possible. Make sure they are visiting sites that are OK’d by you and no chatrooms or forums out of the ordinary.
But most importantly of all, talk to them. Be involved in their lives. That means both; the lives they live day-to-day and the ones they have on the internet. Just by having open conversations, you can catch any sort of sign of strange activity or relationships.
You can also find more on this subject in our article Big Parent Watching: The Computer Monitoring Scheme.
If you already feel as though something suspicious is going on with your child; that they may be harassed or exploited or groomed, there’s a hotline to call. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s CyberTipline can be reached at 1-800-843-5678. Millions of tips have been reported already since 1998.
If your state does not have laws in place that you feel are strong enough to protect children from internet predators, you can make a change. Write to your congressman or give them a call explaining your concerns and making it known that you want to see something done. One voice may not seem like enough, but if many parents and guardians do so, it can make a change in making these online predator stories a thing of the past.