Wednesday, 15 August 2012

It can happen to you

A couple of year ago my, then 14 year old daughter argued for her right to go forth and chat with other teenagers online. I didn't like it but, after multiple conversations regarding online safety, finally let her sign up for an account on a site called TeenSpot. I can't remember how long daughter went on the site, a half year maybe. She'd gone there to chat with kids her own age and grew tired of being propositioned instead. She left the site with two friends. Erik, a teenager near her age in a town an hour from us and Brad, a 17 year old from Ohio.

At the beginning daughter primarily chatted with Erik and he was the one who made my shit-meter skyrocket. The kid had enough drama in his life to fuel a dozen soap operas. His girlfriend was pregnant and abusive. She tied him down and burned him with a lit cigarette when he tried to break up with her. Then had a miscarriage. Then raped him and became pregnant again. He'd been living with his Dad and step-mother, who was pregnant with twin girls. His sister was also pregnant with a girl and due at the same time. Suddenly his Dad and step Mom couldn't deal with all the kids and the new babies so him and his sibling were off to his Mom's house to live. At least he got along with his step Dad. But wait. Mom's having an affair with her abusive ex-boyfriend who moved in at the same time as the kids.

The story continued through planted drugs, two beatings by the boyfriend (requiring hospitalization), going to juvenile detention (where he could apparently borrow phones and text for hours at a time)... and culminated with his Mom being beaten to death by her boyfriend, first giving birth at 18 weeks to a healthy baby girl while in a coma. Apparently the baby was taken home by the boyfriend since no one could prove the Mom hadn't fallen down the stairs a few times and accidentally killed herself. And his girlfriend gave birth to twins, also born months premature and fine. All babies went home after a few days. And, of course none of this ended up in the paper.

That was only some of the drama. I knew Erik was a liar. I knew most of the stories were false. I also knew daughter was no where near ready to hear that her wonderful online boyfriend was fake. Through it all she quietly chatted with Brad and slowly decided that he was the one she wanted to date. My first reaction was a sigh of relief. He lived in another country, unlike Erik who could hop on a Greyhound to visit, and I never heard any drama from him.

Brad had talked to daughter about how he wanted to come up to Canada to go to college, which didn't faze me at all. I didn't think either of them had thought of the logistics of him applying for school in another country. What concerned me more was his talk of coming down to visit for her birthday. These talks went on for months and I grew more concerned as summer grew closer. I flat out insisted on being there for the initial meeting and bringing a friend with me as my middle-aged 5ft 3in self isn't that intimidating. I assured daughter that I was not going to embarrass her, we'd sit on the other side of whatever restaurant they picked. But I had to be there. My parents meanwhile offered free use of their trailer to Brad. Said trailer is parked in their driveway under their bedroom window.

This is when my shit-meter started rising with Brad. He disappeared for two weeks and didn't resurface until my daughter changed her status to "single" on Facebook. He immediately reappeared with a tale of a horrific car accident that left him with two broken legs, a concussion, second and third degree burn, and a bunch of other injuries. A very convenient accident and an even more convenient reappearance. And, once again, I couldn't find a single mention of this horrific accident online in his local paper.

Thankfully daughter began to have some concerns of her own. Brad had been stocking shelves in a grocery store one day and working at a plastic factory the next. Then she looked at his Yahoo ID and realized he had a different last name on there. I promised to search up with I could and ask a friend to help me. I had daughter on one Facebook chat and friend on another. She's messaging me to see if we'd found anything and my friend's messages popped up. Thirty-six years old (as of last year)... 275lbs... married father... new baby. I'm relaying messages to daughter and consoling her at the same time.

Since then we've gone to the police, who aren't sure if there's anything they can do. She's over the legal age and talking, even if you're pretending to be a teenager, isn't illegal. The big concern is his interest in coming for a visit.

There's not much I can say to parents. You're totally hampered by what your kids want to hear. All you can do is be there and be ready to listen when they want to talk. As for the kids. Please, please trust your instincts. Don't assume nothing could ever happen to you. Don't assume that just because you've been talking to someone for ages, everything's obviously fine. This guy talked like a teenager. He acted like a teenager. Daughter had been texting him for year. He had a cellphone and she'd been talking to him. Never, ever meet someone for the first time alone. Thankfully my daughter could see no reason why he couldn't meet her with someone else there. Please don't be the one who does meet him because it would be fine to show up on your own. It can happen to you.

And here are my daughter's words: Daughter's blog

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