We have all heard of internet predators, paedophiles and people who rope children into criminal activity and people who use youngsters for their intellectual property and then profit from it. But what if you found out that your teenager was having a friendship with an adult via the internet and in person? What if that friendship was kept secret from you and they were communicating behind your back via email and Skype? What if that adult was in his 40’s and your son or daughter was in their mid teens,say 16? What if you found out that this adult had set up a meeting with your child and you knew where they were going to be and at what time? This is what happened to my child and I recently and I felt the need to share how I dealt with it and how I managed to get a positive outcome.
My son, ‘Scott’ (name changed for his privacy), had a job selling fruit at a market stall in the city. He’s a friendly fellow, tall and lean with a handsome face and a curious disposition. About 6 weeks ago, a man (an American) approached him at work and struck up a conversation. During that chat he found out that ‘Scott’ likes video games and is interested in writing stories and concepts for gaming. He would have also realised that ‘Scott’ is still a bit immature in his thinking and I would assume that he told this man about his life, his circumstances and his family. Just from this initial conversation this man was able to sum up that this boy was vulnerable and a target. He then availed himself to the boy, claiming that he could help him formulate his video game ideas and he’d edit his stories and give him some templates to start creating his games. In return, ‘Scott’ would be helping him to understand his own children better, as they are gamers too.
So for around 4 weeks they talked over Skype and email and in person behind my back. This man encouraged ‘Scott’ to keep their friendship a secret and he began to ring ‘Scott’ via Skype at 4am, claiming that he was already up gaming with his children who live in Chicago (the creepy man and my family all live in Brisbane, Australia). But this man was counting on ‘Scott’ being able to keep a secret and when ‘Scott’ is excited about something, he can’t keep his mouth shut! So he began to tell his grandmother about his new fantastic friend and how they talk and he shares his stories with him and he’s such a great guy, but he can’t tell his mum because he can’t trust her, she just wants to control and ruin his life….
Being the wise woman she is, my mother began to txt me about this friendship and I instantly saw it as inappropriate and headed towards my child experiencing a disaster.
So how did I deal with it? Well the first thing I did was to look at all the facts. Once I had done that I rang the police. I took down the name of the policeman I spoke with for my records and they advised that they didn’t have the man hours to hunt this guy down, so I had to do some detective work. My mother and I spoke at length over the phone and it was decided that that weekend, she would take the trip into the city and accompany ‘Scott’ home from work. Thus ensuring he didn’t go off with the creepy man. I had originally planned on going in myself but as he was confiding in my mum at the time, we thought it best to keep that going so as we could learn more about the man and wait for a firm meeting between the man and my son to be set up.
In the meantime, I began to search the net for any advice I could find about how to rid your child of an inappropriate friendship with an adult. Mostly I found forums with parents all agreeing that it is not on, but there was no check list on what to do if it happens to someone you love. I did, however, find check lists about paedophile grooming behaviour and the man fit the bill. Even more alarmed now, I decided to remain calm and to stay centred. This way I could keep being objective.
The next Friday my mum txted me saying that the man had set up a meeting with ‘Scott’ for Sunday during my son’s lunch break. I decided I would now be the one to go into the markets and confront this man. The morning of the confrontation, I was resolute. As I drove in I felt completely separate from my emotions, in fact I honestly feel that I left my emotions at home when I drove off. I just had steely determination in my heart and mind. During the drive, I went over what I was going to say, being well rehearsed payed off.
When I got there, I saw where they were sitting together and I found a spot to take photographs of the man. I took several. Then I decided to just go up and say hello. ‘Scott’ was genuinely pleased to see me, but funilly enough, his body language expressed relief. He introduced me to his friend and we exchanged pleasantries. Once that was over I looked him straight in the eyes and said ‘you must be older than me, what are you doing spending your Sunday afternoon hanging out with a 16yr old?’ He was a gasp and taken off guard. He told me I was being too up front and I said I preferred to expose the ‘elephant in the room’ and get right to the point of why I was there. He then tried to de-base me by talking about me being ‘in fear’. To this I just stared at him, again right in the eyes, until he stopped. When this tactic didn’t work he proposed that I give the word and he’d shut down his friendship with ‘Scott’ right there and then. Now, this is when you are saying ‘yes! that’s the outcome you want, say yes!’ – well that’s not the answer I chose. You see, I remember very clearly being a 16 year old, head strong kid. I knew that if I told them to break it off, ‘Scott’ would take the friendship underground and they would go behind my back. That stunk like a doomed strategy, so I instead demanded full transparency and I took the man’s phone number, full name, email address and place of work. I told them I was to be included in all communications from now on and they were not to meet without my permission. I then looked my son in the eyes and told him that I was there to be a guide in his life. To protect him and to help him make good decisions. The man did ask me about what I do, and I told him. He could research that anyway, I was not going to reveal any private information about me to him.
My mother had told me that the creepy man was trying to get my boy to sign a contract for his gaming work and to form some kind of company with him to sell the end gaming products. I asked ‘Scott’ about this and the creepy man chimed in and said that he wasn’t so worried about the money side of it just yet and was just trying to get ‘Scott’ to develop his ideas better. Then to my alarm ‘Scott’ announced that the creepy man had convinced him to move to the USA to sell his ideas there, as there is a bigger market. None of this is legal for a 16yr old to do in Australia. There is no way I’m letting my son move to a foreign country on a whim with that stranger to sell his ideas! I remained steely silent and unresponsive to this though, as this strategy was proving to be more and more disarming to the creepy man.
As mentioned, the creepy man was an American, so I made sure that I told him I have several USA connections and proved so, when I opened up my phone and found a missed call from someone in New York City. Funnily enough, this gave me more control in the situation. Me having connections in his own country some how made me more evenly matched with him, he couldn’t posture himself as being better in some way. I also noted that he was unusually dressed. He wore a long sleeved blue collared work shirt with pastel coloured chequered shorts and a cap. It was like golf meets work! Later on I asked an American friend if Yankee guys in their 40’s dresses like that, he said no and agreed it was a weird way to dress. Certainly guys in their 40’s here in Oz don’t ever dress this way, it’s always t-shirts or polo shirts and shorts or jeans. Even the most slovenly don’t dress this way.
Once I was satisfied with my confrontation results I left the table and moved off to a market stall within sight of them. I didn’t leave until I knew he was gone and my son was safely back at work. I told ‘Scott’ he had to txt me when he got back to his grandma’s that night. ‘Scott’ was excited that I had met his friend, he thought I might like him and that we’d get along. But I told ‘Scott’ that my concern was that the man’s intentions were evil.
The scenarios that I was most concerned about were:
a. The man drugs and rapes my son and possibly kills him
b. The man uses my son’s juvenile status and ropes him into crime. As he is under 17, my son would be tried as a juvenile if caught.
c. The man uses my son for his intellectual property and profits from my son innocently exchanging ideas with him. (best case scenario)
To drive home my reason for concern, I chose to only air concern A to my son. I said that the man’s intentions were possibly to drug and rape him. ‘Scott’s’ eyes widened. He hadn’t thought of that. I told ‘Scott’ he is not to meet the man at night, not to get in his car, only to meet during the day in public places and not without my permission and never ever to go to the creepy man’s house. I told my son that this was an inappropriate friendship and I was not happy about it. But I did not at any time, word my concerns so as to alienate my child. I made sure I came across as being on his side and as understanding about his need to have this friend. I chose not to berate him about the secrecy of the friendship. I didn’t want to get my son off side, that was the last thing I needed.
With the confrontation complete and vital information about the man gained, I set about trying to find him on the internet. I came up with plenty of men with his name, but not one who fit his photo or work place. As I said, I researched about how to end the friendship, but came up with nothing there either. So I chose to look to my community for support. A friend’s mother, who was also a high school teacher was the first person I thought to approach. Having only recently retired, I knew she would have been across the dangers to teenagers in today’s society and she may be able to point me to an organisation who could help. Instead she put me onto my old high school principal, who is still active in the education system and after hearing my story he gave me the website for http://www.bravehearts.org.au (a child advocacy group) and recommended I speak with one of their councillors. I said I thought it would be good to seek out a gamers development social club for my boy, I needed to find an alternative to the ‘help’ the creepy man was giving. The principal mentioned he has a son who is working in the gaming industry and he then organised two of his son’s friends who are also in the industry, to agree to mentor my son. Thus making the creepy man’s ‘help’ towards my son’s aspirations redundant.
With this happening in the background, I began to receive emails between my son and the man, ‘Scott’ had CC’d me into their conversations. It was the week following the confrontation and the creepy man was suddenly off to Melbourne and would not be able to communicate with ‘Scott’ for a week. Those emails were through Google Gmail and so, that meant the man had a G+ account. I checked it out and found that his account fit the same style as the romantic scammers’ accounts I had seen time and again on Facebook. 4 profile shots only, nothing in the ‘about’ page and random pictures of places in Australia, around 5 or 6 of them, on his wall. That was it. You’d think that a man living in a country foreign to his birth would have nostalgic pics of his home and family up there. Not one and the pics he did have did not ever feature him in them. Very very dodgy. It is also worth mentioning that ‘Scott’ told me that after the confrontation, the creepy man said that I had intimidated him. He claimed to have felt intimidated by all women because his ex-wife apparently used to beat him up. This is classic predator behaviour, posturing himself as the victim in order to take the heat off of him and shine it right back on me. It didn’t work, I told ‘Scott’ “Good, he should be intimidated by me!”
With all this going on, it is safe to say that I was getting nervous about the coming of the next weekend. I was worried that the creepy man may have tried to arrange a meeting with ‘Scott’ behind my back, so I set about organising a way to keep that from happening. I tied up ‘Scott’s’ weekend with family time and gaming with his brother. I made sure that he was not ever left alone.
10 days after I orchestrated the confrontation, armed with all my research about this man, his supposed place of work and with the community help I had achieved, I spoke with ‘Scott’ about the man. I pointed out that he was not employed in the gaming industry and that he was not a student of it either. Knowing that teenagers are by nature self serving, I then asked my son if he would like to be mentored by a real gaming professional. Of course he would! Yes please mum! So I told him about my old high school principal and his son’s friends. But, I had not given my principal the go ahead yet. Instead I used it as leverage. I asked ‘Scott’ to agree to drop the creepy man in favour of the new real mentors. He agreed to give up the friendship!!!
The following Friday, ‘Scott’ met with my old principal to talk about his hopes and dreams, ideas and the mentorship on offer. The Principal set the up the boundaries clearly for my boy and gave him his time and understanding, seeing before him a lad who wants to achieve, but who has some social challenges and is vulnerable. In time, the mentors will be brought into the picture and we will all meet and move forward. There is just one more thing that has to be done to complete the circle, ‘Scott’ must write to the creepy man and officially end his friendship. I must see that email and the creepy man’s reply. I have thought about this and I will instruct ‘Scott’ to ring me as soon as he sees the reply and we will talk about his feeling around it and what to do. I expect my boy will feel an energy pull to the man and this is what he will be counting on. This is when ‘Scott’ must delete the account and move on. The strong thing to do will to leave it at that and say nothing more to the creepy man. Luckily, the job selling fruit in the market has finished up for my boy, as the stall was running at a loss, so there is no concern about the creepy man going to find my boy at work. It will then be unlikely that they will ever meet again….. But, I must be clear, that I have to remain realistic, that my son may still choose to keep the friendship with the creepy man going behind my back. I still have to stay on guard, I cannot fully trust that he is still not under the creepy man’s spell. Vigilance is key.
So to sum it up here is what I did:
- I remained calm and sought out all the facts.
- I rang the police with the information I had as soon as I was able to after I was made aware of the problem. I took the name of the police officer down for my records.
- I spoke to my son’s confidant in this matter (my mother) and made a short term plan in how to deal with the issue and keep him safe. We agreed to keep the information trickling in until there was a clear time and date set to act.
- I researched all I could about this kind of person and sought out forums for advice.
- I spoke to my parents and took on their advice, thus also keeping the elders of the family informed. Having their support gave me a great sense of security in myself. (I too needed someone bigger, stronger, wiser and kinder.)
- I looked to my community for advice and in doing so, I found a person willing to help.
- I thought about what my child’s real motives were for this friendship and then I asked for help in finding a way to full-fill this need in a safer and better way.
- Once I knew about a firm time and date for the next meeting of the creepy man and my son, I set my plan into motion.
- I chose to stand in my power and to step aside from my emotions during the confrontation. On the way to the confrontation I ran through what I was going to say to the creepy man a thousand times. This made it very easy to say what I had to say and to come across as a strong and righteous parent.
- I looked the creepy man in the eyes at all times and chose to never give him any personal information about me.
- I told my son, in front of the creepy man that I was there to guide him and to help him make good decisions and to be safe, thus defusing any lies the creepy man had been feeding my son about me being the opposite.
- I did not leave my son until the creepy man was gone and I was frank and forthright about my concerns with my son’s friendship.
- I chose to air my concern to my son with the most shocking scenario, thus filling his mind with the full weight of the situation.
- I continued to do more research on the company the creepy man claimed to work for and his social media presence.
- I used the opportunity of a viable alternative to the creepy man as leverage to have my son drop him. Thus creating a situation where my son chose to end the relationship himself and not me forcing it to end which could have led to the friendship going underground.
- I followed through on the alternative mentors by arranging a meeting for my son to attend in order to set the mentoring up.
- I asked for proof of the friendship being disbanded and will support my son through this.
- I have chosen to remain vigilant about this creepy man’s presence in my son’s life and to teach him about dodgy social media profiles and the typical grooming behaviour of paedophiles.
I feel it is worth a mention that in the process of researching what to do, I also contacted the local child youth mental health services, my local member of parliament and the department of child safety. This way the authorities were well aware of the friendship, should a negative situation arise. Also, to my relief, ‘Scott’ began to listen to me about the creepy man not being who he claims he is, and he made an attempt at researching the creepy man himself. In this case, planting a seed of doubt in my child’s mind about the creepy man was a healthy thing to do.
Predators are a minority in the population, but they do still exist. This means that all teens are at risk of being groomed by one. If you notice your child suddenly becoming secretive and broody, doing or saying anything unusual or talking on Skype at unusual times, sound the alarms and seek answers and look into it further. I’m glad I did and with the help of my family and my community, we have saved my boy from becoming a victim and scarred for life.
Being a parent is in some ways like having a profession, and as such you need to have on going professional development. Do your family a favour and research the typical behaviours of a child who is being groomed and the behaviours of the groomer. Knowledge is power. You will then know what to look for. Teenagers may become more independent, but they still need to have the love, guidance and support of their family as they learn to stretch their wings and fly.
I hope this blog post will help someone else, please share it around and get the conversation going. This was not a typical on-line paedophile case. This was a case of in-person and on-line grooming. Each case is unique, but the outcome if not dealt with is horrifying. For the love of our children, for the love of family, let the good people of the world work together and make a stand.
Post Script: As I have been thinking over the intensity of those couple of weeks, I realised I forgot to mention another vital part of the community that I also spoke to about my son. I contacted his employers. My boy had a paid job selling fruit and a volunteer job. I spoke with both of these employers about ‘Scott’. The paid job employer I handled a little differently to the volunteer employer, mainly because I had an established relationship with her. She was able to get my boy to open up to her about the creepy man and she was a vital support. As for the other employer, I simply established a line of contact with him and told him that my boy had a few social skills challenges and he needed to be watched over a bit closer than he maybe was. I did not want to go too deeply with this guy as I respected my son’s professional relationship with him.
As for the friendship, I am pleased to announce that my boy sent the creepy man an email stating that he no longer wanted any contact with him. It is also important to note that ‘Scott’ only ever received one email from the creepy man after the confrontation and that was to say that he was headed to Melbourne. ‘Scott’ has not heard from or seen him since. Speaks a thousand words, doesn’t it? I shudder to think about the intentions of this guy and I’m so pleased we can now put it behind us.
I saw on the news yesterday that because of the previous Newman Govt’s focus on Bikies, paedophile rings have been able to run rampant in Queensland. Be vigilant and know that the new Govt is re-routing police. But it all takes time and we as parents need to be our children’s police in the meantime.
The names of the people involved in this article have been changed to protect their privacy and so I don’t get sued for slander.