Photo: The Prince Blog
Just about every day, you hear a new story: a child grooming that ends in them being harmed by someone they “met” via the Internet or a smartphone app. One story that has recently gone viral via the The Prince Blog keeps showing up in my news feed over and over again, and it’s a harrowing, tragic story, but one that parents really need to read. However, it’s also REALLY LONG, so I am going to summarize the lessons that dad “Jim” wants all parents to learn (not the hard way) from the grooming and abduction of his 11-year-old daughter, “Lucy,” via Snapchat.
The short version is this. Jim is a single dad who says he was “aware of pedophiles and grooming,” he was also “very naive” and never believed it would happen to his little girl. He gave her a smartphone and talked to her about using it safely and not talking to strangers. He believed she was aware and understood. He also says, “I thought it was too early to have a conversation about porn or any of that stuff, because Lucy was only 11 and hadn’t started puberty to any great degree. I felt she was still too young.” (Big mistake right there.)
One night, Lucy was at a sleepover and her BFF “Cathy’s” house when Jim got a phone call from police stating they had found his daughter. He was dumbfounded because he hadn’t even known she was missing. They told him that she and Cathy had met an adult male at a park, with whom they had been communicating on SnapChat. He then took them to another location with the intent to sexually assault them, but Lucy was able to get away before much happened to her. Cathy was not as lucky.
Jim describes his shock as the police officer said “Has she told you about the SnapChat messages?” Lucy had told the police that she had been communicating with the perpetrator, an adult male Jim calls “M” via SnapChat. Lucy hadn’t been in contact with him for long, but her friend Cathy had been groomed by him for much, much longer, and it was she who gave M Lucy’s SnapChat username.
There’s more to the story: even though Lucy ran away from the assault, because she had been groomed by M for so long, she and Cathy continued to defend him after he was released on bail, and he continued to try and contact the girls. Her dad says, “At first, it was hard to convince Lucy to tell the truth. Not because she’s dishonest, but because she had been groomed. Everyone, myself included, became the enemy. She wanted to protect both Cathy and ‘M’.”
Jim says he wants parents to understand that these predators who groom children are relentless. “Despite being arrested, charged and on bail, it was very clear that the groomer was not going to stop,” he says. “That is really important to understand. They will not let your child go, no matter what.” He says that 12-year-old Cathy thought she was “in love” with M and that though Lucy was not allowed any device connected to the Internet, she was still present at school when Cathy and M communicated on an iPod. He began to have to keep the girls apart.
What he said next about the way his daughter was groomed left me chilled, so I want to quote it here in its entirety:
He took the normal insecurities that any 11 year-old girl has about her body and her looks and used them. He complimented her, flattered her, boosted her self-esteem, gained her trust, and tried to make her ‘fall in love’, like he had with Cathy. Once he had her trust and the keys to her self-esteem, he could control her, by making her feel bad if she didn’t do what he wanted. It’s really that simple. Lucy felt that she needed him, that he was looking after her.
Other things Jim said about Lucy’s groomer that are of note:
- He mailed Lucy and Cathy cell phones that their parents knew nothing about to make sure he could stay in contact
- He used blackmail, telling Lucy if she told, they would hurt Cathy, and vice versa
- Groomers can also contact kids through online gaming via PlayStation and Xbox (he had tried to contact Lucy through her Xbox after he was released on bail.)
- Groomers will pose as children of both sexes, and also may pose as the online account of someone your children know (a teacher, etc.)
- They often do not work alone and have others helping them with the network of deception, providing alibis and other support
Jim’s last advice? Be overly-cautious. He does NOT want you to be naive like he was and make the mistakes that he did. He assumed his daughter wasn’t doing anything dangerous with her phone, and he was WAY wrong. IF you are going to give your kids any access to the internet by a gaming or hand-held mobile device, you need to check it constantly, have passwords and apps that monitor your child’s use, and be very very involved. He encourages parents to make their vigilance as positive as possible, saying “Your happy and innocent kid can be upstairs, right now, making and posting videos and/or vlogs, on music.ly or YouTube. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, get them to show you. Make it a positive, fun thing. They can be surprisingly enjoyable.”
I encourage you to take the time to read Jim’s story for yourself and be informed, but as it is very long, I hope you will at least read and share my summary — and then be PROACTIVE with your kids and online safety!