By Nora Heston Tarte
“My captor broadcast my abuse online, via a webcam, and another viewer saw the video, and after recognizing me from my NCMEC (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children) missing person poster, contacted the FBI.”
Today, Alicia speaks publicly about her abduction and abuse. Her goal is to prevent teens—the most common age group to experience abduction—from suffering the same fate.
“I think one of the most important lessons to take from my experience is that this can happen to you, and it can happen to your family,” Alicia says. “Predators do not discriminate based on gender, ethnicity, education, socioeconomic status, income or religion. It can happen. It does happen. It is happening.”
There are, however, steps parents and teens can take to prevent cyber luring.
“It’s important to understand that grooming is subtle and slow-paced, and is as simple as pretending to be a child’s friend, and telling the child what they want to hear, versus what they need to hear.”
Through speaking engagements, television appearances, written retellings and her website (www.aliciaproject.org), Alicia has created a platform to educate others about the dangers that exist online, and explain firsthand how predators use the digital world to lure victims.
Since her rescue, Alicia has become an international advocate for preventative safety education and effective legislation. She started speaking publicly about her experience when she was just 14 years old. She later created Alicia’s Law (her namesake), which provides funding, resources and training to the Internet Crimes Against Children task force. Alicia’s Law has passed in 11 states and Alicia hopes to see the day it exists in all 50.
Today, Alicia is taking her work beyond the podium. She recently graduated with a master’s in forensic psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology and hopes to one day work closely with the task forces that were instrumental is her rescue.
“Surviving and overcoming this trauma has taught me that it is crucial for there to be experts in the field to help others reach a point of healing,” she says.
Ultimately, Alicia wants to not only aid in rescue efforts, she wants to help families who have survived heal.
“I learned the strength of the human spirit. I learned that we will do whatever is necessary to survive and that spirit can and will surmount any horror or tragedy – although it may take a bit of time. I learned that there is such unbelievable evil in this world, and that we must strive to be one of the ‘good guys’ because good will always conquer evil. I learned that healing is not something that happens overnight, or even in the weeks, months, and sometimes years, after a trauma… but it does happen.”
Terms to Know
Grooming: When someone builds an emotional connection with a child to gain their trust for the purposes of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation or trafficking. This can occur with a stranger, acquaintance, friend or even a family member.
Cyber luring: The practice of using false pretexts to deceive another individual into meeting in person with the intent of perpetrating a crime.
Abduction: The action or an instance of forcibly taking someone away against his or her will.
Alicia’s Tips for Parents & Teens
Teach your child or teen to never share private or identifying information, such as his or her name, address, school, etc., with a person online that is not known or trusted in real life.
Strengthen the privacy settings on all social networking sites and ensure that these settings remain unchanged after updates.
Disable Geotagging on all mobile devices, as it has the ability to automatically pinpoint and disclose your child or teen’s location.
Discuss the dangers of “checking in” on social media sites.
Remind your child or teen to choose an online handle, username, or screen name carefully. Much can be inferred from how your child or teen represents himself or herself online, which can prompt a predator’s initial contact.
Monitor your child or teen’s activity on the computer and on all mobile devices.
Know the passwords on all devices used by your child or teen. Check them regularly.
If you suspect your child or teen is being cyber bullied: be supportive, get the facts, and if necessary, contact the school or law enforcement. Conversely, teach your child or teen that there are negative consequences for those who cyberbully.
Educate yourself on the mobile applications that your child or teen is using. Ask for an explanation and a demonstration.
Maintain loving, open, and respectful lines of communication with your child or teen while setting enforceable rules for online safety. Assure your child or teen that he or she can always come to you for help in an uncomfortable or potentially dangerous situation.
For more information on how to keep your child safe, on the internet, visit: www.NotMyKid.org