Just over a year ago, my husband worked in the city, and every morning one of his life-long friends and co-workers came to our house, opened the door, and sat on our couch until Cliff is ready to drive them into the city. Every morning when I came downstairs with Judah on the way to work, I would place him at the foot of the stairs and close the gate. I would wait for him to catch his balance, and then I would walk to the kitchen to deposit his milk cup and grab his juice for the car ride to grandma’s. Every day we did the same routine, and everyday he would look up at this not-so-strange man in who was in our house every morning and almost immediately freeze and slowly shrink to the floor and wait until either I came back or Daddy came down the stairs. But a couple weeks into this routine, something started to change; he still froze, but instead of shrinking, he just sorta smirked at not-so-strange man and kept looking around with JUST his eyes.
Judah had a huge healthy case of stranger danger.
I was just barely a teenager, living in North Carolina, when I first experienced real stranger danger. Of course I had experienced this as a child, but this was different. I had been online on AIM (Yup, it was cool and a time before all kids had cell phones.) I was probably talking to my friends from school and I was messaged by someone. I do not to this day remember exactly how it started, but it seemed innocent at first. Usually people would look for others around them based on what you put in your AIM profile–which was all the rage. When I say “look for other around them” I am saying around like who went to your school or that friend up the street. All I remember is that he said he was 17 and I was probably 13–and he was from New Jersey. My gut is telling me his name was Nick, but I’m not positive about that.
I remember chatting with this guy for probably an hour or two. It was just the basics at first–age, first name, what I liked and didn’t like, and if I had a boyfriend. Then it got more intricate and personal.
Eventually he convinced me to call him, which luckily I did via *69 (AKA hide your Caller ID). I don’t know how long we talked, but I do remember that he started talking about being in a relationship and how he could come visit.
I remember him asking if it was ok if he kissed me or “went farther.”
Keep in mind this was the FIRST time I had spoke to this kid. My parent’s had no reason not to trust me. I was a good kid, I barely showed interest in boys other than I knew they existed and of course I had a crush here and there, and I certainly didn’t talk to any on the phone–much less strangers. Plus, it would be another 2 years before my first boyfriend, 5 before my second and 7+ before I met my husband.
I’m fairly certain I was on the phone for a short period of time before my brother decided he wanted the computer–remember, no cell phones or tablets–we only had one computer, and it was a desktop with dial-up.
I honestly feel he was urged by God to come find me. Whether it was out of sheer propulsion for the computer or him overhearing me on the phone or something else entirely–I honestly believe that it saved my life. He found me talking to a guy I didn’t know, that I met online through AIM (even more sketchy than online dating), and he immediately told my parents–after abruptly hanging up the phone for me.
I haven’t told anyone about this, and my parents just know I was talking to a creep online and grounded me for a long time–I don’t even know how long, but I’m sure it wasn’t long enough. They knew it was dangerous. I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that that person was not a 17-year-old boy from New Jersey. He might have lived in New Jersey, but he was a child predator.
Whether he was trying to find me to just talk to me for fantasy fulfillment or to track me down to actually meet up with me and do only the Lord knows what, he was not a 17-year old boy just looking to chat. It escalated too quickly and too personally for that. My early teen self couldn’t see the situation for what it was–extremely dangerous.
Child predators and sex trafficking is a huge deal and becoming more of a threat to our children everyday because technology is so abundant. Even my son at 17-months-old was able to use an iphone or ipad. It’s insane how easily technology has overcome our world in just a short period of time. Technology is everywhere and while it is not all bad, bad things can and do happen all the time with children and technology.
A friend of mine is helping eradicate the stigmas placed on those in the porn industry while trying to reach them with the love of Jesus–because His love is far stronger, and heals far deeper than anything the world can provide. Mandy did her thesis and continues to study and raise awareness on the affects of the sex industry on women, and sex trafficking.
I honestly had forgotten about this incident for years, and was only reminded of it through an event I attended regarding the work Mandy had been doing a few years ago. Even to the day I am writing this, my husband doesn’t even know about this situation. I felt ashamed and like I had been dooped by this stranger and that there was no way I could have been linked to a child predator. But that awareness event was over three years ago and I still can’t shake it off. I can’t deny the situation any longer.
I had been talking to a child predator.
Me. A pastor’s granddaughter, a good student, a good kid, someone who knew right from wrong, and someone who might not be sitting at a desk, writing this story today if my brother had not been impressed to come find his little sister who was talking to a stranger just on the other side of the wall from him.
Please make sure your children understand the risks of talking to strangers and how quickly you can endanger yourself and others. AIM was so small and pales in comparison to the dangers the youth of today face. So much more locational information can be found online today, you can’t just close your internet browser or AIM and it all be over. Social media is everywhere.
Today I am expressing #Gratitude to my big brother, Jonathan. Who beats himself up for not being a better big brother, but who I wouldn’t be here today without. As he is a father to THREE beautiful girls, I know he is and will be the best Dad he can be–because he was an irreplaceable brother*.
*… a brother who stole all my Halloween candy, made me give myself heat stroke while biking my fat butt up a hill in the heat of summer and managed to convince me countless times to swap my 1 dime for his 5 pennies because it was more, right?