This week my boss and good friend, a happily married Christian mom, confided in me (in a near panic) that her 9 year old daughter had been at a sleepover and they had sent naked pictures to a “kid” they were talking to on some app. This kid was obviously not a kid because he told the girls to delete the pics after they sent them and all conversations and then later if they told anyone he threatened to put their naked photos on instagram. This man, like all predators, targets kids and manipulates them, and it works. What I want you to know is that no matter how mad you are that your kid didn’t tell this creep no and come running directly to you, they are still a victim. Your kid may be feeling great shame, embarrassment and possibly disgust in themselves. DO. NOT. REINFORCE. THIS! If your kid is older they may not feel any of these things and think they are being independent and sexy. No matter what your child is feeling I want you to know that they need to know that this is a big deal, that this happened to them, and that no one has a right to see their naked body, threaten them or say inappropriate things to them. These things are obviously understood to you, but I want you to know you need to say these things to your kids, a lot. I want you to know you need to go to the police. Your child needs to know they are worth the trouble. Your child needs to know that this is serious, and going to the police reinforces that what happened is not allowed, that they have value and no one is allowed to take that value from them. Your child needs to know that by giving you and the police details they are not in trouble, they are being a hero to help stop men like this from hurting other kids. I want you to know that your feelings of betrayal, disgust, disappointment, shock and anger are normal. Point them at the creep, not your kid.
I want you to know that my parents, like all parents, didn’t know any of this. They didn’t know what to do and continued to not know what to do because I didn’t stop. I didn’t know how valued I was, I didn’t know it was a big deal, I didn’t know how young 10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17 was especially compared to 40 year old men. No one ever told the police so I didn’t think anyone cared. I continued to be able to go online without supervision, had a cell phone and barely any consequences. Sexual abuse, no matter what form, is purposefully made to make the victim feel like it is their fault, which causes deep shame and secrecy. I remember when I first realized that I wasn’t a slut but was in fact a victim of sexual abuse, it was the most empowering moment. Truth has a way of doing that, cutting shame and putting it in its place.
After my first “experimenting” I continued to seek out attention, leading to boyfriends that pressured me sexually against my will, which lead to a reputation, which lead to destructive behavior, which lead to more sexual abuse and more online predators that “wanted”(used) me and gave me attention. Eventually I got to a much better place but still held on to a very twisted friend that was 35 when we started talking, and knew that I was 14. I had no clue how young I was, I really had no real idea of what I was doing. I just knew that this older man gave me attention whenever I needed it and that felt good. I continued to talk and send him pictures off and on until I was 18, at which point it dawned on me how incredibly inappropriate this relationship had been and all the repercussions of sexual abuse followed.
My behavior is pretty typical for that of a sexual abuse survivor, which was not primarily online in my case, but that is where it started.
What I want you to know is even if you’re saying to yourself “my child would never do this”, they might. What I want you to know is it is not their fault. What I want you to know is they need to know you love them, you think they are worth the world, and that they cannot keep doing this. I want you to know it is a big deal and you should treat it as such. I want you to know you should tell someone you love and trust so they can help you deal with what you are feeling. What I want you to know is that you should be diligently monitoring your kids’ online way before you think you need to. And if this is something you have gone through I want you to know it is not your fault! I don’t blame my parents or think if they would have made it a bigger deal none of the other abuse would have followed. Life happens, good and bad, we all make decisions and no matter what the situation there is hope.
My boss took my advice and went to the police. She reassured her daughter that, while she should have said no to this kid because she is valuable and she isn’t allowed to do what she did, it is not her fault because this man manipulated her and did this to her. She encouraged her daughter to tell the police everything because she was being a hero for other kids this man may try to hurt. She continues to talk to her daughter openly about the situation, discussing the dangers and empowering her stand up for herself. Her husband now sees the great importance of building a deep relationship with their daughter so he is the only man she is trying to please. And my boss knows that although this situation seems to be handled there will be more and that’s ok because she will handle those too, because her daughter is worth it and now her daughter knows that as well.