What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here.  Today’s guest post is by Laura R.

What I want you to know is I so desperately hope this is something you’ll never have to know. I grew up in a very normal, nice Christian home with two loving parents, two older brothers and a little sister. I was popular in school, with normal grades and a little catty attitude like most elementary school girls have, but overall happy and normal. I have always been a very mature, deep thinker that has to know why a rule is a rule, why you feel the way you feel, and if you tell me and I think there may be a discrepancy then I am going to find out for myself why why why. Oh and don’t forget my love of attention, my dad who loved me deeply but didn’t quite know how to connect with a maturing daughter (who does?), and my parents deciding (on accident) to have a baby when I was a very happy baby of the family at age 9. All this to say, I was just like any other girl when I was at a friend’s house unsupervised and we discovered “chat rooms.” Chat rooms were relatively new at the time I’m pretty sure as this would have been the year 2000, which makes it relatable to almost every app your kid is playing on and discovering daily. I remember staying up and chatting with randoms till 2am, talking about sex and learning new disgusting words and phrases, pretending to be much older than I was and loving the attention and the thrill of how naughty I knew I was being. We didn’t have digital cameras then or cell phones, web cams or snap chat, but if there had been you can bet I probably would have been sending the wrong things to the wrong people. Actually I can guarantee it because when those things did come out a few years later, I did send the wrong things to the wrong people. You see when I was caught with my friend the first time my parents were probably in shock and didn’t want to believe I was the one responsible, so they grounded me for a few weeks and just assumed it was my friends instigating (because I was a kid in trouble so I told them it was). It wasn’t. Even if it had been, it was a much bigger deal then they made it and it shouldn’t have been played off as innocent kids “just experimenting.” But, a door had been opened and my why was not quenched, so I didn’t stop.

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.