I can’t say exactly when I first suspected my teenager daughter was involved in the “adults only” world of Craigslist. However, I can say with certainty there were many red flags. Some very obvious and some I ignored as too preposterous to believe. “Not my daughter” doesn’t let you think of your own child that way.
Before I continue, let me say this. Most children with a computer have been approached by a predator. Our child was no exception.
My daughter is the last person I’d worry about getting into prostitution. She is sweet, funny, and smart. We live in a great community. We are a loving family and we support her dreams. Yes, we have our share of troubles, but no more than most. Outwardly, she was zero-risk. But, in fact, she never felt like she fit in well with her peers. She’d been bullied in grade school, which I believe made her more vulnerable.
When she became involved in online games, we monitored her well, or so we thought. We checked her email and chats to see if we needed to confront her with anything. By high school, she was very clever and learned to hide things from us. I think it started with predators having inappropriate chats and asking for pictures in exchange for money. Then, she began meeting strangers online whom she felt she knew and could trust. We took her to therapists and psychiatrists, hoping they could get to the root of why she trusted the Internet more than real life. It would have been great to remove the Internet from her life altogether, but access through smart phones and friends’ houses made that impossible.
By the time she graduated high school, her online life had crossed over to her real life. She’d hidden strip club attire in her room. She was using drugs. Her phone had calls to numbers that didn’t belong to friends we knew. I knew things had escalated, and I needed to take action. I installed key logger software on our computer. And I discovered that she was posting online ads as an escort.
There was no doubt she was in crisis, and I asked a trusted friend, Lauri Burns, to help us intervene. Lauri had been a foster parent to teens for years. She also ran an outreach program for at-risk youth. I knew about her past experience with prostitution, yet I didn’t think I would ever be able to relate. Turns out I was wrong. With Lauri’s help, we began the process of drug treatment for our daughter. We started her back in therapy. We monitored and restricted her Internet and phone. It’s been a very hard road for her, and it didn’t just stop overnight. It takes lots of love, support, understanding, and time.
We hope our story will help other parents.
- First, never assume that your child is not the type to get into any dangerous behavior.
- Second, the Internet is the most dangerous tool that we give our children access to. Get a key logger installed; it may save them.
- Third, if you have any suspicions, investigate until you are left without a doubt. Even if your investigation takes you places you don’t want to go, you have to remember this: Your child is already there, and they need you to rescue them.
- And, finally, reach out to people with experience to help. Parents need support so that we can be there for our kids.
Note: Thanks to the efforts of advocates for victims of the sex trade, Craigslist shut down it’s “adult” section in 2010. Unfortunately, however, the internet continues to serve as a primary way for perpetrators to find victims.