Survivor: Parents must be vigilant when kids use internet
Posted June 19, 2015 6:21 p.m. EDT
A victim of Internet stalking and kidnapping shared her frightening story Friday as a caution for parents, children and health care providers. Alicia Kozakiewicz was making the rounds of schools and pediatricians offices in Fayetteville and Fort Bragg.
At age 13, Kozakiewicz was an early adopter of the wonders of the Internet. It put the world at her fingertips, but brought unexpected dangers.
"There were no safety seminars," she said. "There were no stories like mine. We didn’t have a point of reference to say, 'No, this is dangerous.'"
She began an online relationship with someone she believed to be her age. For eight months, they exchanged messages.
"He made me feel beautiful and important and special and unique," Kozakiewicz said.
Looking back, she believes he was "grooming" her.
"He completely destroyed my ability to see reason," she said.
On Dec. 31, 2001, Kozakiewicz excused herself from the table and sneaked out of her parents' Pittsburgh house.
The man she met turned out to be 38 years old.
"I heard my name being called and then I was in the car," she said.
"A man was squeezing my hand so tight I thought it was broken. He was shouting commands to me: 'Be good! Be quiet! The trunk is cleaned out for you!'"
The man drove her to his home in Virginia for a torturous four days.
"He held me captive in his basement dungeon where I was raped, beaten and tortured," Kozakiewicz said. "He kept me chained to the floor by a locking dog collar."
On that fourth day, FBI agents stormed in to rescue her.
Her captor had live streamed the abuse; someone recognized her and reported the man's screen name to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Back then, she says, people didn't fully understand online dangers.
"I came from a great family in a good neighborhood," she said. "How could this happen there, here?"
That's why, at age 14, she started the Alicia Project to teach kids and parents how to avoid her nightmare.
Kozakiewicz says parents need to be computer savvy.
“They need to research the apps, download them, play with them, figure out what Snapchat is,” she suggests.
She advised that parents be willing to have an uncomfortable conversation with their child, even if it means violating their privacy.
"Make sure your child knows that, no matter what, they can come to you with anything at all," she said.