Alicia Kozakiewicz, who was abducted as a teen by a man she met on the internet, has devoted her life to helping protect children from online predators.
Next week, she will be in the Valley addressing students, and she’ll give the keynote speech at the Wednesday, Nov. 2 fundraising lunch for notMYkid, a Scottsdale nonprofit dedicated to preventing negative youth behavior.
You have a personal reason for wanting to educate the public about internet safety. How did you come to be so passionate about this?
When I was 13 years old, I was groomed and lured from my home by an internet predator who I thought was my friend. This man used typical grooming behaviors, which is when a predator slowly breaks down barriers to quiet the little voice inside the child’s head that tells the child something is not right.
In January of 2002, I walked outside my house between dinner and dessert to meet my new “friend,” who I thought was my own age. I was abducted, raped, beaten and chained to a floor in a basement. Miraculously, law enforcement was able to determine his I.P. address and eventually was able to rescue me.
Later, I realized that if this could happen to me, it could happen to anybody. When I was 14, I started going to schools and talking to kids to keep them safe. I am 28 now, so I’ve been doing this for 14 years.
What is the reaction when you talk to kids in schools?
They listen. It’s because I’m sharing my experience, my pain. They hear about these things on the news, but it doesn’t seem real. Meeting someone this has happened to changes that. I show them a picture of myself when I was 13 in front of a computer. “This little girl is you,” I tell them.
Afterwards, kids will come up to me and share truly heartbreaking stories of things that have happened to them or things that are happening to them. They don’t know where to turn.
What is Alicia’s Law?
Alicia’s Law provides a dedicated, steady stream of state-specific funding to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces and builds permanent capacity for child-rescue teams. Along with the organization PROTECT, I’m working hard to pass this law in all 50 states. Arizona passed Alicia’s Law in 2015 and is one of 12 states to do so thus far.
How big is this problem, and what can be done to prevent its spread?
When this happened to me in 2002, the internet was very new, and I thought things were going to get better. But it has become so much worse. Computers and cellphones have become embedded into our lives. There are so many more opportunities to make mistakes and poor choices.
Predators have also gotten smarter. They have learned technology and how to use it to their advantage. Parents need to realize this can happen to their kid and their family. I was a good kid. I was a normal kid. Predators don’t choose based on social status, race or income. It’s about vulnerability.
Kids need to learn how to stay safe online. They need to know they can go to their parents with anything at all and they won’t be punished. It’s about keeping your kids safe; it’s not about judging. It’s important to monitor kids’ devices and pay attention to what they’re doing online, because they are curious and can make mistakes. Teach them to be involved in the real world and cherish their real-life friendships and never to make friends online.
What are some of the key safety tips you want parents to know?
Some of the safety procedures parents should do are: Teach your children to never share personal information; strengthen the privacy settings on all social media; disable geotagging on mobile devices; warn children about “checking in” features; and know all the passwords on your child’s devices.
Most importantly, maintain a close, loving relationship where you can discuss these things with your child. If you suspect something, report it immediately to the cybertipline.org.
Learn more: aliciaproject.org and notmykid.org.