A mother-daughter team spoke to parents at Klinger Middle School about the dangers of Internet predators Tuesday.
Alicia Kozakiewicz was abducted near her Pittsburgh home 10 years ago. Her captor, a man she “met” online, took her to his home in Virginia where he abused and tortured her. After four days of captivity, she was rescued by the FBI.
Now, Alicia and her mother, Mary, are on a quest to share their story in an effort to move parents and legislators to protect children from these Internet dangers and educate kids on what is out there.
“No one had told us,” Mary said. “The Internet was still new. We need to fully understand that this is a phenomenon we didn’t grow up with, but it exists.”
This “phenomenon” is brushed aside due to a lack of funding and personnel for many law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Alicia’s Law provides that funding and allows for task forces to be made in order to investigate, protect and save child victims. The Kozakiewicz’s have been successful in having Alicia’s Law passed in four states, including Virginia. It was recently introduced to the Pennsylvania legislature.
“Children’s lives should never be dependent on budgets,” Mary said.
They urged parents to contact state and local legislators to pass this piece of legislation. Ann Doerffel, one of the many mothers in attendance, stated her intention to go to the legislature as opposed to just calling.
“I’m going to, if I have time tomorrow, I’m going to stop by Representative O’Neill’s office,” Doerffel said. “If not tomorrow, Thursday. Not just call him, but go by and say, ‘Look.’”
Both Mary and Alicia stressed that the stereotypical “bad kid” isn’t always the one getting into these situations. They reminded the parents that this can happen to anyone, anywhere.
It started with instant messaging her friends from school. Then she talked to her friends’ friends, and then their friends, and so on. It was through this cycle, Alicia said, that she came into contact with her abductor.
“A lot of people assume this only happens to kids…on the street corners doing drugs,” Alicia said. “It happens to the curious kids, the naïve kids.”
After her daughter’s abduction on New Year’s Day 2002, Mary and her husband were accused of being bad parents. They were told that they “should have seen it coming.” The Kozakiewicz family, though, was blindsided by this traumatic event.
“Thank God they got her back,” Doerffel said. “I don’t think that’s the norm. I think too many kids go missing and you just don’t hear about it.”
Alicia feels she was rescued for a reason: to be the voice of the missing and abducted children; to help prevent these things from happening again.
“One thing I tell your kids is that I was just your average kid,” Alicia said. “We don’t think something will happen to us unless it happens to us or a friend. Let me be that friend.”
In an effort to preclude child endangerment on the Internet, Mary and Alicia stressed a few key safety points. The first is to install monitoring software for your computer. It goes under the registry, so it is virtually undetected as it records every key stroke. It can also take screenshots. Also, Alicia said to have a safe word, a word or short phrase that is meant for children to use when they need their parents’ help to get out of a scary or uncomfortable situation.
Mary said that parents these days are easier going on their kids because they want to be their kids’ best friends. She reminds parents to be the parents first. She said that they do not want to scare the kids, just protect them.
“We don’t want to upset them,” Mary said. “We want to be their friends. That’s not our job. We need to quit being afraid. We’re too nice. We need to speak up loudly.”