Kidnapped by an online predator — What she’s learned
For Alicia Kozakiewicz, there's nothing abstract about the dangers of online predators.
It's not just about best practices. It's not just about feeling secure. For Kozakiewicz, it's a matter of life and death.
Seventeen years ago, she told New Jersey 101.5 during Wednesday night's town hall on online safety, she was just 13 years old. She walked out her front door on a winter night, expecting to briefly meet the person she'd been chatting with online. The air was frigid, but she'd only be out for a moment — she didn't even bother to take a coat.
"I heard my name being called, and next thing I knew, I was in a car," she said. "This man was squeezing my hand so tightly I thought it was broken."
Five hours later, she was in a basement in Virginia, suffering what she called "atrocious abuse, chained to the floor. ... There's no words to describe it."
Kozakiewicz's story kicked off our special presentation, an hour-long program in which we were joined by experts on-air and online (Kozakiewicz joined us for both) to answer your questions about keeping kids as safe as possible in the digital age. Hear her story above, and watch the full program below.
Kozakiewicz — now a public speaker, advocate and founder of the Alicia Project — told New Jersey 101.5 she only survived her ordeal because her kidnapper had chatted with someone else online about abducting a girl, then posted video of her after she'd been captured. The other person recognized her off a list of missing children and notified law enforcement, who tracked her kidnapper's user account and eventually his physical location, she said.
Her kidnapper and rapist, Scott Tyree, was released to a halfway home near Kozakiewicz's family home in Pittsburgh, but the federal government in July asked a judge to revoke his supervised released after he was accused of visiting pornographic websites and violating his parole, WPXI reported earlier this year. He was set to return to prison for two years and eventually be released to central Pennsylvania.
Kozakiewicz no longer lives in the Pittsburgh area.
But her focus Wednesday wasn't only on the terror she faced — she's shared that story several times in national and regional media. It was on the lessons she hopes parents learn.
"Kids don't feel like they're enough — they don't feel like they're pretty enough, handsome enough, smart enough, wealthy enough, this enough, that enough," she said. "A predator's goal is to wash over those insecurities and make them feel like they're enough."
When she was abducted in 2001, there was no social media — and a lot less information about individuals online. Her kidnapper had to solicit information from her, and convince her to share it. Predators have much easier access to much more personal data now.
Like other experts joining the town hall Wednesday, she urged parents to closely monitor their children's devices, to be aware any app with a communication function is a risk, and to constantly work with their children to make sure they understand safe practices.
"Children are so afraid you are going to take away their device, which is the link to their world," she said. "It is not about getting them in trouble. It is about keeping them safe."
Also from New Jersey 101.5:
— With reporting by Sofia Solimando