"I was lured, kidnapped and raped at 13"|via news.com.au
ALICIA Kozakiewicz was lured by a sexual predator, raped, tortured and held against her will
She was just 13 years old. How she survived that experience is incomprehensible, but her rescue is also equally unbelievable. While it may sound like the stuff of Hollywood films, the reality of what happened to her in January 2002 was a nightmare she can never forget. “I was groomed, lured from my home, and abducted by an internet predator who held me captive in his basement dungeon where I was raped, beaten, and tortured,” she told news.com.aufrom her home in Chicago. “I was only rescued after a tipster, with whom the predator had shared streaming video of my torture, contacted the FBI.” It’s hard to imagine what she endured or what was going through her mind, other than the thought that she had to survive. She only knows it’s a miracle she is here today. Her dramatic rescue was broadcast around the world and her attacker was arrested and later sentenced to 19 years and seven months for his heinous crime.
The now 26-year-old whose story is as shocking as it is inspiring, said she did not want to let the predator win, and more importantly, felt she needed to speak out to prevent other kids and teens falling victim to the same predatory trap. Less than a year after her rescue, she embarked on a mission to warn parents, teenagers and anyone online about how easy it can be to become the victim of a sexual predator. She does warn though, that it can happen to anyone because predators target vulnerability not background, circumstances, or education. “People often think that a tragedy cannot happen to them — until it does — or until it happens to someone with whom they have a close relationship,” she said.
In 2004, Ms Kozakiewicz started The Alicia Project which provides internet and child safety education, emotional support for victims of abduction and sexual exploitation, and for their families, as well as raises awareness for those who are missing.Instead of becoming a victim, she emerged a survivor determined to ensure her message was spread. “The issues of internet safety, abduction, and child sexual exploitation span the globe and cannot be ignored,” she said. “Sharing my testimony gives a face and voice to victims who have been silenced and raises an awareness for those who are missing.” But telling her story even years later is still a painful experience. “For anyone to share their story of sexual assault, abuse, and exploitation is never easy,” she said.
“Unfortunately, survivors, rather the perpetrators, are often blamed for the abuse and the victims are then silenced. As a child, when I first began to tell my story, I feared that my words would be discounted. Then, I would ask myself: “How can I make an impact? How could I save lives?” She said it was only once she began to tell her story that she realised how many people had fallen victim, been abused, or approached by online predators. But Ms Kozakiewicz also admitted that children she has spoken to will often tell her they are going to change their now-recognised dangerous online behaviours — and that gives her the strength to keep telling her story. “I know I am making a difference,” she says. Her biggest fear is what happened to her will keep happening to others with the growth of accessible technology. “Issues of grooming and sexual exploitation are worsening,” she said. “Today’s predators have easier access to children and teens than they have ever had before. Full web access is no longer restricted to the desktop computer, but now travels in the palm of the hand. “Children are drawn to new, exciting mobile apps that are rapidly developed, many with the purpose of evading parental monitoring and leaving no trace.” She said it was this easy access which meant children and teens were more vulnerable than ever in a global society.
While recognizing the internet was a “marvelous and necessary tool” she also warned it poses great danger. Ms Kozakiewicz, who is working towards attaining an MA in Forensic Psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, said children and teens need to be educated about the possible dangers of the internet, as well as be given the tools that will enable them to better protect themselves. One of her goals is to use to her degree to work alongside law enforcement and authorities in the rescue, and recovery, of children. She said it was vital parents put monitoring software on any computer and mobile device their children use and focus on “being a protective factor in their child’s life versus being primarily a friend.” But while her story is horrific, she said it was also one of hope and most of all survival. “Survivors can learn to trust again,” she said. “I now know that rape is about power and control, while love never is. I am happy to share that I am in a long-term, loving relationship with a man who fully supports my mission.
“I also look forward to growing as a media personality in order to better highlight missing person and human trafficking cases, and to share inspirational stories of survival and hope. “As internet crimes against children and child sexual exploitation is a global issue and I would love to share my presentations to children, families, and law enforcement in venues beyond North America.” For anyone who has ever been abused she has this simple message. “You are a survivor and you are strong, but please do not hesitate to reach out for, and accept help,” she said. “You may experience nightmares, flashbacks, and other symptoms of PTSD. Seeking professional counselling and sharing your story with a trained professional, in a safe place, can aid in your healing. “Know that it is okay to hurt — you do not have to be strong all of the time. The healing process differs for each survivor and only you can set your pace.” She added those who had been abused do not owe anyone the details of what has happened but choosing to come forward, and reporting it “cannot only cages monsters, it can save lives.” “Always remember to never let the trauma define you. You are so much more than your experience,” she said. “Stand strong and always believe in yourself.”