When a father in Michigan had a strange feeling about his daughter, he eventually proved that there’s nothing quite like a parent’s intuition. In particular, the man had noticed that her behavior had recently altered: something that had given him cause for concern. Rather than ask his daughter directly why she had seemingly changed, though, he let his suspicions guide him to where he thought he might find the reason: her tablet.
And when the dad logged onto the device she used to share photos and chat with friends, he could not believe what he found. Yet while what he discovered left him devastated, it also armed him with a crucial message for other parents whose teens use social media.
That dad was a man called Scott, the patriarch of a family that also included his wife and two daughters. And one of his children, who will be referred to from now on as “G,” had been deemed old enough to use social media and messaging apps on her tablet.
Scott kept an eye on his daughter, though. After all, he knew that he was more aware of the dangers of the online world than she was. “[Kids today] really do not understand how social media networks spread over the entire world, and with that come serious threats if not monitored,” he later wrote in a post for a leading online parenting website.
And G’s circle of online friends included a group of girls who would chat every single day. In addition, there was one boy, 15-year-old Bruce. At face value, however, Bruce appeared to be no different to any other male his age, according to Scott.
Furthermore, once Bruce had become part of G’s circle of friends, he started to bring in some of his own buddies, too. And the online clan chatted through popular apps like Kik and Instagram; at the same time, though, G started communicating differently with her family. “She was becoming secretive and sneaky,” her father observed.
And Scott wondered if the sea change in his daughter’s demeanor had something to do with her online life. “Being that I fully understand how far the internet reaches and how quickly things can get out of control, I checked up on my daughter on a regular basis,” he divulged. Roughly once every two weeks, then, he would pore through G’s tablet while she slept.
“I would… dig into her messages and pictures to see if things looked inappropriate,” Scott later explained. But, for the most part, he didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. That is, aside from some weird timings between messages and response; then again, these didn’t ring any alarm bells at first for Scott, either.
One night, though, Scott unaccountably felt even more drawn to perform his routine safeguarding. “I had a funny feeling,” he recalled, adding, “[I] grabbed her tablet to do what I thought would just be another normal check.” And, this time, he would finally find a clue as to why G had changed so much.
“What I found, to this day, haunts my mind and makes my heart sink,” the father-of-two later revealed. Specifically, on G’s tablet, he found a picture that he was sure was not suitable at her tender age. “The sexy pose set my red flag on fire,” Scott would write.
And after that, Scott was on a mission to find out who his daughter was sending such images to. He started with her new group of friends on Instagram. “All I was left with were tears in my eyes and a burning fire in my heart to destroy every boy on her Instagram account,” the angry father wrote. “And it was just the beginning.”
What Scott came to realize, however, is that even though Bruce was indeed a real teenage boy, the friends he’d invited into G’s group were not. “I harnessed the power of Google to look up and research the secondary accounts of the friends in this circle – not something children think or are willing to do,” Scott later wrote.
“Once I saw that four of the ‘friends’ in the circle were clearly adult men, my heartbreak turned into anger and rage,” G’s dad added. But although he tried to find more details about these adults, he would eventually conclude that that particular search was beyond his reach. As a result, Scott decided to get law enforcement involved.
And the cyber task force of the local police department quickly took action. A detective would meet with the family, for example, in order to obtain access to all of their computers, tablets and similar electronic devices. What’s more, the officers’ search was careful, calculated and thorough — it took seven months to complete, all in all.
Scott subsequently revealed, “[The cops] called us in to report the most terrifying words I have ever heard: ‘Mr. and Mrs. ******, can you and your family please come to the police station as soon as possible?’” He added, “Not something you ever want to hear.”
It turned out that the task force had also concluded that Bruce was a normal teenager; his innocent friendship with the girls, however, was placing them in harm’s way. “The men who were acting as his ‘friends’ had set Bruce up as a scout,” Scott later wrote. “His face was the first safe face that our children see.”
And Bruce in fact had had no idea that he had become an active player in a sex trafficking ring. “He was unknowingly luring young girls into his circle as prey for the men to pick and choose from,” Scott later said. Even scarier, Bruce had more than 2,000 online connections from around the world – most of them children.
So, one Michigan family subsequently learned that trafficking can happen anywhere – even online. “This is not someone else’s problem,” Scott added in his article. “This is right here, right now, and real as the tears I shed for the innocence that was stolen from my daughter.”
And without Scott’s regular tablet checks, G could have fallen victim to the crime the men had hoped to perpetrate. “My beautiful girl was prey for these monsters,” Scott added. “She was quickly approaching a meet-up… and I fear that I may have never seen my daughter again.”
Fortunately, though, Scott’s intervention may have saved his daughter’s life as well as potentially those of many other young girls. And that’s why he shared his story — to scare other parents into action. “Dig into your children’s accounts, ask them questions and tell them not to have ‘friends’ they don’t actually know,” he has advised. “It’s worth the upset it may cause your child to keep them safe.”