How to Protect Children from Internet Predators: 'Get Used to Uncomfortable Conversations,' Says Survivor

Alicia Kozakiewicz, 34, was abducted and rescued from an Internet predator 20 years ago. Now, she teaches others how to avoid danger

Wherever there are children, there are predators — and it's a parent's responsibility to stand between them, says Alicia "Kozak" Kozakiewicz, who speaks to dozens of audiences every year to advise parents on how to keep their kids safe.

"Know your kids' passwords," she says. "Check their phones. Don't let them have a phone late at night in their bedroom. If they say they're using it as an alarm, buy them a [separate] alarm. It's not because your children are bad, it's because there are dangerous people out there who can lure them into doing dangerous things."

More than most, Alicia knows how dangerous the Internet can be. In 2001, at age 13, she was lured into conversation by an online predator who groomed her for nine months with flattery before abducting her.

At the time, grooming was not a term widely used or understood. Even today, she says, most people don't understand how it works.

"A predator's goal is to make you feel like you are enough. In fact, you are the best thing in their eyes. You are the smartest. You are the coolest. You are the prettiest," Alicia says. "And it sounds like, 'Oh, red flag, red flag, red flag,' but grooming feels good. We don't recognize it because it feels like friendship."

Alicia Kozakiewicz Rollout
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For four days, Alicia's abductor raped and tortured her. Hours before she feared her kidnapper intended to kill her, she was rescued by the FBI. "I'm lucky to be alive," she says.

Alicia Kozakiewicz Rollout

Since her rescue, Alicia has found purpose in trying to prevent what happened to her from happening to anyone else. She was just 14 when she gave her first speech about Internet crime and safety to a roomful of students.

"I had been given this second chance, and I wasn't going to waste it," she says about her decision to talk about what happened to her. "I felt that I had been rescued and I had to give back. And so I started speaking out in schools, and sharing my story with kids."

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Now, 20 years later, she continues speaking to parents and children about the dangers lurking on the Internet, which has only grown since she went online in 2001. "You need to get used to having uncomfortable conversations with your kids," she says.

But her most important tip?

"Make sure your kids know they can tell you anything," she says. "You will not ground them, punish them or — what they're most afraid of — take their device away."

If you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

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