She posed as a teen online. Then this happened….
Our Shared Hope staffer, Kelly, went online posing as a 15-year-old girl.
- It all started when Shared Hope founder Linda Smith asked Kelly to create a resource for parents explaining popular apps, how they worked, and how kids were using them.
- Kelly began by reaching out to teens, police officers, colleagues, and advocates around the country to compile a list of apps popular with teens.
- Then she downloaded each app and created a profile for herself, as a high school freshman, hoping to learn directly from teenagers using the apps.
What she found shocked her. Within minutes, her inboxes were flooded with messages from middle-aged men, some simply saying hello or asking unthreatening questions, others asking for photos of Kelly in her “jammies,” bra, or worse. Dozens sent pornography, or pictures of their own genitalia, often asking Kelly to describe how the images made her feel.
They thought they were chatting with a 15-year-old girl.
Their tactics were clear — the same tactics we have warned children and parents about for years: appearing friendly and familiar, developing trust, isolating the child from friends and family. “Grooming” to a T.
We reported these incidents to the apps and to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline. Kelly continued in conversation with each man, but only by answering any questions they asked.
Over the next few weeks, she interacted with dozens of pedophiles, predators, and sex traffickers. The details are too disturbing to repeat here. But all of these men had the same goal: to groom and sexually exploit a child. Not via a classified website or the “dark Web” — but apps popular with teens.
This is the reality our children live in today. And this is why Shared Hope’s online safety resources are so critically important: a wide array of free, downloadable resources designed to help parents navigate these tough yet crucial subjects with the kids they love, as well as resources for the kids themselves.
Please help us get the word out — please give generously to Shared Hope today!