Alicia Kozakiewicz – Explains how Internet Predaors Operate

A Pittsburgh woman says she would someday like to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, part of the teams that saved her from a sexual predator who was holding her captive at his Virginia home in 2002.

“He was a total monster,” Alicia Kozakiewicz says of her abductor. “He had a dungeon in the basement, all kinds of torture instruments. I was sexually assaulted. He didn’t feed me for those four days. I was fed the last day.”

She met the man in an Internet chat room. A friend introduced them in cyberspace and Kozakiewicz says her abductor spent weeks grooming her.

“Grooming is, essentially, it sounds crazy, but it’s brain washing,” she said on Friday’s MetroNews Talkline.

“It’s taking a child apart bit by bit, bite by bite, and putting them back together by always being their friend no matter what they do and always being on their side, any time of day, any time of night.”

She was 13 years old when she walked out of her house on New Year’s Day and found herself in a car with the man. Someone he was in contact with online contacted the FBI. Agents traced the predator’s IP address and busted into his house to get her on Day Four of her abduction.

Kozakiewicz was in Morgantown this week for a public awareness event called “A Night of Internet Safety.” More than 300 people were part of the event Thursday at Morgantown High School.

Sergeant Chris Casto with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force of State Police says parents, sometimes, don’t know what clues to look for when it comes to their children’s online activities.

“They’re learning,” Sergeant Casto says. “One of the most important things we do with our ICAC Task Force in West Virginia is our community outreach.”

There are 59 such Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces across the country.

Kozakiewicz is now a student at Point Park University and is trying to move on with her life. She says there is a lot she does not remember.

“I was traumatized, actually, so badly that I’ve lost a lot of my memories and suffered from, essentially, a type of amnesia.”

Alicia’s Message: I’m Here to Save Your Life

In a sense, she’s rescuing a sliver of her own lost 13-year-old soul with each presentation she makes. It’s important work and work she expects to continue for a good, long while.

“Somebody has to and I feel that I was rescued for a reason.”

Alicia Kozakiewicz was 13 when she was kidnapped and tortured by a man she’d met on the internet.

After her miraculous rescue by the FBI, Alicia could easily have retreated into a world of depression – experienced by so many other victims.

Instead, she chose to turn her personal tragedy into a personal message for other children, parents and teachers. Now a student at Point Park University, Alicia speaks at schools about online predators and other dangers a child might encounter on the internet. Her unforgettable presentation is in demand by educators throughout the United States and abroad.

Alicia Kozakiewicz isn’t uncomfortable with her burgeoning national reputation as an Internet safety advocate.

She’s just trying to get used to the nicer side of fame. The last time her name made big headlines, the judgments were harsh.

She’s a tall, slip of a young woman who has known horrors far beyond her 19 years. Still, she has a teenage playfulness about her.

Last month, People magazine did a 1,300-word feature on her, recalling how a 38-year-old man tortured her, sexually assaulted her and chained her to the bedroom floor in his Virginia townhouse during the first four days of January 2002 when she was a mere 13.

She’d met him in an Internet chat room, and he’d driven to Pennsylvania to spirit her away. Acting on a tip, FBI agents tracked her captor and saved her life. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison. Now, she tries to help children avoid what happened to her.

“I want to be a forensic psychologist and work with the same group of people that rescued me,” says Ms. Kozakiewicz, a Point Park University psychology major from Crafton Heights. “I want to rescue the child, then try to recover their soul.”

Earlier this month, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children gave her its Courage Award for the resilience and courage she exhibited in pulling through her ordeal.

Two weeks ago, she traveled around Florida with the state’s attorney general, Bill McCollum, kicking off a statewide campaign against computer predators.

Last week, she taped a segment for a National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s telethon.

This week, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and the United Kingdom’s edition of Cosmopolitan are slated to interview her.

Each Friday during the school year, she gives presentations to grade school children, warning them about the dangers of the Internet as part of the university’s outreach program.

“She’s become sort of an icon for this topic,” says Pat Moran, director of Point Park’s Community Outreach Partnership Center. “As a result of the People story, we’ve been getting calls from all over the United States — Seattle, Mississippi, Florida, Boston, California — and the U.K.”

Ms. Kozakiewicz, who will be a sophomore in the fall, spoke to 13 schools this past semester, reaching thousands of children.

“When I speak to them, I transfer back into that 13-year-old that I was,” she says. “That’s so cathartic, not only for the 13-year-old that I was, but the 19-year-old that I am. … That 13-year-old is always in pain, but when I can get up there and take control of it, it heals all that.”

Her mother, Mary Kozakiewicz, was extremely concerned about her daughter putting herself back in the public eye. Media and the public at large were critical of the family in the aftermath of Alicia’s ordeal.

“She’s still very fragile,” her mother says. “You don’t just bounce back from horrific things.”

However, Mrs. Kozakiewicz also realizes there’s a desperate need to inform people about Internet dangers.

“Right now, there’s a lot of noise about [Internet safety] but I find when we speak with parents, they’re still as clueless as I was five years ago,” says Mrs. Kozakiewicz, who counsels families of missing children through the national support network Team HOPE. “Until somebody does speak up, until somebody starts yelling, it’s going to continue.”

Parents shouldn’t discount how differently their children can behave in public and online than they do at home, she says.

“If people can say I was a bad mom or she was a bad child, then they can say NIMBY — not in my backyard,” she says. “So they feel safe and like it couldn’t happen to them.”

But it can happen anywhere.

“You’re there at home. Your child is safe, and it’s warm and you’re there,” she says. “But all the evils of the world are in that box.”

That’s why she suggests parents use filtering software and stealthware on their home computers to monitor Web sites visited, keystrokes made and even both sides of chat.

One in seven youths 10- to 17-years old has been sexually solicited or approached via the Internet, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s 2006 report, “Online Victimization of Youth: Five Years Later.”

“It’s not stopping, it’s getting worse,” her mom says.

Alicia Kozakiewicz has done all of her advocacy work free and continues to juggle lots of duties, from giving presentations and countless interviews to working at the Point Park Children’s School and attending college full-time on grants and scholarships.

And she wouldn’t have it any other way.

In a sense, she’s rescuing a sliver of her own lost 13-year-old soul with each presentation she makes. It’s important work and work she expects to continue for a good, long while.

“Somebody has to and I feel that I was rescued for a reason.”