Usually, we only hear about the girls who kept their conversations with strange men a secret. The girls who found themselves trapped in a vicious circle of extortion; nude photos or exposure of what was already obtained to their friends, family, classmates. We hear their stories, recounted in courtrooms, of how it all began, innocently at first, how they were lied to, how they were used.
But we heard a different story last week. It’s about a 17-year-old from Vernon, and how she stopped a potential threat.
Kelsey got a Facebook friend request from a stranger, and initially accepted it after seeing they had a mutual friend. It wasn’t the first time she’d received a request from someone she didn’t know.
But after reading his messages, sent promptly after the friend request was accepted, Kelsey quickly realized she didn’t want the type of friendship he was looking for. He wanted to be ‘friends or more in time’ and said he was a ‘great listener and friend to lean on.’ His Facebook friend list was dominated by what looked to be young, teenage girls. It’s hard to know if he was looking for the same kind of relationship with them, too. If his photos were real, he is a middle-aged man.
Kelsey made a choice that day to block the man and tell her dad. She brought what happened out from behind the curtains, and in shattering its secrecy, she stripped it of its power. She and her dad did something else too; they told the police. It didn’t matter that the conversation had stopped before leading to something much worse; it doesn’t need to get to that point to report it. As it turned out, it wasn’t the first allegation. By sharing her story with police, Kelsey didn’t just save herself a nightmare, she might be part of ensuring it doesn’t happen to the next girl.
It’s not fun to think about, but child lurers are out there, and anyone, anywhere can be a target. Vernon man David Willerth lured 16 known victims between the ages of 12 and 16 under the guise of being a modelling agent. Another man, Connor Dee, cyber stalked at least five girls as young as 11, tormenting his victims for years. These are the girls we know about, but in the cases of Willerth and Dee, you have to think they reached out to many more girls in their fishing expeditions. Kelsey said it’s not the first time she’s received a bogus friend request, and knows others her age who have had similar experiences.
Do the inherent dangers of being on Facebook mean parents need to constantly supervise their kids? I’m not so sure about that. Even if it were possible, we all remember the rebellious impulse of doing the opposite of what our parents tell us. Kelsey and her dad showed us that stopping the bad guys might be as simple as having a little trust. She knew she could tell her dad without him getting angry about her befriending strangers, or for not having her privacy settings nailed down.
It comes down to who you can trust, and who you can’t.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.