Saturday, May 28, 2011

Facebook Predator Love Story

He was a lonely child and he was bullied in school by homophobic kids because he had a feminine affect and was clearly attracted to boys, not girls.
He lived in a rough town.
He'd been beaten up one time too many and he withdrew into himself.
His well-intentioned single  mother said she couldn't get the school to do anything.
She had no money, was on disability from when she fell off a ladder and broke her back.
There was a rods and bunch of screws in her spine.
They lived off food stamps, welfare.
She said because she has no money, she has no leverage.

Then one day, someone from her church gave her son a laptop.
After that, he figured out how to ride someone else's wifi waves free.
So at the age of 15, her son joined Facebook.
Within 6 months,  the predator started contacting him.
It started with a friend request.
It ended in written correspondence she laid out on the table in front of me.
Loads of letters written from various prisons he'd been moved between.
I am looking at his name and mug shot right now.
He is 42 years old,  looks younger.
To me, he looks like the guy who stepped forward a while back... confessed he was the killer of Jon Benet Ramsey and wasn't.
That guy got his 15 minutes of fame and then some.

The boy's mother gave me her son's stalker's picture and copies of the letters  after she asked if I could do anything.
"I have no money to pay you," she said, "but the police, they can't do anything. The prisons aren't helping. I don't know what to do."
After reading the letters... I said I'd help and that's what I am moving to next.
Prisoners are big into the internet,  on Facebook,  My Space.... posing as regular people and trolling the net for victims.
The prison versions of "Be My Pen Pal" sites get huge hits.

It won't take too much time to pull some documentation together to stir up the pot big-time.
Because the man writing her son is a convicted sex offender and has three assaults and robbery on his record.
He is also attracted to young men only... and he has targeted this particular young man....
let's call him Jason....
who is a minor.
He says he loves Jason at least 10 times in every letter.
His letters are a cycle of emotions -- from positive to negative, from promise to threat.
They are sexually graphic.
His letters say that nothing.... and no one.. not even the police.... or Jason's mother....
will keep them apart because God (who the convict discovered in prison) wants their heavenly union.

And Jason's mother said her son told her she's all wrong about the convict...
Jason said the guy is really a good guy who is just misunderstood.
He told his mother he loves his prison pen pal.
She thinks Jason will run off with him if he gets parole.

The last letter written said:
"I've got my next parole hearing in three months. I've been a very good boy and when they let me out, I'll come straight to you, wherever you are. You always feel accepted and loved. I will protect you. No one will keep us apart."
I got that visceral feeling I always have when danger is imminent.

Jason wasn't home when his mom told me all this.
I was there on another matter.
It just so happened she trusted me enough, or was desperate enough, to share all this with me.
And it just so happened it bothered me enough  that I agreed to help him.. and her.

Mom discovered the letters while "cleaning" his room.
She was changing his sheets and saw a little piece of paper peeking out from beneath the mattress.
Then the whole file folder came out.
Her response to the correspondence was probably a lot like mine, only tenfold....
because it was happening to her kid, not mine.
She was aghast, anxious, angry and terrified.
Her son clearly had been engaging this man in correspondence for almost a year.
When she confronted her son, he told her he was in love.
When she called the police, then the prisons, then her senator and everyone else she could think of... she said they treated her like a nutcase.
She said one man told her that her son would be 18 soon. Let it go.

It was hard for me to imagine no one would take a prisoner writing a minor seriously.
However, the mother's affect was not one I would call consistent and credible.
She had her own issues, a whole lot of anger...
and her rage could accelerate from 0 to 60 in just a few seconds.
She cursed worse than a sailor.
No wonder, I thought, her son wanted out so badly.

And so I open a case file on this guy.
I will assemble and study the correspondence.
Develop the time lines,  trace the path he's moved from prison to prison.
Figure an angle to completely cut the kid off from him that will make the kid believe it is the right thing to do.
Because mom's response to the letters was to take his beloved laptop and throw it on the floor.
That's when he discovered internet cafes, internet at libraries. Mom said that's where he's been all day instead of school.
He stopped showing up for school shortly after the letters were discovered.
He refused to go back and said he'd get his GED online.
And even though no more letters arrived at the house... she is convinced the two are still in touch.

The whole thing is one big mess and he turns eighteen soon.
Based on the letters , the older man is so in love with this kid, he's got the kid convinced he's the only one in his life who cares. He's planning to take him to Mexico.
All the kid sees is beaches, sunshine, a sugar daddy lover and definitely not a child molester.

My plan here is to step things up a bit. To shake the tree. To contact the prison he's at and have a talk with the warden about the letters. To make sure the parole board knows about what he's up to.
I also got off the phone with an attorney, on a weekend no less, who agreed to help, pro bono...
because he too has children and a big heart. We will all work through the attorney.
The attorney is the key to actions like these.
Attorneys add direction, power, credibility.
They open doors by mere mention of legal action.

Still, I don't know if we will be able to do anything to stop the overcrowded prison system from releasing him.
Sooner or later he will get out.
And no one, ultimately, will stop Jason from doing whatever he wants when he is an adult.
What concerns me is how easily the prisoner found him on Facebook.
What concerns me even more is Facebook is saying they are primed and poised to target a younger market now... even though they're already at it.
Kids 11 and younger.

May I say (and excuse my french) WTF?
Facebook is no place for kids.  It is a hunting ground filled with predators.
That might sound hypocritical considering I  am one of those people with loads of people I don't know on my Facebook page.
Then again, I am a grown-up. I am old. I am wise. I am cynical.
And I am using my Faceboook and this blog for business vs. social purposes.

Today, young people are socializing this way, on the net, through networks.
Primarily Facebook and  MySpace.
Unless they are monitored closely by their parents (which most aren't), kids on social networks are ripe for the picking by pervs and perps who target them by both pictures and profiles.

That said, it made sense and seemed harmless to me when Facebook decided to target the 50+ market.
I thought it would be a great way for older folks reconnect with the past and market their businesses or network.
I am, however,  extremely unimpressed with the notion of skewing Facebook younger than the college market it was originally intended for.In fact, I think expanding and marketing to minors is irresponsible and dangerous.  Reprehensible even.
And it's a social and criminal tsunami already building momentum.
Check out this article from 2010.

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