A 12-year-old girl, who was groomed online by a 44-year-old man with a kidnapping conviction, is now safe thanks to law enforcement and Hope for Justice.
Maisie*, who lives in the Southern United States, had been playing games using apps such as Virtual Reality Quest. One day, she met someone online who said he was a 14-year-old boy from England. He wanted to be friends with her, and she was flattered by the attention.
They talked for a few days through the virtual reality apps, then the boy suggested that they connect on Snapchat, and afterwards, swap phone numbers so they could text and call. After around three weeks of regular contact, the person asked Maisie to send him inappropriate photographs of her body, and she did so.
The individual then suggested a FaceTime call, and asked Maisie to tell her friends they could join them. Maisie’s mother heard about the planned FaceTime after a friend of Maisie’s told her own mother that Maisie wanted her to join the call.
The mother’s friend had recently attended a Hope for Justice human trafficking awareness training course, and having spotted the possible signs of online grooming, she directed Maisie’s mother to us.
Richard Schoeberl, United States Team Leader at Hope for Justice, said: “Maisie’s mother was very concerned about her daughter’s safety. We visited the family and spoke with Maisie and her mother. It was clear Maisie was being groomed by this individual.
“He had even asked her to delete her sent messages, telling her that nobody else should see the pictures she sent him. He had gained her trust to the point that she had also told him where she lived.”
Our team began trying to identify the person through their phone number. We discovered that this was an adult living in the US. Our further investigations revealed his past conviction of kidnapping, as well as other crimes.
Our team then contacted local law enforcement, who have now interviewed the individual and taken his mobile and other devices for further investigation. We remain in touch with Maisie and her family, who will receive counseling.
Richard continued: “We are relieved that Maisie is safe, and hope the individual who groomed her will soon be brought to justice. With our children spending more and more time online, it’s vital that parents and children alike know that not everyone they meet online will be who they say they are.
“This National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we are urging everyone to empower themselves with knowledge about the risks of online grooming and exploitation. By doing so, we can enjoy our time online while protecting ourselves and our families, and helping to stop traffickers exploiting the innocent and vulnerable.”
Want to know more about how to protect yourself and your children online? Watch our recent Empower, Prevent, Protect webinar, hosted by Richard, here.
*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the individual