26-year-old Alicia Kozakiewicz knows the reality of that term. At 13-years-old, she was abducted by a man she had met on an internet chat room. It was 2001, and the internet was picking up speed, and entering more homes across the country.
“It felt like somewhere I could be safe, where I could speak up a little bit more even though it wasn’t speaking I was typing, but where I could voice my opinion more.” Alicia says her friends started logging on more, and finally, she broke down, and got a screen name as well.
Along the way, she met 38-year-old Scott Tyree. Initially though, she didn’t know who he really was. “I thought it was somebody around my own age and I didn’t think anything else. Now people ask ‘How could you not know?’ But I was a 13-year-old kid and 13-year-old kids think they know everything.” After 8 months of grooming her, on January 1st 2002, Tyree drove from his home in Virginia to Alicia’s home, in Pittsburgh. She said between dinner and dessert, she slipped out the front door of her home, into the bitter cold January night, going against everything she would normally do.
“My intuition said ‘Alicia you need to go home this is really dangerous, what are you doing?’ And I went to turn around and I heard my name being called. And the next thing I knew I was in the car and this man was squeezing my hand so tightly and was barking commands at me. ‘Be good. Be quiet. I have the truck cleaned out for you.’ He drove me about five hours from my Pittsburgh home to his house in Virginia where I was held captive in his basement dungeon.”
For the next four days, Alicia lived a nightmare. Tyree kept her locked up, and raped, beat, tortured and starved her. “Now there’s no words to describe. ‘Well how does it make you feel?’ There’s no words to describe the pain, and the loss of self and hopelessness that you can feel in that situation.”
On the fourth day, Tyree told her they would be taking a ride later and left for work.
Little did Alicia know, the FBI was at work, looking for her. Agents finally found Alicia chained up in her abductor’s bedroom. “All these agents rushed in and they cut the collar from around my neck and they set me free and gave me a second chance at life.”
The FBI had received a tip from a man in Florida. That man had met Tyree online, in an internet chatroom, and had witnessed Alicia’s abuse over live streaming video. He had heard about a missing girl from Pittsburgh, and made the connection. Alicia does not consider him a hero, but believes the tip he gave was because he didn’t want to be considered an accomplice in the crime.
“It’s amazing, one monster coming forward about another. I’m so lucky. But to think that there are so many children right this second, as we are speaking, as people are watching us, who are being raped or being tortured or being degraded.”
Alicia is an advocate now, and shares her story around the nation. She speaks to kids, teens, parents and has even testified before Congress. Her story is one she knows holds power, and comes with a warning. “I wasn’t torn from the silver screen of a horror film or ripped from the pages of a scary novel. This happens to me, it happened in real life, and it’s happening to so many kids right now.”
Alicia has also teamed up with PROTECT, a non-profit organization that’s dedicated to the protection of children from abuse, exploitation, and neglect. They are working to pass “Alicia’s Law” in all 50 states. Alicia explains why it’s so important to her. “The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force is making a huge difference when they can. Their funding and resources are so limited. It’s terrifying to think, and heartbreaking to think of the images and videos that they see every day, the child pornography. They look at this every day, and then they go home to their families with the screams of children echoing in their heads. They know where these kids are, but they can’t go get them because they don’t have the funding. They don’t have the resources, they don’t have boots on the ground. And that’s what Alicia’s Law provides.”
The law would direct state specific funding to the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces around the country. According to her website www.aliciaproject.org the money would also be used to make sure there are child rescue teams in place, and the funds would be safe from cuts to the general budget. Alicia’s Law is in place in Virginia, Texas, Arizona, Hawaii and Idaho, and similar legislation was passed in California and Tennessee as well.
While her story can be hard to share at times, Alicia says she will continue to push for internet and child safety measures, more awareness about what’s happening online, and will advocate for those children who are missing.
“I continue to tell my story, even though it’s very painful because it is still to happening to others. And if I can save just one life. If I can save one person, or one family from going through what my family did, then it’s entirely worth it.”
For more information about Alicia’s Law, and resources to talk to your kids about internet dangers, check out these sites:
By: Sarah Danik, KIMT