Youth shares experience after being hunted by an Internet stalker


Jessica* didn’t think anything of it, really.

She thought she was talking to people she knew, teenagers she could relate to. She, after all, was just a part of an online community that many deemed safe.

She, however, was wrong.

It was four summers ago that Jessica, only 13 at the time, became a victim of an Internet stalker.

At the time, Jessica said she felt no sense of anxiety about the situation.

Now at 17, Jessica works at a women’s center in her hometown and feels comfortable talking about the experience that could have cost her life.

“He just seemed so nice. From what I knew, he was young and attractive – just like me,” she said. “But you just wouldn’t have guessed this behavior out of him, not after all of the deep conversations we had prior to that summer.”

Jessica had started to visit Web sites like, Yahoo! chat rooms and other online forums. She said she wanted to be heard, and by June that summer, one teenager, Nathan*, started paying attention to her.

The two met at an Internet chat room, where Jessica said she wanted to find other teens. With all her teenage troubles – puberty, peer pressure and the fear of not being accepted – the Internet was her outlet for fitting in.

“No matter where you went, it seemed you could find people exactly like you. And that’s how I found Nathan.” Jessica said. “We shared the same troubles. We listened to the same music. We were the same people. I felt safe knowing that there was someone else just like me, that I was normal.”

More than 19 million teenagers like Jessica confide in the Internet, befriending strangers from one end of the country to the next. While in some cases, these friendships are harmless encounters between teens, other cases have led to more serious consequences.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, nearly 15 million children in the United States received unwanted sexual material online in 2005. Of those, about 2.5 million received a sexual solicitation beyond simple conversation.

Jessica is one teenager who had to learn this fact the hard way.

“He insisted on meeting me, but I was pretty hesitant,” she said. “My parents raised me to be a rather cautious girl.”

After she refused to meet with Nathan, Jessica said he became pretty persistent, trying to guilt her into meeting him.

She still refused.

And before she knew it, she said Nathan continued harassing her on the Internet and had found her home address. She said she often received letters in the mail, with Nathan threatening to abduct her. Nathan also e-mailed Jessica sexually explicit photographs of himself – from which she first discovered Nathan’s true age: a man in his mid-40s.

At this point, Jessica started to confide in her mother for help. She said her mother, who refused to comment on the subject, was the resource she needed to help track down Nathan and prosecute him.

For months they tried to track Nathan down, but at that point, he had moved on and has not been heard from since.

Jessica said she hopes that, of all things, she was the last person Nathan had stalked.

From here on, Jessica said she plans to go to college and get a career in psychology so she can apply this experience toward helping others in life.

Until then, she will continue to finish high school and work at the women’s center.

“My family just wishes to move on, to grow stronger from this experience,” Jessica said. “I have so much to look forward to in life, to enriching the lives of others. I know that my experience, while terrible, will somehow help me connect to another victim out there. And it might just give me a chance toward saving someone else’s life.

*Names have been substituted to conceal the identities in this story.