When it comes to Internet safety, “don’t talk to strangers” is not enough to keep kids from engaging in conversation with people they don’t know. Predators and pedophiles often pose as young teens, hiding behind fake profiles and grooming those who “befriend” them.
Alicia Kozakiewicz was just 13 years old when she was groomed online by a man who posed as a peer.
A shy young girl, Alicia had found her voice by connecting with others online. Mutual friends led to more mutual friends, which ultimately led to her engaging with the man who would later abduct her.
On New Year’s Day 2002, Alicia stepped outside between dinner and dessert. It was the last time she’d see her family, her home and the life she knew for four traumatizing days.
She believed she was just “saying hi,” to a friend she’d met eight months prior online. But in an instant, she was in the backseat of a car driven by a stranger who squeezed her hand so tightly she thought it was broken.
Alicia was taken from her home in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and brought to the home of 38-year-old Scott Tyree in Herndon, Virginia. She was held captive, chained, beaten, shackled and raped in Tyree’s basement. He broadcasted the acts online via live stream for others to witness.
Through an anonymous tip from a viewer in Florida who recognized Alicia from news stories of a missing person, a miraculous FBI raid saved the 13-year-old’s life.
Today, Alicia is a survivor of sex trafficking, and an advocate for Internet safety through her organization, “The Alicia Project,” which aims to educate students, parents, teachers, law enforcement, governmental and social agencies about the many ways to protect yourself online.
In her years of advocacy work, sharing her story and encouraging others to recognize the signs of modern-day slavery, Alicia has found that one of the most crucial interactions a trafficking victim can have is that with a flight attendant.
“They’re very kind and you can really sense that,” Alicia says of flight attendants. “You can really sense that as a child—you can feel warmth from people. To have somebody say, ‘Hey, are you okay?’ that warmth would possibly give a child the ability to say, ‘No, I’m not.’”
She says that flying is quick and convenient, and as a result, flight attendants could be the end-point for SO many children who are being trafficked across state lines. Programs have been put in place for airline attendants to be trained and able to recognize the red flags of human trafficking. The fruits of their labor have paid off.
Just before the Super Bowl in 2016, Alaskan Airlines flight attendant Sheila Fedrick noticed a teen with greasy blond hair on a flight from Seattle to San Francisco. She said she instinctively felt something was off.
With a little bit of knowledge and a whole lot of courage, Sheila was able to save the young girl’s life.
Watch the rest of Alicia’s powerful testimony and plea to flight attendants in the interview below: