Q: I realize I am going to sound like a frantic parent, but I don’t know what to do. I know it was wrong but I was very suspicious and I went through my fifteen-year-old daughter’s phone. What I found was worse than I imagined it would be.
She’s been sharing nude photos and very sexual messages with a man who claims to be twenty-four years old. He looks like he’s in his mid-thirties to me. When I confronted her she shut down completely and refused to tell us anything about this man.
What alarmed me the most about the texts was he talked about introducing her to his friends and how they’d enjoy playing with her too. She claims she never met him in person. I’m not sure what to believe.
I texted him immediately and told him to leave her alone. He seems to have disconnected his phone now. I’ve taken her phone and she’s grounded. However, I know I can’t watch her 24/7 and I’m afraid my inability to talk with her about this is going to create a catastrophe.
I don’t know what to do. I also don’t know if I’m over-reacting.
A: This is a serious question that I’ve actually heard before, and no, you are not overreacting.
Firstly, if you have any thoughts about pursuing criminal charges or investigation, you absolutely must, as awkward or painful as it might be, take screenshots of every piece of conversation between he and your daughter, and your message to him afterward. Save those in a folder and put them away, because there might be details that can vastly change the color of what was going on in this one specific case.
Does he know how old your daughter is? This is another reason you’ll perhaps have to look through all of the content for clues. The guy might actually not know that the human on the other end isn’t legally old enough to consent. Lying about his age is a red flag, but there are many reasons that people do that, so it’s not an automatic qualifier of something illicit going on.
If he didn’t know, he didn’t know. He needs to start asking!
If he DID know that your daughter is younger than 18 because she told him, we could have a serial offender. In this case, do a web search for that phone number and locate the region, and consider contacting local law enforcement with the prepared screenshots you took earlier, and the phone number. The area code might not be indicative of where this person actually lives, especially if it’s a disposable phone, or "burner" phone.
I spoke with a local private investigator, who told me this: "Keep record of everything you can, keep it in a file, keep a record of reaching out to the guy, and especially keep record of you informing him of her minor age. If you want to pursue charges, reach out to local law enforcement first, because the Feds are probably inundated with this current government shutdown."
It confuses things when you consider the fact that there are plenty of cases where our society finds it acceptable or ignorable that a middle-aged man partners sexually with a teen; people with money, fame, power, and influence do this all the time. And if your child points out these examples, agree that it’s a hypocritical society in which we live.
As a parent speaking with your child, tell her these things:
- Having sexual desires and wanting contact is healthy
- But I want you to share that with people your own age
- Because adults who choose to interact sexually with teenagers aren’t healthy or safe
- And they can actually go to prison for a very long time for knowingly doing what he was doing
I always suggest that parents and teens check out Scarleteen.com for other sex-ed related topics.
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