DEAR ABBY: I had to write after reading the letter from "Brokenhearted Mom in Virginia." My 14-year-old daughter developed an Internet relationship with a now 21-year-old man when she was 10. By the time she was 12, he was drawing her into a deeply dysfunctional relationship. Unbeknownst to her, he was a mental patient who was obsessed with suicide and self-mutilation.
Without going into a lot of detail, it took more than a year to permanently end this relationship and purge this person from our lives. When our daughter tried on her own to extricate herself, he threatened to commit suicide and take her with him, as well as kill her family. We were finally able to get him locked up in a mental facility. We were also able to obtain a restraining order to keep him away.
Abby, please impress upon "Brokenhearted Mom" that her daughter is a child and does not see the situation in the same light as she does. Her friends may be encouraging and enabling the relationship. The daughter will most likely see it as an "us against them" situation.
"Mom" must assert control and pay a visit to her local police station. She should speak to an officer about her options, and make sure to document the relationship as best she can. She should also obtain copies of all correspondence between the man and her daughter. There is software that can capture their conversations to a file.
When it comes to obtaining a restraining order, "Brokenhearted Mom" will need evidence of the relationship because it is likely her daughter will refuse to cooperate. Once the police become involved, they will probably contact the perpetrator and warn him. If that doesn't work, a restraining order is next, and if he violates that, he will be arrested.
It's important to bear in mind that the daughter will need professional help in recovering from a relationship with a pedophile. She's going to be very, very angry at her mother. A therapist can help her deal with this. In fact, a therapist should be contacted for help BEFORE any action is taken to end the relationship. It will be a very difficult behavioral period.
And last, please, please move the computer to a central location where a parent can supervise exactly what his or her child is doing at all times. Internet access should not be allowed when a parent cannot be around. I learned this lesson the hard way. Access to the telephone may also have to be limited for a time. Caller ID is extremely helpful, because you can block the stalker's number. -- WISER NOW ON THE EAST COAST
DEAR WISER NOW: Thank you for sharing your experience with more readers -- and parents -- than you can imagine. I hope they will take your experience to heart and understand that their children are as vulnerable wandering in cyberspace as they would be wandering the streets of a strange city. Predators capitalize on the lack of experience and gullibility of young people -- some of whom are lonely, emotionally isolated and needy. Their access can be curtailed only if parents take the time, and make it their business, to do it.