When Mrs. Ezinne Nwaigwe’s 13-year-old daughter kept constantly communicating with one boy from their neighbourhood, she became instantly worried. Her daughter who is in junior secondary school was always chatting with this ‘boy’ so much that she often forgets to do her school assignments. Sometimes, they would talk about school, friends and other things that caught their fancy. But at other times, she noticed that the conversation would become too personal for comfort.
Even though Mrs. Nwaigwe had given her daughter the talk about periods, boys and raging hormones, she was often worried about how fast the relationship between her daughter and this ‘boy’ grew within a short time.
But initially she didn’t have much to put her finger on until one day she intercepted a message from the ‘boy’ pressuring her daughter to meet him at a corner close to their street. That area is said to be usually dark and known as a hotspot for unruly guys.
“My daughter was fetching water in the company of her younger brother when the message entered her phone. I replied the message and promised the ‘boy’ that I would be there in an hour. I wanted to meet this ‘boy’ who was taking my daughter’s time and asking her to meet him at night in a secluded area.”
At the appointed time, Mrs. Nwaigwe left her children at home to meet with the supposed ‘teenager’ who has been texting her daughter. But to her greatest shock, she met, not a teenage boy, as she had supposed, but a full-grown adult male.
How did she know? “I texted him to say that I was standing right behind the place he wanted to meet with me and he texted back to say he would be there with me shortly. And, when he turned up and texted again to know where I was because he too was not expecting a grown woman, I caught him red-handed when his text came in right before me.”
Having been so cornered, he confessed that he has been doing this for over two years and added that the mothers of the girls he defiled in his former neighbourhood didn’t report him because of the shame.
Monitoring a teenage daughter’s online activities
Mrs. Caro Ovulu who has been monitoring her two teenage daughters’ online activities, has a similar story to tell. The 42-year-old mother of four knows how hard it is to raise girls these days and she is not taking chances with their sexual safety. According to her, one day, while scrolling through her second daughter’s phone, she discovered some messages from a number that wasn’t saved in her daughter’s contact list. The person was always commenting on how beautiful her 15-year-old daughter was and how he would love to meet her in person.
“I wasn’t comfortable with the kind of friendship my daughter had with this person. I asked her about him and she said he was the brother of one of her classmates. She allayed my fears and told me not to worry about anything.”
But she wasn’t satisfied. Her intuition told her that something wasn’t quite right with that relationship and she asked her daughter to invite the young man home so that she would meet him in person. She agreed and invited the supposed boy home. Then the excuses started pouring in. The ‘boy’ kept giving one excuse or the other as to why he couldn’t honour her invitation. For over a month, he kept dodging the meeting in their home and that further heightened Mrs. Ovulu’s fear.
“One day, I used my daughter’s phone to send him a message to tell him that I was home alone and that he should come over quickly. He was at my door in 30 minutes time and that was how I discovered that the supposed ‘teenager’ was almost 30-years-old.”
For her, it was a mixture of anger and relief when she discovered that she had saved her daughter from a potential pedophile. The young man was ready to have sex with her (daughter) right in their home. She raised an alarm that attracted her neighbours and that was how he was handed him over to the police.
Saving a daughter from a pedophile
Mr. Yinka Akinloye is still thanking his stars for delivering his daughter from an online pedophile who got her phone number from one of their neighbours. What started off like a teenage crush ended up as one of the biggest shocks of his life. He told Saturday Sun that he started noticing a change in his 12-year-old daughter recently when she kept mentioning a boy’s name in their conversations who she said always called and sent her messages.
“I was once a teenager and I know how being a teenager comes with having a crush on the opposite sex,” he said. “I was afraid for my daughter because she trusts people easily. She doesn’t understand that life is not that simple.”
Akinloye observed what was going for days and decided to get to the root of the matter. One day, he took his daughter’s phone and texted the boy. He posed as his daughter and asked him to meet her somewhere. He wanted to have a talk first with the boy without involving his daughter.
“When I got to the venue, I waited and before long, I got a WhatsApp message from him saying he was there. I texted back and he looked at it excitedly and started reading it out aloud. That was how I knew he was the one I had been waiting for. But instead of a teenager, I was shocked to see a young man in his twenties.”
Akinloye said he walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder as he was reading out the WhatsApp message. He then introduced himself and warned him never to contact his daughter again otherwise he would get him arrested.
Pedophilia at a glance
According to Dr. Patricia Chiegboka, for decades, psychologists, forensic specialists and others have studied pedophilia, a disorder characterized by recurrent, intense arousing fantasies, urges or behaviors involving sexual activity with a prepubescent child.
As scientists seek to understand how the disorder develops, there is growing consensus that the origin is largely biological. This view is based in part on studies pointing to subtle physical traits that have a higher incidence among pedophiles. Psychological and environmental factors may also contribute, though it is not yet clear what those are or how they interact with developmental conditions, she said.
“The common presumption that pedophiles were themselves abused as children now has less support,” she noted. “Child victims are at far greater risk of future substance abuse, depression, persistent traumatic stress or criminal aggression than becoming molesters.”
“What you see, in their search histories,” Chiegboka said, “is that they (pedophiles) learn to evade law enforcement, they become more confident and they begin to use cognitive distortions to overcome their moral inhibitions.”
Some therapists and researchers say findings from law enforcement officers tend to unfairly tar people who never act on their desires. “This group certainly exists, they are sometimes called virtuous pedophiles,” Chiegboka admits, “but in an era of increasing alarm over the proliferation of online abuse, they are going only further underground.”
Online grooming, the process of persuading a youngster to have sex, online and/or offline, with an adult is at an alarming rate. Research has found that 200 million girls and 100 million boys will be sexually victimized before they reach adulthood, and a significant number of these children will be lured online. However, despite its large societal impact, research into online grooming is limited, particularly when looking at the language used to influence children. Language is the main tool used by sexual predators to groom children online so this gap in our knowledge of how grooming unfolds is quite remarkable.
The way forward
According to Bukola Lameed, Founder and Lead Therapist at Safety Republic International, child protection is a social responsibility that requires the participation of every adult, but parents are saddled with more responsibility as the primary caregivers. She revealed that some steps parents can take to protect their children include the ability to fully recognize that protecting their children from sexual abuse is a responsibility and a call to duty.
The second thing parents of this generation need to do is to empower themselves with necessary healthy information on child safety and protection and child sexual abuse. “This is because as a child handler, you cannot give what you don’t have,” she said before urging. “Never leave your wards in the hands of adults who are not properly trained to protect children and map out a simple family protection policy and safety procedures in your home, ensure it is something everyone can relate with. Parents can also set and urge their children to respect family boundaries.”
Another thing parents can do to protect their children from being victims of pedophiles who are prowling online for victims is to have regular age appropriate sex education with their children and wards. Lameed said that parents should know the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse, abusers/predators bait and red flags to watch out for.
Parents can also help by creating an open trusting relationship and healthy communication channel with their children so that they can feel safe to share their thoughts and feelings with them. This helps to build their self-confidence and esteem. “Giving a child the opportunity to have conversations with you on the dangers she can encounter online and suggesting safety precautions, will help create a sense of belonging and responsibility as to matters that concerns them and this will help them to make better choices,” she said. “Parents can create scenarios of real-life stories and experiences, ask for their opinions, this would drive their message of online safety better rather than enforcing their opinions and projecting their fears. They can also make their children see reasons they will need to make certain decision and ask for their inputs. Children relate better when they know their opinions count in their own safety matters.”