This article will be translated // Bydd yr erthygl hon yn cael ei gyfieithu
2011 was the height of the social networking site Bebo. I know, flash back to the Stone Age. However, it was once a thing, and I was very into it.
I'd sat through those long talks in school and had received lectures at home about online safety and the rules that go with it. But, because I was young, a naive thought of "That will never happen to me and only stupid people get involved with stuff like that" span in my head.
However, it can happen to you. I can't recall precisely what day it was; all I can tell you is that I was bored. I think he added me first. I remember looking though his photographs on his page and thinking "Wow, this older guy adding me as a friend, god I must be lucky."
"As soon as I got home from school, I was on that computer communicating with him"
We started talking almost immediately. Somehow, everything I had ever learned about how to conduct myself in a professional manner, let alone online, was out of the window. I shared things, personal things. As soon as I got home from school, I was on that computer communicating with him, from about 5pm to gone 12 at night. Looking back, I always wonder why my parents didn't question this unusual behaviour, but I had never done anything out of the ordinary before and I had their trust, at the time.
It is arguable that the first mistake I made here was accepting him in the first place. So, I'll skip to the second mistake: I gave him my mobile and home telephone number. Now, as a 14-year-old, to try and explain to your parents why your house phone is ringing at 3am and who even wants to contact you at that time is a tricky situation to get around.
"This was the guilt trip part"
I, myself, was starting to panic at this point, as the phone calls were constant. The messages I would receive if I did not reply were horrific. But, again, being young and naive gives you an illusion that you can handle any situation thrown at you. I confronted him several times through the site, asking why he kept ringing my house, asking why all the messages. The excuse he gave me was "I'm so depressed, I need you, I love you". This was the guilt trip part.
The thing is, as I write this out it, it sounds unbelievably ridiculous. But, at the time, you bet, I genuinely thought I was in love. I'd lie for him, I'd spend all my money on phone credit to talk to him, I was obsessed.
I didn't tell my school friends. The fear of them telling me to cut it off with him was too much to bear, maybe that's because I knew it was wrong and fake, but I wanted it to be real.
"One night I gave out my address"
I spoke to this guy everyday for about a year, before I made the third - and by far the worst - mistake. I was desperate to meet this man who showered me with compliments, the one, therefore, with whom I was on the phone at silly times. I looked after him and, in my mind, he needed me. So, one night I gave out my address. He told me he would meet me up the road from my house and we would drive away together and live happily ever after.
Now, I don't remember exactly how I told my friend but I did, and not in the way you would expect someone in my position to at this moment. Looking back, I did it out of excitement - and not because I was scared, which I should have been. But, I am forever grateful for what my friend did next, even though it was without my knowledge at the time.
It was a school day like any other day; I was awake by 6am and would normally leave for the bus before my parents were awake. I remember feeling nervous as I walked out; looking back I don't think I even packed anything apart from my purse. I walked to the spot where I was supposed to meet him.
"My heart skipped what felt like 1000 beats"
I stood and waited there for a good 10 minutes, waiting for a text of "I'm on my way" or "I'm lost", but it never came. I remember messaging him constantly asking him where he was. Then my parents turned up. My heart skipped what felt like 1000 beats and all I could keep thinking was "What on Earth is my excuse for being here and what am I doing?".
My parents rushed to me. They were angry and upset. The idea was insane, to them, that I thought myself to be in love and I had agreed to run away with someone I had never met. All I can remember at this point was being put in the back of the car and driven home. I later found out it was my friend who had alerted my parents before I had awoken. I was mad, I was in "love". I couldn't understand why everyone was freaking out and crying about it all.
I can't tell you who he was. I still cant. But, I know he is not who I thought he was. There were rumours in school that he had been speaking to other girls there and had tried to lure them into picking them up too. And, the sad reality is, that's true. To my knowledge, he never got caught, but I haven't and will never look for him again, because I managed to get out.
"We have this stupid idea as humans that "it can never happen to us""
If I didn't have that friend who told on me, or the parents that I do, who knows what could have happened; I might not even be here telling you this story. You always see on the news when girls go missing and are never to be seen again, but we have this stupid idea as humans that "it can never happen to us". The reality is though, it can.
I had to detox myself from the online universe for a very long time after this; I think it was 2013 when I next went on a social media site. It was an extremely difficult and emotional roller coaster, but I'm happy now 5-6 years later and forever grateful that I managed to get out of that situation.
"You need to get help, straight away"
If you know anyone who is dealing with an online "relationship" with someone they have never met or plan to meet, you need to get help, straight away. Act as fast as you can, because it can always be you.
Tuesday 9th February 2016 is Safer Internet Day 2016 - keep an eye out for more articles on theSprout about protecting yourself and others online.
If you would like to find out more about keeping yourself safe online, then visit our online safety page.
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP)'s Safety Centre is a great place to find advice and help - it also has a report centre for reporting inappropriate behaviour online to the Police.
Remember, if you're a child or young people in Wales who is 25 years old or younger, you can always contact Meic for information, advice and/or advocacy on any issue - 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year - by instant message, text or freephone.
- Who Is Your Little Brother Or Sister Really Talking To Online?
- Stolen Tears: The Dangers Of Facebook
- Sexting & Sexual Exploitation
- The Internet And His Powers
- NSPCC: Flaw In The Law
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Cover image credit: Don Hankins via Flickr cc