As an abduction survivor and missing persons advocate, I am all too aware that statistically, of the approximately 400,000 children reported missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children each year, many of the 100 children who have been abducted by strangers will never come home.
Thirteen-year-old Jayme Closs just beat those odds. Miraculously, so did I. Like Jayme, I was only 13 when I was groomed and lured from my home by an Internet predator who kidnapped me and held me captive. I was abused and my suffering was live streamed to viewers online. Amazingly, I was rescued and given a second chance at life. Sadly, this does not happen for every missing child.
Though the statistics are grim, there are children who will survive, and despite everything, will return home safely. Jayme’s survival is another beacon of hope for those families who search tirelessly for their children. This is why we must never lose hope and never stop searching. Every child deserves to be found, and beyond that, to live their best life after recovery.
All survivors of child abduction have their own unique experience. But the steps to recovery in the aftermath are where our experiences intertwine. Based on my own experience, here is some advice I would give to Jayme, her family and the public.
In these early days, Jayme needs time and space, and her privacy must be respected.
Additionally, traumatic experiences can result in hypersensitivity. Emotions may run from one end of the spectrum to the other in mere seconds. Even the most gentle of touches, welcomed one moment, may be unbearable the next. Jayme’s family may learn that she will need to set new boundaries, and that while this can be highly confusing to all, they are hers to set.
Public curiosity often becomes both invasive and painful. There are aspects of Jayme’s captivity that she may never wish to share. We may never know, nor do we need to know, the horrors that this child may have experienced. Everyone must be cognizant of the fact that Jayme’s existence goes beyond the headlines, and she must be allowed to continue her healing without interference.
This world that she has been thrown into, one that she did not ask for, will be difficult to navigate. I’ve traveled these waters and know how invasion of privacy and misguided public perception can impede the recovery process. People often speculate about how they would react if faced with a dire situation. Never judge survivors for what they did, or did not do, in order to survive. Whatever choices they may have made were the right ones because they kept them alive – and that is heroic.
In the end, this is Jayme’s story and hers alone.
After Jayme’s abduction, after mine and so many others’, there will be a new child’s face on the “missing” poster; another local community will have a child abductor in its midst. There will be yet another devastated family, shocked and drowning in disbelief and utter terror.
The saddest part of all is that through education, communication and effective legislation, many of these tragedies might have been avoided.
That’s why at the age of 14, barely a year after my rescue, I founded the Alicia Project, pioneering survivor-driven Internet safety education. Through Alicia Project school presentations, I have shared my story to educate other children, empowering them with the ability to protect themselves.
Jayme, you are an amazing young girl and I am so proud of you and am astounded by your bravery. This may be a long, and often difficult journey with many ups and downs, but over time, you will reclaim your life and forge your path. Please, do not let this define you. You are so much more than what has happened to you.
I addressed members of Congress, advocating for the Protect Our Children Act which would fund specialized law enforcement to not only rescue children from predators but to locate predators and prevent them from harming children in the first place.
Presently, alongside The National Association to Protect Children, I am advocating to pass my namesake Alicia’s Law in all 50 states.
Today, children in 11 states are protected through the funding that this law provides for the support of the Internet Crimes Against Children task forces (ICAC). Through Alicia’s Law funding, the Wisconsin ICAC have trained a new K9 officer, Kozak (named after me), who assisted in the search for Jayme.
It’s really a small world. We touch each others’ lives in so many ways.
Jayme, you are an amazing young girl and I am so proud of you and am astounded by your bravery. This may be a long, and often difficult journey with many ups and downs, but over time, you will reclaim your life and forge your path.
Please, do not let this define you. You are so much more than what has happened to you. My wish for you is to live your life to the fullest and follow your dreams. Please know I am here for you – now or in the future.