GLEN DALE, W.Va. (WTRF) — This is the young girl who faced a trauma no one had ever seen before.
Pittsburgh native Alicia Kozak was just 13 years old when an older man lured her outside her house and held her captive in Virginia.
After her abuse was shown online, an informant led law enforcement to the house, where she was rescued after four days.
It was the first documented case of the internet being used for such a horrific purpose.
But instead of simply moving past the trauma, she made the brave decision to start speaking publicly about it, while still barely a teenager.
There was no internet safety education at all. And I wanted to protect my peers, I wanted to protect people my age.Alicia Kozak, Internet safety expert, abduction survivor
Twenty years later, she’s reached millions with her story, which now include the teens of John Marshall High School.
She spoke about how predators disguise themselves to the lonely and isolated, and a firsthand account of how difficult it is to escape grooming…especially from those who don’t look like abusers.
I’ve had a number of kids who have come up and said, ‘I was going to go meet somebody, and now I’m not, thank you, I realized I was being groomed.’Alicia Kozak, Internet safety expert, abduction survivor
But the world we live in today couldn’t be more different from the one Kozak faced in 2002.
Chat rooms have turned into Instagram posts with a global reach.
It’s a shift that she says has led to a change in her approach.
When I first started speaking out, I would actually tell students ‘you don’t need to be on the internet. Why do you need to be on the internet?’ Which sounds so silly now, but it was true back then. Now they have to be online.Alicia Kozak, Internet safety expert, abduction survivor
Now she has a different message for Generation Z: you are your own first line of defense.
With kids always having the upper hand on their parents on technology, she says they have to see the danger for themselves.
It’s not a matter of if they’ll be in harm’s way, it’s when…and they can face down whatever’s on the other side of that screen.
It’s about empowering them to make those right decisions, to tell them what is dangerous. Because what you don’t know can hurt you.Alicia Kozak, Internet safety expert, abduction survivor