It wasn’t his daughter’s social media friends who put her in danger. It was the people who used that friendship for a terrible and sinister purpose.

Scott Lee Jenkins

As Scott Lee Jenkins wrote on his blog, Real Life, he first noticed the change in his daughter shortly after she became Instagram friends with “Bruce,” an attractive, seemingly normal, 15-year-old boy.

However, with Bruce came Bruce’s social media circle. And as Jenkins’s young daughter began chatting with Bruce’s friends on Instagram and Kik, her behavior changed. Jenkins wrote:

Shortly after their introduction I began to see a change in my daughter, she was becoming secretive and sneaky.

Well aware of the dangers of online chat and social media, the Michigan dad began checking his daughter’s tablet regularly, looking through her photos and messages to make sure there was nothing alarming there. When he found an odd gap in the messages, he didn’t worry at first.

But two weeks later, he decided to do another check of his daughter’s tablet. That’s when Jenkins saw a photo that sent him on an in-depth search of his daughter’s social media and the people she’d been talking to online. He wrote:

It began with a picture, a questionably inappropriate for a girl her age and the sexy pose set my red flag on fire. So my digging turned into a manhunt checking EVERYTHING in all her accounts.

As Jenkins investigated his daughter’s friends, he learned that Bruce was a real teen boy. Unfortunately, Bruce hadn’t looked too closely at the people who followed him. Those “friends” used Bruce to strike up “friendships” with the girls in Bruce’s network. Jenkins wrote:

I began to use the power of Google to do some searching and looking up secondary accounts of some of the friends in this circle (not something children are willing to do). Once I saw that 4 of the “friends” in the circle were clearly adult men, my heartbreak turned to anger and rage.

Jenkins took what he’d learned to the local authorities and eventually handed over family devices to a cyber crimes task force. Seven months later, Jenkins received a disturbing call from the police, asking his family to come to the police station.

There, an officer told the family that Jenkins’s research likely saved his daughter from abduction. Her naïve friend Bruce was the unwitting tool of a group of sex traffickers. Jenkins wrote:

Bruce was, like I said, a normal 15 year old boy. What I didn’t know was the friends that were men acting as “friends” have set Bruce out as a scout. He was the first safe face that our children see; he unknowingly was luring young girls into his circle as prey for the men to pick and choose from. The circle of Bruce’s friend list reached the globe and his over [2,000] followers were nothing more than a smorgasbord of young, unaware children these men were chatting with.

It was frightening to learn how close his young daughter had come close to falling into the hands of traffickers. And neither she nor her parents had any idea who she was really talking to:

My beautiful girl was prey for these monsters, she was quickly approaching a meetup (in her words) and I fear that I may have never seen my daughter again.

Jenkins now urges all parents to do whatever it takes to monitor their children’s online presence — and that includes looking into their accounts and banning “friends” they don’t really know. Jenkins writes that they may resent your questions, but their safety is more important.

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