I was like Amanda Todd
It was the mid to late nineties and things like AOL chat rooms and AIM were just taking off. B had invited me to a sleepover at her house with my only other friends—N and E. B’s parents went to bed early, leaving us alone to their computer in my friend’s family den. The four of us logged into an AOL chat room sometime around 9 p.m. and were private messaged by a man. We, being teenagers, thought this was awesome that we had gotten the attention of an older guy. We gave him a fake first name, told him we were sixteen year olds hanging out at a sleep over and the conversation instantly turned sexually graphic. He could tell by B’s profile that we lived in a suburb nearby, and we could tell by his profile that he was twenty-five—well, at least he claimed to be. He was probably much older, because we were also lying— we were all thirteen.
After hours of sexually graphic conversation, he told us he needed to meet us. He said he had to have sex with the four of us. He said he wanted to teach us how to have sex and please a man the right way. He talked about it like he’d be doing us all a favour.
This was well before “To Catch a Predator” and well before we knew the name Chris Hansen. So after hours of waffling (it was close to 1 a.m. by then), we thought it would be hilarious to see if he would drive to our neighbourhood. His profile said he lived forty miles away from us, and while none of us actually wanted to meet this guy and have sex with him, we wanted to see if we could get an older man to do something—anything for us.
We gave out the address of another house at the end of B’s cul-de-sac. Her neighbor was out of town for the week, as her parents had been collecting her mail. We logged off and laughed to ourselves. What a desperate idiot, we thought. He’d probably get drunk, go to sleep, and forget about us.
An hour later a diesel pickup truck pulled up to the house at the end of the cul-de-sac and we watched from between the blinds in slight amusement, but mainly horror, as this guy walked up to the neighbor’s front door.
He was much older than twenty-five, probably closer to thirty-five. He rang the door bell and then turned to banging on the door. When that didn’t present his throng of sixteen-year-old girls for his sexual pleasure, he got back in the truck, and we breathed a sigh of relief. Seeing him had been terrifying.
But when he got back in the truck, he began doing circles on the cul-de-sac and honking his horn. He rolled down the window, honked the horn, yelled the name we’d given him, and would make another revolution. I remember being curled up on B’s couch under the picture window, and every time the headlights from his truck shone through the blinds and washed over the four of us, now petrified, I would feel my hands and shoulders begin to shake.
What if a neighbor called the cops on this guy? Even worse, what if this guy figured out we lived in the house a few doors down? What would he do if he found us? What if he had a gun?
He did this for a solid hour. Honk, yell, U-turn, repeat. It was around three in the morning when he finally left. I remember I didn’t sleep a minute the rest of the night.
Let me make this very clear; what we did was unbelievably stupid. We learned a lesson that night—or at least I know I did. We never tried that kind of stunt again. In my case, I stopped talking to strangers of any kind online on AOL. If I didn’t know you in real life, I didn’t want to know you in the online realm.
But I couldn’t help but think when I heard about Amanda Todd’s death: what if we had a webcam? What if we’d even had a digital camera? What would have happened? Would a misguided moment result in our naked bodies being exposed to the masses across the internet?
I’m not going to comment on Amanda Todd’s parents. I can only tell you about my situation. Until I was eighteen, my mother and I shared a computer that sat in the family room next to the TV, so as my mother relaxed in the evening, she could monitor my online activities at any point.
She could login to my account, check my browsing history, and talked to me about not giving out personal information online. Despite all her safeguards and an involved mother, I still found myself in a compromising situation with a dirt bag adult that had the potential to get much, much worse.
This was before Facebook, smart phones, and built-in webcams. Every single one of us has made a stupid teenage mistake. What if that mistake lived and circulated online forever? How would you deal with it? What if you switched schools multiple times to avoid it and just when you thought things might get back to normal, that mistake showed up in the inbox of all the teachers and students at your new school?