Magazine article Insight on the News

Parental Neglect Leads Teen-Agers to Be Seduced on the Internet

Magazine article Insight on the News

Parental Neglect Leads Teen-Agers to Be Seduced on the Internet

Article excerpt

When she was just 13 years old, Katie Tarbox was sexually molested by a 41-year-old man who had befriended her in one of the world's most popular gathering places for perverts and predators: an online chat room for teens. The man's screen name was "VALLEYGUY." He told Katie his name was "Mark." He bragged that he was a wealthy 23-year-old with "a four-seater Mercedes convertible -- I love it -- a BMW convertible, and a Jeep." When that didn't impress Katie, he boasted: "I have sexy green eyes. Girls love to look into them. What do you look like?"

Despite her apprehension about the "animals" and "weirdos" who populated America Online, or AOL, chat rooms, Katie developed a secret relationship with "Mark" during a six-month period. He listened sympathetically to the vulnerable girl's adolescent fears and frustrations. They talked about movies and music. She played the piano for him over the phone. In March 1996, she agreed to meet him face to face in Dallas -- where her New Canaan, Conn., swim team was traveling for a national competition.

The sordid details of their encounter, and the subsequent federal prosecution of Katie's cyber-seducer (a Calabasas, Calif., financial analyst whose real name was Francis John Kufrovich), are laid out in the teen-ager's new book, Katie.com. Published recently by Dutton Books, this true-life horror story should be required reading for parents in the Internet age.

Feminists and women's magazine reviewers will focus on Katie's youthful critique of our beauty-obsessed culture. The author, now 17 and college-bound, writes candidly of her insecurities about clothes, weight, hair and skin: "At 13, I accepted the image of beauty I saw on the covers of fashion magazines. I thought the Calvin Klein models inside were beautiful. I thought ultra-thinness was beautiful. Beauty was painful. And it was very expensive."

But low self-esteem and societal pressures weren't the main factors in driving Katie to seek companionship on the Net. In a painfully straightforward manner more incisive than any academic, pundit or sociologist's work, Katie indicts parental absenteeism: "Home was a place where I always felt alone. …

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