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Alicia's Web sites pose a very disturbing question

Wednesday, January 09, 2002

It's hard to know which part of the Alicia Kozakiewicz story is most appalling. Is it that a 38-year-old self-described "master of teen slavegirls" she met on the Internet was able to get her out of her parents' house?

Or that her own Web sites, replete with sexually provocative phrases and pictures of herself, were still up and running yesterday, four days after police found her restrained in the man's bedroom?

That this child's Web sites exist at all is troubling.

They feature, among other more innocent postings, photos of Alicia wet from the shower and draped in a towel, and posed like Lolita, bare-legged with lollipop and teddy bear.

One has to wonder who took these photos, whether her parents knew that she posted them for the world to see, and why, given what's happened, they haven't been shut down.

Charles and Mary Kozakiewicz aren't commenting, so the rest of us can only guess.

Most disturbing of all is one particular snapshot of this girl as a toddler in the bathtub, which might have been one thing in a private family album but in this context looks more like kiddie porn.

It should go without saying -- but, unfortunately, needs to be said again and again -- that no matter how Alicia Kozakiewicz looks and acts, she is still a 13-year-old girl, still a child emotionally and psychologically.

One thing seems clear: These photos reflect learned behavior. You don't have to look past Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera for role models, but millions of girls who follow the singers never put up sites like these.

I asked Massachusetts psychologist Michael Thompson, author of several respected books on children's behavior, to speak in general terms about what might make a young teen portray herself this way.

"Pleasing adults is a universal childhood wish," Thompson said.

"Children try to figure out what they have going that adults would be interested in, and they imagine the eyes of adults marveling at what they can do.

"If adults are interested in your looks, why wouldn't you dream of that? And given how much porn there is on the Internet, some kids would figure that this is what adults are interested in.

"I know kids who say jokingly that if things don't work out in school they'll become porn stars. Where would they get that idea?

"Many, many middle and high school kids have downloaded pornography off the Internet. They're seeing much rawer images than we did at comparable ages.

"Many are disgusted or just curious and keep it in perspective. But some needy kids will think this is the way to get attention."

The phenomenon of girls arranging to meet older men over the Internet is not isolated, he noted. It's happened a couple of times in his part of country in the last few years.

"A smart kid who was not enjoying being a child for various psychological reasons might want to jump into what they saw as an enticing young adulthood," he said.

"The minds of 12- and 13-year-olds are full of fantasies, but you want their fantasies to be just that. To be a child, you have to have people who want to protect your childhood. Otherwise, you might as well get out there and fight for yourself."

As for the men who seek out children for sexual purposes, Thompson said that's an age-old and worldwide phenomenon. In Thailand, where school ends at 13, men from Bangkok pay parents for young girls to work in the sex trade.

"At that age, they are the most sought-after partners," he said. "Men from all over the world travel to Thailand to have sex with them."

But why? As a psychologist, Thompson said he believes some men are frightened by the full body of a woman.

"They don't feel mature enough to deal with a woman in any way. They enjoy the power differential with young adolescents."

And that, he noted, is why parents must remain watchful, involved and ever-vigilant -- to protect their children from predators and, in some cases, to protect them from their own childish fantasies.


Sally Kalson's e-mail address is skalson@post-gazette.com.

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