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"Be true to your work and your work will be true to you." Those are the words inscribed on the seal of New York's famous and praiseworthy Pratt Institute. The school has a history that spans back in time to well over a century ago, which has left the campus adorned with many architectural landmarks. Distinguished faculty members take pride in what they have to offer their students. One such individual, Steven Dovas, whose expertise is in the area of animation, spent many hours in his office doing what most assumed was "being true to his work." However, that was not always the case. When Steven slipped into his office and closed the door behind him, sometimes work was his priority. Often he focused on his own needs, needs that had nothing to do with furthering his career or the needs and reputation of his employer.
Sitting at his desk, Steven booted up his computer hoping to find someone to his liking. He was looking for female companionship, someone who would fulfill his every desire. He must have believed that the Internet would be the place where those dreams could come true. So, he logged onto America Online in his quest to find that one special girl. One day, as Steven perused the chatrooms, scouring the profiles of those whose AOL screen names interested him, he came across one that immediately caught his attention. It was anything but subtle. It revealed the person's name, her age, her location, her likes and dislikes, as well as a full description of her: long blonde hair, blue eyes, 5'2". She was online; he could not resist. He instant messaged Julie hoping for a reply. To his delight, she responded and they chatted for quite awhile, revealing just enough details to hold each other's interest. He seemed excited about his new acquaintance and her eagerness to chat with him. And, she was just as excited about hers. It was obvious to Julie that Steven wanted to be more than friends.
As the days passed, Steven thought of Julie. He often booted up his computer and looked for her. As soon as he saw her name appear on his buddy list, he would instant message her right away. She always responded. At first, they talked mainly about Julie's interests and her family. He seemed more cautious than she was about revealing too much about himself. They traded pictures and exchanged some minor personal details about themselves.
As their chats became more regular, Steven began to open up and discussed subjects of a more intimate nature. He told Julie how much he had missed her since their last chat and how he was hoping to someday meet her. She liked hearing that. When he saw that she was flattered by his comments, and also interested in meeting him, the intimacy soon turned into sex talk. He asked her about past affairs. She hesitantly shared that she had never been with anyone. Steven expressed admiration for her, commending her for saving herself for that special someone. And, as time passed, he carefully described all of the things he wanted to show her someday. Julie responded that she was anxious to learn from him. He knew that their relationship had moved to the next level.
As the dialogue continued, Steven increasingly monopolized the chats with talk about sex. He appeared to be fixated on it, and the more responsive Julie was, the more descriptive he got. It wasn't long before their communications were mostly about sex.
When Steven felt that he had gained Julie's complete trust, he asked her if she would call him. She agreed. He gave her his office phone number and anxiously waited for her call. He quickly answered, and when he heard Julie's voice, he became excited. He talked casually at first, asking how she was and telling her how nice it was to finally talk to her. She was shy. It was easier for her to chat on the computer. She didn't really have any experience with the opposite sex. She tried her best not to let on to him how nervous she was. Eventually, she grew more comfortable and they had several phone conversations. There were times when Steven's voice grew low and the conversation would turn to sex. He would go into detail about all of the things that he wanted to do to her. Then, there were long periods of silence from him, followed by more details. During those times, Julie barely had a chance to respond. Steven's breathing would become heavy as he commented about how much he liked her voice and how excited he felt listening to her. He would often ask her to say certain seductive things to him. She hesitantly agreed. He would tell her what to say and she would repeat it. But, Steven would often abruptly end the call, saying that he had to get back to work. Julie was surprised to be cut off so quickly. Several similar phone calls took place until Steven asked her out on a date. They agreed to meet at City Hall Park in Manhattan. It was then that the situation moved beyond the point of no return.
Steven and Julie's story resembles that of a steamy romance novel-full of love and lust. But there is one crucial detail missing: two consenting adults. When Steven, using the AOL screen name RoyLpain, first made contact with Julie, he was a respected teacher, lecturer, and well-known filmmaker and commercial animator who had been praised for his work on various projects for children's television segments for Nickelodeon, HBO, and Sesame Street. But today, he is best described as a convicted sex offender. Steven Dovas is a child predator, an adult who desires sex with children. He went after Julie thinking that she was thirteen years old. But, Julie is made up of two people: FBI Special Agent Austin Berglas, known on AOL as "Julie13nyc;" and me-a concerned citizen, who uses the AOL screen name "Teen2hot4u."
In truth, the thirteen-year-old girl that Steven Dovas thought he was communicating with does not exist. She is one of a number of fictitious teenagers created for the purpose of weeding out Internet predators. The teen's voice on the other end of Dovas' phone conversations was mine. On the telephone, I usually portray Julie. Sometimes I speak to the predators as Lorie, also known as Teen2hot4u. I am not an FBI agent, nor am I a law enforcement officer. But, I am also not a thirteen-year-old girl. I am very good at what I do, which is why the FBI has allowed me into their circle of trust. On the Internet and on the telephone, I can convince anyone that I am a young teen. I know the lingo, and I can speak the part. So, while men like Steven Dovas occupy themselves trying to make young girls their victims, they had better be very careful that they don't run into me first, because it will be their last stop before a prison cell.
When Steven Dovas showed up at City Hall Park to meet Julie, he was greeted instead by a squad of FBI agents, and arrested.
The government's complaint against him stated that he had initiated over forty Internet chats and a number of telephone conversations with the girl he was trying to meet. All of those communications included graphic depictions of the sexual acts that he had planned to engage in with his young victim.
Steven Dovas' story is not unlike that of most convicted sex offenders who search for children online. He first came across Julie in an Internet chatroom while on a quest to find young girls to meet for sex. She seemed like just the right type for him. She was the only child of a single mom, and she had no experience with boys. Due to her mother's long working hours, she spent a lot of time alone at home on the Internet. His intention was to "groom" her, a maneuver that sexual predators use to gain a child's trust and reduce their inhibitions with the ultimate goal of initiating physical contact. He used the chats, emails, and phone calls to build up Julie's self-esteem and make her feel comfortable enough to talk to him about sex. He gently asked whether she had siblings, what her father was like, and whether her mother was home a lot. Was her mother strict? Did she give Julie a lot of freedom? He encouraged her to talk about school, what grade she was in, and where she lived. Her answers convinced Steven that he had found the perfect mark, because Julie had enough free time to sneak away and meet him without arousing her mother's suspicions. He spent many long hours chatting with her about how much he liked her and all the fun they would have if they ever met. When he felt the time was right, he brought up the subject of sex, and praised her for not having been with a boy yet. He said that he wanted to be the one to teach her everything, and when he thought he had that chance, he took it. Predators like this almost always have numerous victims while on their mission to seduce children.
Upon his arrest, Dovas' background with children's programming led to newspaper headlines that ran the gamut from "'Sesame' Prof Hit in Perv Sting" to "Brought to Jail by the Letters S, E, and X." He was charged with using the Internet to persuade, induce, entice, and coerce an individual younger than eighteen years old to engage in sexual activity. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to five years in a federal prison; five years supervised release; a $10,000 fine; and attendance in a sex offender program. He was lucky. Based on the charges, he could have received thirty years.
Steven Dovas was a very prominent individual. He was married, successful, and well respected. A Google search yields pages of links to his many achievements. Yet, he succumbed to his desires and lost everything when he put his entire life on the line for a moment of sex with a child. Now he sits in a jail cell, and like most other incarcerated sexual predators, he probably wonders what he did that was so terribly wrong. After all, according to what many of them say, they are only giving the child the kind of love that they deserve. Unfortunately, these predators have the convoluted notion that if they do not force themselves on a child, the sex is consensual, and therefore, it should not be considered illegal. With over 550,000 sex offenders registered nationwide, you would think they would figure out that their opinion is not relevant. Their behavior is illegal and, if caught, they will go to jail. But they have an addiction, and these deviants stop at virtually nothing. And, I will stop at nothing to find them and turn them over to the FBI. The fact is that my odds are much better than theirs. While there is no doubt that the Internet has dramatically increased the access of child predators to their young prey, it has also increased the chances that law enforcement officials will catch them. Since the Internet is now one of the most commonly used methods by which sexual predators entice children into illicit sexual relationships, law enforcement agencies all over the country are forming squads for the sole purpose of catching them before they can victimize another child.
Unfortunately, most sexual predators have already left a trail of hurt and trauma behind them, so it is important that we do everything in our power to stop these criminals in their tracks. Just as sexual predators hide anonymously behind their computer screens, so do law enforcement agents, and so do I. Unfortunately for Steven Dovas, he sits among the throngs of sexual predators who have crossed my path while I continue to lie in wait for my next prey.
So, who am I? When it comes to catching sexual predators, I can best be described as two different people. Sometimes, I am Julie. Most of the time, I am Lorie. And, in my other life, the one that has nothing to do with deviant perverts, I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an attorney, a news producer, and an author. What I do on the Internet is the clandestine part of my life that stays hidden from most who know me. After all, it is not easy telling your friends that you spend most of your time searching for sexual predators. I also never know who might be within earshot. It could be a local Internet predator who might end up going offline to find victims after hearing about me. But, more importantly, up until now, I have shared my secret with only a few select people because what I do puts me in harm's way. I never made it public knowledge before because someone might retaliate against me for having caught one of their loved ones, or friends, or them. But this story must be told, regardless of the consequences.
Not too long ago, I received several threats when one of my screen names was revealed in a newspaper article after an arrest was made. People were instant messaging and emailing me nasty comments and warnings. Some said they would hurt me for what I do; one individual told me that I would "never be able to get them all." It is amazing that they do not realize how easy it is to find out who they are. I have no interest in those people yet. Their threats are as meaningless to me as the depraved individuals who hide behind their computer screens lurking around for children who cannot defend themselves. But, I do keep track of them. After each threat that I receive, I put their names on my buddy list, and it is not long before I recognize them as people who hang out in the same chatrooms that I frequent looking for sexual predators. They just haven't approached me yet. But, they will. People forget quickly.
When I sign onto the Internet, I transform into a different person-a curious, naïve child. As Lorie, I play the part of a teenage girl who goes online looking for older men who are interested in teaching me about grown-up things. I sit in chatrooms and wait for them to find me. Yes, you read that correctly. I frequent their loathsome hangouts and wait for them to make their move. I have developed Internet screen names and profiles that clearly reflect that I am very young, and they come in droves to pursue me, one instant message after another.
A screen name is like a tag. I use those that identify me as a child. For example, my most famous screen name, the one most responsible for the capture and conviction of several sexual predators, is Teen2hot4u. It clearly shows that I am a teenager. How young I am can be seen in my profile that states that I am thirteen. Agent Berglas' screen name was Julie13nyc. People familiar with the Internet chat world would easily recognize that to be Julie's name, her age, and her location. As with Teen2hot4u, many people don't use their real names in their screen name. Some use names that indicate a hobby, like Surfergrl or Tennisany1. While Lorie is not my screen name, it is one of the names that I use in my profile which is filled with all of the details that I think will attract child predators. All they have to do is click on my screen name, and my profile shows up on the screen. In it, I include my age and other information that makes me appear to be a young teen.
Using my screen names, I sign onto the Internet and go into chatrooms that most likely cater to sexual predators, otherwise known in the legal world as predicated chatrooms. Through experience, I have learned where to find them. They are easy to spot and are always filled with people who frequent the same types of rooms. These predators go from one chatroom to the next, checking out profiles to see who might be an easy mark.
Once I have myself situated in a room, it never takes more than a couple of minutes before I am bombarded with instant messages. I receive so many, in fact, that I have no choice but to weed some out. I do that by reading their profiles to see if I can spot people who live within traveling distance from Lorie. It is far more likely that a predator will look closer to home for a child rather than travel several hundred miles away. Some will travel, but it is less common. I look for indications of their age, because I don't want to chat with children. I eliminate those who state they are only interested in trading pictures, chatting online or on the phone, and not meeting in person. Those are the ones who are usually only interested in fantasizing and/or role-playing, and not meeting in real time, meaning outside of the Internet. I also avoid most people who do not have a profile, unless their screen name clearly indicates that they are from somewhere close enough for a meeting. For example, a screen name such as ChicagoJoe or Dallasman generally suggests the person's location. If it merely says Joe123htu and they have no profile, I sometimes skip over them by ignoring their instant message. But, if their screen name indicates that they are looking for younger girls, for example, Man4ynggrl, I might take a chance.
Excerpted from EXPOSED by R. STEPHANIE GOOD Copyright © 2007 by R. Stephanie Good . Excerpted by permission.
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Posted December 13, 2009
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