It started innocently.
Beth was playing a video game on her 15-year-old daughter’s cellphone, when a text message arrived from a guy.
It didn’t sit right. Suspicious about its sender, Beth texted back, unbeknownst to her daughter.
“All I had to do to act like a 15-year-old girl was drop my vocabulary, add a few ‘yeahs’ and smiley faces,” she said. “I had the guy convinced.”
She learned the man was 24, that he met her daughter on Nexopia, a social networking site. She also learned her daughter had sent him explicit photos of herself.
“I texted him and said … ‘You know I’m 15, right? You don’t have a problem with that, do you?’ He said, ‘No, of course not, baby.’”
The name Beth is a pseudonym used to protect her daughter’s identity, in compliance with a publication ban imposed by the court.
Over five days, starting July 8, Beth exchanged dozens of messages with the man, with the goal of gathering enough evidence to secure a conviction. His intentions, she said, were “lewd and crude sexual acts.”
When he initiated sexual texting, she invited him over on a premise of being at home alone.
“I thought I better get this guy over here, and I better talk to him,” explained Beth.
On July 13, he agreed to take the bus to Beth’s house. At first she wanted her own justice, but then had second thoughts and called police.
Waiting by the door, holding pepper spray and wearing steel-toed boots, she didn’t know who would arrive first.
“My mother bear instincts kicked in, and I was just ready to take down somebody who presented a potential harm to my children.”
Another text arrived: he was down the street and on his way.
She ran out the door to meet him halfway, but police arrived first.
Victoria police Const. Mike Russell confirmed police arrested Neil F., last name withheld, and confiscated his computer. He is charged with Internet luring of a person under 16, and invitation to sexual touching of a person under 16. His next court appearance is Oct. 15.
“I want children to be aware. I want mothers to be aware,” said Beth, who has had serious conversations with her daughter about safety and the Internet.
But this isn’t a simple story about combatting Internet predation.
It’s also a tale about another mother going to great lengths to keep her son out of harm’s way.
Fiona Gow, a lawyer based in Oak Bay, adopted Neil as a baby.
“(Neil’s natural mother) was honest. She told me she’d consumed alcohol and drugs during the initial part of the pregnancy,” said Gow.
As a young child, Neil would light fires and call 911 when they got out of control. His fetal alcohol syndrome didn’t allow him to see the consequences in advance.
When calm, he was loving and caring, but when overwhelmed, he’d explode.
He needed constant support. But when he turned 19, the provincial government ruled he no longer qualified for funding because his IQ of 79 was too high.
Gow took her case to the B.C. Supreme Court.
“They couldn’t just apply a blanket IQ test for determining who would or would not be eligible for services,” Gow said.
“There’s so much more involved in what allows a person to function well and safely in society and their capacity to care for themselves. Neil’s (capacity) is unfortunately very low.”
Gow’s successful case made headlines, and Neil’s words at the time were sadly prophetic.
“If I didn’t have support, I would choose the wrong way,” he was quoted as saying in 2006.
Now, one of Gow’s main concerns is that Neil be able to keep his private housing.
“We’re really hoping that what happened with this young girl doesn’t put that in jeopardy, because it would be quite devastating for him and us if he were to lose his current accommodation.”
Despite winning continued funding through the courts, Gow and her husband are Neil’s primary support system. No support worker checks in on him.
Recently, Gow met him for lunch, as she tries to do every week.
“He said to me he’d really like to have a steady relationship with someone, and that’s really what’s behind it (the charges). It’s that real need for companionship, because he’s not predatory.”
But, Gow added, “I can certainly understand from (Beth’s) point of view, she’d think he’s a monster.”
Neil didn’t know about legal age of consent, Gow said. “I’m sorry to say, it wasn’t something we’d ever discussed with him … It would be so much better if he were living with us but it’s just too difficult.”
As a result of the charges, Neil’s Internet has been cut off and his cellphone confiscated.
Beth’s daughter’s Internet access is also restricted with a password, and her cellphone taken away.
It has been an experience that cuts deep for Beth. Back when she was 15, she hooked up with a 33-year-old man.
“Had somebody stepped in, I wouldn’t have done the things I did,” she said.
Beth got pregnant and eventually fled with their one-year-old daughter to escape the man’s abuse.
Now that one year old is 15 years old.
Since the arrest, she’s been terrified and had nightmares, said Beth.
“A few days after, my daughter was weeding the garden and she started crying, and she said ‘Mom, I was just thinking about all the moms who wouldn’t have done anything.’”
Beth’s stomach has also been churning constantly. But her perspective has evolved.
“I don’t think we’re the real victims here. I think Neil is the real victim … I see him as someone needing help.”
Neil F. has been referred to Victoria’s Integrated Court, and is being supervised by a community response team.
The separate court stream deals exclusively with people suffering from mental illness, addiction and other vulnerabilities. Its aim is to ensure sentencing includes support networks to help break the cycle of crime.
Proceedings of the integrated court are closed to the public. For this reason, the News has decided to withhold the last name of the accused.
Did you know?
• The age of consent refers to the age at which a young person can legally consent to sexual activity ranging from sexual touching (e.g., kissing) to sexual intercourse. The age of consent for sexual activity is 16 years, raised from 14 years in May 2008
• Between 2003-04 to 2006-07, there were 17 people charged with both child luring and invitation to sexual touching in Canada. Of those, seven were found guilty.