11-06-2017 09:58 AM
My 17 year old son is gay. No issues around it; he is fully supported and accepted by his entire family. He has never been in a relationship before. He struck up an online friendship with a man who is 34. We live in NSW and this person lives in VIC. They have been conducting their friendship for nearly six months. They speak daily on the phone and on FaceTime, as well as text. He has sent my son a very expensive pair of headphones. He now wants to come to Sydney so he and my son can meet 'in person'.
Obviously, the age gap is of great concern. It has nothing to do with him being gay; I would have the same concern if it were my straight daughter was in this position.
My son has high functioning Asperger's and is currently under the care of a Psychiatrist for anxiety and depression, for which he takes daily medication. He is a very vulnerable young man who has a terrible relationship with his father (we are divorced) and they are not in contact with each other, so he really doesn't have a strong, competent male role model.
My son and I have had several heated discussions (as well as quite a few calm ones) about his relationship with this man, who he claims is his 'soul mate' and the 'love of his life' and this man claims to feel the same way about my son. My son has told me he has sent this man compromising pictures of himself, and I expect the same is true is reverse, although my son hasn't confirmed this. There is no point trying to put an end to it - it will only drive my son to take it underground. At least at the moment he is still talking to me about it. We made an agreement that he had to focus on his studies (he is a straight A student but has dropped the ball lately) and that the hours long phone calls every night had to stop. Basically, I agreed to let it continue but they had to cool the jets a bit so my son could focus on his HSC, which he will be sitting next year. We agreed that there would be no physical meeting until my son had completed his HSC by which time he would be 18, so this sudden notice that the man wants to come to Sydney has caused great upset and concern.
My son doesn't seem to understand the implications of the age difference; all he cares about is that he is 'in love' and now considers himself to be in a committed relationship. I don't want my son being taken advantage of. This is a school boy who, whilst being mature in some ways, still plays lightsaber battles with his little brothers and rides his skateboard out on the street with all the neighbourhood kids. He needs everything done for him - he is completely incapable of completely taking care of himself. He is still very much a child, in my opinion.
Today I received a very long email from this man in which he confirmed that he loves my son and despite the age difference, which he admits is problematic, he doesn't have any ill intent or ulterior motives. The heart wants what the heart wants, kind of thing.
I called LifeLine because I don't know what to do. The person I spoke to agrees with me that this is a case of child grooming. She advised me to go to the police. I don't want to ruin this mans life or cause any trauma to my son at this precarious time in his life. But I also need to advocate for, and protect my child. All my instincts tell me this is wrong.
I have searched online and I can't find any information at all about the legalities of this situation. Everything regarding child exploitation and grooming seems to cut off at 16 years of age. Can anyone help? Does anyone have information - a web link or article - that confirms a child is still a child until they turn 18? Anything at all would be of enormous assistance.
Am I wrong about this? What are your opinions on this situation - any advice would be appreciated.
Thanks for your patience in reading this long post
11-06-2017 10:54 AM
Hey @MumOfFour - so glad that you found us and so sorry to hear about this really difficult time. I think it's best to get some legal advice (I'll let you know some options below), and we can not give legal advice but it does seem that the grooming laws in both NSW and VIC are for under 16. However, even if this is not a legal matter, it's an ethical one and I understand your concerns about the power imbalance.
Sounds like you are doing so well - it's awesome that both your son and the man in Victoria are communicating with you. Which is great, really important to keep those lines of communication open.
You mentioned that your son is under the care of a psychiatrist - does you son get any therapy or counselling? If so has he talked to them about this man & the relationship? Who does your son talk to besides from you, and can they help? Is he interested in talking to anyone about it?
For more info on the legal implications, try LawAccess on 1300 888 529, Monday to Friday, 9am–5pm.
Some other parents will probably jump in shortly....
11-06-2017 11:36 AM
Thank you for your reply. Yes, both he and I have spoken to his psychiatrist (she is a well-known child and adolescent psychiatrist) and she has counselled him at length about her great concern regarding his online activities. She is concerned that he is very vulnerable, very easily manipulated and very easy to be taken advantage of. Totally against my wishes, he goes on Grinder and Scruff and other gay meeting sites, which he claims is purely to find friends, people to talk to, as the area we live in isn't exactly teeming with gay teenagers that he can befriend. He also finds social situations very stressful and has few friends, so online 'invisible' friendships are much easier for him. These websites require you to be over 18 but obviously it's no effort to get around that. He also has weekly appointments with the school counsellor, although the conversations he has with her are not made available to me. He has a lot of extra support at school and I am in contact with his school frequently (almost daily, it seems, some weeks).
I agree that this is most definitely an ethical matter, first and foremost and, in my opinion, upon finding out my son is underage and still at school, this man should have shut-down the contact.
Thanks for the contact details of LawAccess. I will give them a call.
11-06-2017 12:12 PM - edited 11-09-2017 10:57 AM
Hi @MumOfFour, welcome to the forum and thank you for sharing your situation. You're in a really difficult position with your son and my heart goes out to you. For me, my alarm bells were ringing the whole time reading your post. The age gap is huge, especially seeing your son is only 17. 'What is a 34 year old wanting with a vulnerable 17 year old??' is shouting at me. I would be very concerned about them exchanging photos as well, and would look into the legal implications around that. It's called 'sexting'. And once these photos are sent, they can end up anywhere.
I understand your son feels he is in love and has found his soulmate, but I think the safety of your son has to be priority here. I agree that you should contact the police. They would also be the best ones to talk to about all the legalities, or otherwise. 131 444 is the number in NSW, but if you google 'police hotline', you can search for other states.
My personal opinion is that it sounds like he is grooming you as well, to be able to access your son. I really urge you to seek police advice. I think it's better to be safe than sorry.
**I realise this sounds ridiculous, which is why I thought I'd add an explanation! My daughter was sexually abused by a boyfriend of mine, and the police told me that men will date women to get at their kids, and they believed that's what happened in my case. It's not something I would have ever considered could happen! The fact that he'd contacted you to try and get you on board didn't sit quite right, which is why I mentioned it. And I could absolutely be so wrong!**
Good on you for reaching out for support. I can hear how worried you are about this, and sometimes hearing from others helps us to feel confident in our decisions moving forward. It's awesome that you and the family fully support your son, and I agree with you completely, this issue has nothing to do with him being gay. This is about his safety and well being.
What do you think?
11-06-2017 12:40 PM
Hey @MumOfFour, reading your last comment made me think of the ReachOut Youth Forum. It's a safe place for teens to connect and is moderated by ReachOut staff.
It could be a great place for your son to connect with other teens. Do you think he'd be interested in checking in out? The link is here if you'd like to have a look.
11-06-2017 01:23 PM
Hey again @MumOfFour - please let us know how you go with LawAccess.
I agree that this is not a LGBT issue as you said, but as you've described him really navigating all these issues specific to belonging & community - online apps etc, perhaps it is worthwhile checking in with Twenty10 to see what they think? They are a youth LGBT support service that might be able to help him connect in with other LGBT people his own age?
I agree with Taokat that calling the police hotline for info could also help you make decisions about what next....
11-06-2017 03:39 PM
Absolutely - what DOES a 34 year old see in a 17 year old school kid? Nothing at all about being gay, all about the huge age gap and where this could lead for my son who really is not emotionally equipped to handle it at all.
I have already looked into the sexting issue - totally illegal for this man to possess such images, even if they were willing sent by my son, and my son himself is actually putting himself at risk of legal prosecution, the thought of which terrifies me. It all just confirms even further how out of his depth he is.
Thanks for the information - I really did not know who to go to for help with this. I Googled like a mad woman but nothing came up by way of support, except for this page.
11-06-2017 08:30 PM
I really feel for you @MumOfFour. I really hope the info we've given can help you and get you the advice you need. Let us know how you go with Twenty10 and the Youth Forum. I really hope your son can find benefit from both or either of them.
I'm glad you found us and we're here to listen and support as best we can.
Let us know how you get on.
11-08-2017 12:40 PM
Hey @MumOfFour - how have you been going? Did you contact any of the other services we mentioned and what did they say?
Other parents who find themselves in this situation in the future might be able to learn from your experience....
11-14-2018 06:54 PM
As a 35 year old Mother of an almost 17 gay son, in the eyes of the law and definitely Social Services your Son is a Minor he's under 18 and this person is an adult. It totally sickens me I had my son at 18 so there is a 17 year age gap between your son and this man and 18 years between myself and my son. I wouldn't and couldn't look at or think of a 17 year old in that way they're nowhere near an adult in the mind.
Personally I would contact the police as the buying headphone's looks like grooming behaviour. My Mum was a child protection social worker for over 20 years I am lucky I am very aware of the uses of Social Media for grooming. While your son is under 18 you could get him to agree to webwatcher or something similar it notifies you of any bullying, grooming behaviour or anything that puts your child at risk. He is 17 now, so he probably won't agree, but if there is nothing to hide and it only sends alerts suitable for his age he might agree.
I would be majorly concerned how do you know this person is who they say they are? They could be a registered sex offender using a different name.
My son became friendly with someone roughly 5-6 years older it only took 2 weeks of me not checking his messages, my son was 13, the other man was 18/19 maybe a victim of abuse himself he used every trick in the book sending images of self harm, threatening suicide and manipulating and insisting my son had to send indecent images fortunately my son didn't back down although there were some of this man for the police to see. . My son honestly thought this horrid pervert was going to kill himself the night he stayed at my Parent's he got my Dad to drop him off there and lied saying it was a friend from School ( this would never have worked with me, i'd have wanted to see who he was meeting and meet the parents). Anyway the man tried it on, plus trying to touch him outside of his trousers, He pushed him over and ran, he was very lucky. I knew as soon as e came home and he told me everything. The person was charged not with much at all .
They use snapchat ( it's gone after 5 seconds unless the person screenshots the image) more than factime anything on FaceTime is traceable and Facebook once deleted the police can retrieve.
After me being so aware and checking messages ( not reading those to his friends, just older people I didn't know) warning them off and anything inappropriate a phone call to the police I thought my son wouldn't be at risk.
This man shouldn't be seeking out a 17 year old. I would make the police aware and talk to my son letting him know why, these people are so cunning, charming and manipulative and even if not a registered sex offender many just haven't been caught. You could contact the police with your concerns and find out you are not the only one. someone I had reported I later received a phone call about as many Parent's had found much worse on their children's phones etc, fortunately i'd scared him off so there was nothing to report other than what I had prior.
My son agreed after coming out that I could monitor his Facebook and Social Media activity, know he's almost 17 I know the time will come at 18 when maybe I can't use one of the apps to keep our teenager's safe and I have put his true age so it gives me peace of mind and anyone who is not within his age range contacting him or grooming behaviour I will be notified.
I feel my son had a wake up call that has made him much wiser he blocks everyone now who is older or he doesn't know.
It is scary for us as Parent's as we want to be understanding and not go against our child's wishes, but keeping them safe is paramount. Maybe ask if you can talk to this man, in England Sarah's law is finally out so if you or a minor are in a relationship the police will run a background check/ criminal record. Again it is very hard to get a conviction.
One of the things my Mum told me was to make sure he doesn't ever have his School or college on Facebook, it's very easy to ask the colour of a uniform and what area they live in they already know what your child looks like they're easy to find.
I don't mean to scare you, but I would definitely advise talking to your son about informing the police for your own peace of mind, if nothing shows there. I would encourage him to mix with people his own age. Personally I wouldn't let him meet this man he could get snatched he could be part of a paedophile ring. I find it very odd a man of my age would be interested in my Son's age. I'd indirectly threaten with the police to be totally honest, then see if he continues contact with your son, be well aware they try to groom the family too and gain trust.
Hopefully your son will get bored of him, or have a gut feeling telling him something isn't right or maybe he wants you to do this for him? I'd put a tracker on his phone me and my son agreed to that too, well we've just linked our iphones. If he does agree to meet this man I'd make sure it's a public place and a few of you go with him and watch. Paedophile's gain trust, I don't think anything would happen at the first meeting. If this man knows you are very vigilant he'll more than likely know he's not going to get anywhere and back off, but keep in mind he has had many months of gaining your son's trust.
I do hope hope this man goes away and all is resolved. I'm sorry if this seems extreme, but none of us would want to live in regret.