Written by: Daeden Jessop
Images by: Filipa Thespian
It occurred in a Second Life nightclub years ago. She was unwinding from a hard day and laughing and joking with other patrons when she met him. This man who would change her life. She was vulnerable with a low self-esteem and naive about the dangers online and it showed. He knew this type of girl well. She believed no one wanted her, and he could see her inner pain draped around her like a banner. She was prime for the picking, and she quickly became his next target.
In the succeeding weeks he worked on her slowly, gently folding back the layers of her psyche and inserting himself within her consciousness with small kindnesses and compliments; always supportive. He was available any second of the day or night when she needed him, and he demonstrated an intense interest in anything and everything she had to say about her life. Never had she met a man before who paid such close attention to her and her thoughts and feelings. He was always there like no one in her real life had ever really been and to him all her deepest thoughts and desires came pouring out. Amazingly, she was surprised at how well he knew her. But of course he knew her, he scoped her “type” out very carefully before investing himself.
More weeks went by and the bond grew tighter and closer, and she grew to think the world of him ignoring all the warning signs and red flags. He expected almost constant communication with her through various online mediums. If he was not able to reach her he would get agitated and make her feel guilty for “worrying” him. He conditioned her to trust him above all others, he was her “soul mate” after all, and he’d protect her always. Yet he kept her isolated from anyone else who knew him and increasingly from those who knew her.
When she caught him in lies or telling inconsistent stories, he never skipped a beat either explaining it away or accusing her of not trusting him. Eventually, she became too afraid of upsetting him to ask too many questions. She simply accepted what he told her as fact, despite the contradictions in his stories. She walked on eggshells when around him afraid that he would take back his love if she rocked the boat too much.
His hold on her mind and heart was so strong that there was nothing he couldn’t get her to believe or do … even to the extent of alienating herself from her friends and family, who tried to wake her up to what he really was: a con-artist, an expert liar and a mental manipulator. Yes, he was a predator of the worst kind and he wove himself in the fabric of her soul. This is a true story, and his hold on her continued for four years. The struggle to fully break his hold on her was long-term and intense. In the end, he possessed every piece of pertinent data on her and had conned and stolen an amount in excess of $15K USD from her and her family. He warped her mind causing her to make terrible decisions. She lost her job and almost lost her children as well. He very nearly destroyed her life.
Today, when she tells people her story, those who have no understanding of what this girl lived through, respond coldly, “you’re an idiot and you deserve what you got because you didn’t just click X on the chat box.” To those who would answer in this way I say, “Try walking a mile in this girl’s shoes before you are so quick to judge.” Mind control exists, and the people who exert it on others know how to use it to their advantage, even across the internet.
In a 1994 report in Psychology Today, that was reviewed and updated in 2011, Robert Hare discusses what he calls, “The Charming Psychopath.” In it, he describes a scenario similar to the one relayed above in this very article, informing readers how these predators slyly work their way into the lives of a very specific type of person, who is lonely, insecure, and has low self-esteem. This interesting read can be found here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199401/charming-psychopath.
Predators are deceitful and manipulative. They always appear unfazed when their lies are caught or challenged and easily redirect with new lies meant to subjugate and lend credibility to themselves or their first lie. Rarely embarrassed or concerned, they simply shift gears and go another direction without missing a beat. By the time they are done, their victims are so confused all they can seem to do is nod in agreement. These mental manipulators will use a fear of being alone or abandoned against their victim making statements like, “Well if you aren’t going to do this, then we’re wasting our time” or “You either do as you are told or I am leaving you.”
It is true, we all have the power to click the X when we feel uncomfortable with someone online, but once someone is under the spell of one of these predators, the big red X becomes something he or she is incapable of touching without the predator’s permission. If someone doesn’t recognize the following early warning signs, it can be easy to fall into this trap:
- Be wary of anyone who flatters you excessively. The person who does this may just have low self-esteem, but flattery is also a tool used by predators and psychopaths.
- Does he or she brag too much about his or her appearance or social status and tell grandiose stories trying to appear brave and successful? Many people brag in order to buttress their self-esteem or are legitimately proud of an accomplishment, but what differentiates the psychopath is constant excessive bragging.
- Look past the fast talk and sparkling personality. Are his or her statements contradictory or manipulative?
- Be cautious of strangers who hang alone and don’t have a circle of friends.
- Does he or she have a string of very short past relationships and claim that all breakups were entirely the fault of the other person?
- Does this person seem too perfect? Anyone who is too good to be true probably is.
- The first step and most important step in protecting yourself online is to know yourself and recognizing your own weaknesses. Knowing and understanding your weaknesses will enable you to spot those who will use them to manipulate you. Psychopaths look for vulnerabilities to exploit such as low self-esteem, loneliness, a need to nurture or susceptibility to flattery.
- Meet the new acquaintance’s friends and family. In a virtual medium this means get to know those who already know your new friend and can vouch for him or her. Predators are usually loners by nature and leave a long trail of burnt former friends and lovers. They will go at lengths to keep you from getting to know their former friends.
- Never loan money to online friends and acquaintances unless you’re prepared to never see it again.
- Don’t share real life information that may make you or your family vulnerable, such as your date of birth, address, phone number, or information about the school you or your children attend or your daily routine and hang-outs.
- Don’t share photos of you with anyone until a solid level of trust is reached. Never share inappropriate photos of yourself online, and do not share photos of family and friends without their prior permission.
- Never share your account and email passwords for any reason. Not only is this against most terms of service (and yes Linden Lab has ways of knowing when you share that info), but it’s just plain stupid. If someone demands your log-in passwords in order for them to trust you, run away as fast as possible and report them to the sim admin.
This is Role-Play! This is not real life; it is a fantasy. Do not confuse role-play relationships with real ones. You may at some point choose to engage a fellow role-player in a real relationship, but always maintain strict boundaries between what is role-play and what is real.
- In role-play, your IMs are always out of character (OOC)! Never speak to anyone in your IMs as though you are your character and do not allow them to speak to you or treat you as though you are your character. Private IMs are NOT for role-play! Nine times out of ten, this is where abuse begins because there is no one who can bear witness and intervene. Remember, you are alone in an IM.
- If you’re role-playing a slave, keep in mind that your character’s owner is NOT your owner. He or she is role-playing that character and does not truly own you. So if someone commands you to do something outside of the realm of the role-play, find a GM or sim admin, report that person immediately and LEAVE!
- Never allow someone to pressure you to cam or voice within a role-play scenario. Tell anyone who requests (or demands) you to voice, cam or share your real life pictures “No” in a very clear and unmistakable manner. If he or she persists, mute them and report them immediately. In a role-play sim, no one may legitimately require this of you and should be reported to the admin of the sim and to Linden Lab (or other game owning organization/company).