It took me three years after my divorce to even think about dating, but I was ready. It had been eight years since I had dated, and now I had a seven-year-old child. The game had definitely changed.
I was no stranger to internet dating; I had met my ex-husband on eHarmony. A friend had told me about Plenty of Fish, so I went ahead and made my PoF profile.
It wasn't long before I was getting messages. All the attention was a rush; it felt great to be wanted again. Rick* was one of the first guys I started talking to. I don't remember who messaged who first, but we hit it off right away. He wanted to chat on Yahoo Messenger, and I had to create an account just to talk to him. Our conversations got heated pretty fast. I was starving for the affection and attention of a man.
We chatted for a few weeks before we met. He seemed very nervous to meet in person and almost reluctant to nail down a place and time. His PoF profile said that he lived an hour away, but he wasn't specific about the location.
We finally ended up meeting at an outdoor shopping area not too far from where I lived. We got coffee and sat on a bench outside. I don't remember much of what we talked about, but I do remember, at one point, he blew on the low-cut neckline of my top to expose more of my skin. At the time, it made me feel desirable and attractive, and it was exciting.
When Rick told me he was a nudist, I was shocked, but I was determined not to let it faze me. If that was how he wanted to live his life, who was I to stand in his way? But then he started pressuring me to consider it, telling me that it was "just being open."
After our initial meeting, we resumed our conversations online. He continued his campaign to convert me into a nudist. He was constantly asking me if I was naked. If I said I wasn't, he would suggest I take off my clothes. Most of the time I wasn't comfortable with this and would just tell him I didn't feel like it. There were a few times I lied and told him I was naked just to get him off my back.
I don't remember exactly when he started involving my seven-year-old daughter in these conversations, but he started talking about how it was natural and open for us both to be naked at home.
Rick was a photographer, and he talked a lot about taking nude photos. When we were chatting, he would send me "artful" nudes and tell me how I should take some. When I complained about how difficult it was to take nude photos of myself, he said I should have my daughter take them. He suggested poses for me to try and to send him the pictures. I did a few on my own with the timer on my digital camera, but I wasn't comfortable with having my daughter photograph me. He kept persisting, even suggesting that she and I take photos together.
He became obsessed with the idea of the photos. He was constantly asking me for them, and it was a source of frustration for me. He started sending me pictures from nudist sites that included children in body paint. He wanted me to show them to my daughter, to get her comfortable with the idea of her being naked. He was always sending me nude pictures of himself and insisting that I show them to her. When I would protest or say that she was sleeping, he would ask me to wake her up. A couple times I lied and told him that I showed her a picture, and he always wanted to know what she thought.
He showed me a picture of a couple making love, and he said he wanted us to take a picture like that. When I wondered who would take the picture, his initial response was that he would ask a friend, but then he started suggesting that maybe my daughter could take the picture. I told him that wasn't going to happen.
It wasn't long before his other fetishes came to light. He talked about feces and urine, and he even talked about involving my dog in sex play by putting peanut butter on his penis and having my dog lick it off. Then he started talking about nudist friends that he would get together with for what sounded like sex parties.
He told me about a 13-year-old girl who was supposedly a family friend. He said he'd had graphic conversations with her about sexual experiences. He showed me pictures this girl had allegedly taken of him while he was naked and aroused. This completely freaked me out, and we had a big argument about it. This girl was a child; there was no way this behavior was justified. He went on to tell me that he and his sister had experimented sexually together from a young age.
Yet for some reason, even then, I didn't break it off.
During this time, Rick and I had very little physical contact. He seemed to reluctant to see me in person. He was very secretive about his whereabouts. Even if he was out doing errands, he wouldn't tell me where he was. I also still didn't know where he lived. He told me it was because he had been hurt in the past, but it was becoming a point of contention for us.
The few times that I did see him in person, he met me at my house after I had gotten off of work. My daughter was always there. He wanted me to be naked when he was there, and I tried to compromise by wearing a short robe. We would have make-out sessions upstairs in my bathroom while my daughter was downstairs. Part of me was excited by the illicitness of it, and part of me was disgusted with myself.
He never stayed longer than a half hour, until one night. Rick, my daughter and I were all hanging out in my bedroom. Somehow, we ended up under the covers, my daughter on one side of me and Rick on the other. Rick was spooning me when I felt him move to enter me. In my head, I was panicking. What was he doing? My daughter was right there. I froze for a minute as tears started to form, and then I asked my daughter to go to her room. I told Rick that there was no way I was comfortable with that happening.
His next comment sent fear through me: "OK, well, maybe when she's older."
I started to pull away from Rick after that. I was really confused. I wanted so much to have love and affection, but I knew so much of what he was saying was wrong.
I was hiding the relationship from my two best friends. They knew I was seeing him, but they didn't know about the nudism and everything else. When I finally confessed to them, they were upset with me. Initially, I tried justifying Rick's behavior to them, but I could no longer convince myself that this was a healthy relationship.
I deleted my Yahoo Messenger account. He would be forced to call me if he wanted to communicate with me.
He did call, and he said he wanted to get together and tell me why he was the way he was. He was supposed to come to my house one night, but he changed his mind and said he wasn't coming. He always made excuses for why he couldn't talk, and I was finally done. I cut off all communication with him.
A couple months later, shortly after the new year began, I went back on PoF. Right after creating a new profile, Rick messaged me through the site. I told him not to contact me, that I had no interest in talking to him. After a few weeks, I got an email from him asking me how I was doing. At the time, I had just started dating someone, and I was getting pissed that he was still contacting me, so I sent him a snarky response with a graphic description of just how well my new boyfriend and I were doing — vivid details on how great the sex was and how he wasn't into children, feces or animals. That kept Rick quiet for a while.
I ended up back on PoF that summer. Within literally five minutes of creating a new profile, I had a message from Rick. I was completely freaked out. Was he stalking me? He knew where I lived, had been to my house. He knew which school my daughter went to.
I made sure my blinds stayed closed and my doors were locked the second we got inside. It took me a few days before I decided to call the police. I didn't think they would take the situation seriously, and I was so freaked out by the message that I had deleted it right away, so I had no proof of his latest attempt to contact me. However, an officer was at my door 20 minutes after I called.
I must have gotten the right officer, because when I started telling him what he had wanted me to do and how he had wanted to involve my daughter, he was outraged. He said it didn't matter that I didn't have proof of his harassment, that my sworn statement was enough for now. He was going to go back and start digging around and see if he could find anything on Rick.
A few days later, I was told by the police that Rick "had been in trouble for this before." I eventually found out that he had a federal conviction for child pornography in 1999. I usually check the state judicial site on anyone I date to see if they have any arrests or convictions, but I didn't realize that federal cases had their own website, and I had to pay to get those records.
I wasn't able to get the details surrounding the case, but he had done some jail time and, as a result of the charge, was required to register as a sex offender. However, he had never followed through with the registry. For his businesses, he was going by his middle and last names to make it harder for people to find out about his criminal background.
In October, Rick was arrested for stalking me. The only charge that they could make stick was harassment in the third degree, a class C misdemeanor. In November, I met with the victim advocate, who would end up being my lifeline throughout the year-long court battle.
The first order of business was getting a restraining order. The first judge didn't think there was enough threat of violence, so he only issued a no-contact order, but Rick still stalked my dating profile. Fortunately, that judge had only been filling in, and the regular judge issued a full restraining order for both my daughter and me.
For the next year, we were back in court for hearings once a month. Rick's public defender was great at stalling. Meanwhile, I worked on my victim impact statement. I wanted the court to know that this was not simply a relationship gone sour; this guy was a predator who needed to be stopped. Rick's lawyer was pushing for him to be accepted into the Family Violence Education program in order to get the charges dropped, but the judge said no, that the program didn't apply to this case.
Finally, there was a deal on the table: 90 days suspended sentence and one year's probation. It was the most I could hope for with the charge. Plus, with my victim impact statement, I had the option of requesting certain conditions to his release.
I was terrified on the day I had to stand up in front of the court and read my two-page statement. I was going to admit to everyone all the sick things that this man had done and tried to get me to do, and that I had come very close to being groomed by him.
Rick was standing at the front of the court. As I walked up, two bailiffs stood in front of him, blocking him from my view. As I started talking, my voice was very shaky, but I kept going. I focused on the judge, reading what I had written. I didn't dare glance over at Rick, who was desperately trying to object to what I was saying as his lawyer tried to calm him down. As I was leaving the courtroom, a lady stopped me and told me I had done a good job. I was shaking, but I was so proud of what I had done.
The judge granted every single condition that I had asked for. Rick was going to be classified as a high-risk sex offender and receive treatment as well as monitoring by probation. His internet access was going to be monitored, and he was going to be prohibited from having contact with minors. My victim impact statement was going to be a permanent part of his file.
On the day that he was sentenced, Rick was arrested for failure to register as a sex offender — a felony. I hear that they are giving him a two-year suspended sentence and probation. His lawyer is supposedly trying to argue against it, but the victim advocate tells me that the judge remembers me and my statement well and truly believes that Rick is a dangerous predator.
I am signed up to receive updates on Rick's sex-offender registry entry, and I was just informed that he has moved to my town. Fortunately, he is still a few miles away, but it's still too close for comfort.
I now have a policy that, if I do happen to meet someone, my daughter will not be introduced until I have known the person for several months. And I have no qualms about checking my date's criminal backgrounds.
As hard as it was to admit that I had allowed this predator into my life and come so close to putting myself and my daughter in danger, I am glad that I had the courage to go to the police and show up in court month after month and stand up to read my statement. Because of that, Rick is now on the registry under both of the names he has used and he's under the careful watch of probation. I can only hope that I helped save someone else from becoming his victim.