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LIVE FROM...

Interview With Katie Tarbox

Aired July 16, 2003 - 14:39   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: As we told you earlier, an ex-Marine who ran off with a 12-year-old girl he met on the Internet is now under arrest. Shevaun Pennington is safe and sound and reunited with her parents, and 31-year-old Toby Studabaker was picked up in Frankfurt, Germany. He faces child abduction charges.
Police say Studebaker and Pennington had a year long Internet relationship before he went to England to meet her face to face. Studebaker's family says he thought the girl was 19.

Now, while most parents are satisfied with their children's online use and recognize the Internet as a valuable learning tool, this story embodies every parent's nightmare -- is an Internet pedophile stalking your children and what can you do to protect them?

With us today is Katie Tarbox. She knows what it's like to fall in love on the Internet and then come face to face with the horror of a pedophile. It happened to her when she was just 14. She writes about it in her book, "Katie.com: My Story."

Katie, hello.

KATIE TARBOX, AUTHOR, "KATIE.COM": Hello.

PHILLIPS: Well, take me back to when you were a young teenager and you met this 23-year-old Mark on the Internet. Did you tell him that you were so young?

TARBOX: I was completely honest about who I was. I mean, granted, I was using the Internet back in 1996, when we didn't know what kind of, you know, pedophiles were out there and how they were using the Internet. So I was completely honest about who I was and I guess I expected that they would be, so naively, I believed that he would be telling me the truth about who he was.

PHILLIPS: So when we hear that there was this year long courtship on the Internet, do you find it hard to believe that he didn't know that she was so young?

TARBOX: I can believe that he thought she was 19 if that's what she said over the Internet. A lot of times over the Internet we build up a lot of fantasy about who we want that person to be and so, you know, if she told him that she was 19, we have no way to confirm or deny, you know, that age. And that's what I think is so dangerous about the Internet is that you really just never know who you are talking to. PHILLIPS: So when you were communicating with this Mark, did you ever think about, OK, if I did meet him, did you worry about sex or rape?

TARBOX: No, I didn't, and that's what scares me. And I think, you know, talking to a lot of young girls who have, you know, gone and met people off of the Internet is that I never thought that I was -- I could have put myself in a dangerous situation. I never thought I could have been raped or killed or, you know, far worse, which is, you know, the reality of a lot of these cases.

PHILLIPS: Why did you trust him?

TARBOX: I think because I was, you know, 13. It's a naive age where you are going through a lot and, you know, at times you find it hard to talk to your parents. And so, you know, it was somebody that I could latch onto. And these pedophiles are smart and they know this about teenagers. And so they talk to them about their worries and their concerns and so I felt like this was an educated person that I could share my thoughts with.

PHILLIPS: Were you searching for a boyfriend? Were you searching for a friend or just some attention?

TARBOX: I think just something casual over the Internet. It was just very, it was, I was fascinated by it and I think a lot of times we assume that when you go on the Internet and go into the chat room that you're looking for some type of romantic rendezvous. And that was not the case. I mean a lot of this just starts, you know, by going into a teen chat room and asking if anyone wants to talk.

You never think that, you know, you're going to go meet this person. It just kind of all spirals down.

PHILLIPS: So where were your parents this whole time and were they ever asking you questions or saying hey, Katie, what are you doing? Let me see what you're logging onto?

TARBOX: I mean we have to think about this, you know, eight years ago, where were we with the Internet? You know, we did not hear about these cases. So my parents, you know, at the time were thinking that the Internet was a good thing for our home because it allowed me to talk to people from all over the world and, you know, it was just kind of interesting. I could do research. And so, you know, they knew that I was on the Internet. Did I tell them what was going on? No. But, you know, they were very active and aware parents.

And I think what we can learn about the recent case is that, you know, even if you are monitoring your kids' Internet access, unfortunately they can get access anywhere. And so we have to really teach kids the tools and the critical thinking to apply, you know, if they're going to get involved in one of these situations.

PHILLIPS: So do you think parents should be reading their kids' e-mails, whether with their permission or not, and just seeing what they're logging onto and monitoring it, I guess? TARBOX: Well, there's a fine line that you have to walk. Of course, I'm 21. I'm not a parent. And I can only imagine how difficult it is to be one. But that being said, you know, we have to make sure that they're safe. So I think it's important to keep open communication with them, an open dialogue, ask them what they're doing on the Internet, you know, at times check. You know, say if, you know, I think that there's something going on, they should be able to have access to their e-mail. But you have to allow them the freedom. And I think the most important thing, like I said, is to give them the education so that they know, you know, what are the real consequences of meeting somebody like this and what can really happen, and not just to give out your phone number and that maybe something could happen, that, you know, girls unfortunately are being killed as a result of these meetings.

PHILLIPS: Well, Katie, we're glad that nothing happened to you.

TARBOX: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: And we're glad you're here and your book, "Katie.com: My Story." Probably a good book for a lot of parents to pass onto their kids and even read themselves.

Thanks, Katie.

TARBOX: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: All right, so what do you think about children online? We want to hear from you. Our question, would you read your kids' e- mail or do they deserve privacy? E-mail us at livefrom@cnn.com. We'll read some of your e-mails in our 3:00 hour.

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