“HI, I’m Natalie. I’m 15, and I live in Ampang.”
That’s the line I tell the men who flirt with my fake profile on WeChat. I honestly thought most of them would be put off when I say I’m 15, but I was completely wrong.
Maybe it was because I’ve never really talked to strangers online. I never paid much attention to the horror stories people tell you about the creeps they’ve come across on social media.
In other words, I had no idea what kind of hell I was getting myself into.
The non-stop messages from older men asking to be friends is one thing, but the endless stream of sexual messages was horrifying.
My burner phone is now full of disgusting selfies, obscene photos and pornographic GIFs (animated digital images).
As bad as those messages are, the man that sickened me most was one who never once sent a dirty message.
In the office, we codenamed him K-Boy. He is married with two sons (or at least that’s what he says). When I asked why he wanted to be friends with me, he said it was because he didn’t have a daughter.
After five days of on and off texting, he sent me a selfie, and we agreed to meet at a mamak – nothing more. I thought it would be a routine undercover interview, but then I received a message from him saying he had booked a hotel room, so we could get to know each other better in a “comfortable” environment.
Since we knew so little about him, our team decided we couldn’t risk meeting him at the hotel, so we set up shop at the mall opposite the hotel, and I texted him saying I preferred to meet at a cafe.
But he was persistent. He texted back insisting that he would come and pick me up in his car, even though the hotel was just across the street. Presumably, any private setting would suit him.
But I threw a bit of a tantrum, so he conceded.
When he finally showed up, he didn’t come straight to my table. He seemed to be scouting the area, just in case.
And that’s when he almost got busted – he ran into a group of friends at the same cafe.
What he did next really disgusted me.
He gestured towards me and said: “Aku makan dengan anak aku (I’m having dinner with my daughter).”
Then he came over and sat down. That’s why he wanted to meet at the hotel, he said. “See? Now I’ve bumped into my friends.”
We talked for about 30 minutes, and I felt oddly calm and comfortable around him. He came across as a real fatherly figure.
But then came the harsh reminder that this man is a predator. Every topic of conversation was cut short with him saying, “let’s continue this upstairs.”
“But I’m scared,” I said. “You need to learn to trust people. I can teach you that,” he replied.
Just as I was about to leave, he said something that froze me in my tracks. I wasn’t the only underage girl he had met with.
“I’ve had sex with a Form One girl, and we’re still friends now.”
I decided to set up a second date because by then, our exit strategy was already in motion, and I had to leave in order to maintain my cover.
For our second “date”, he booked a room at the same hotel. The plan was to have a drink at the hotel lobby, and to find out more about his victims.
But he kept insisting I go up to the room with him, so I made a judgement call.
I compromised and we adjourned to an isolated corner.
“Are you a virgin?” he asked. “Sex is heaven on earth, but don’t worry, I won’t force you.”
He added that first-timers should have sex with older men, because they are more gentle, and explained to me – in graphic detail – how I should go about my first time.
I asked him again about the 13-year-old he slept with. He described her tiny body to me.
One of our producers, a filmmaker who has worked on crime documentaries for TV, was so disturbed by the recording she had to constantly take breaks from listening to it.
After about 30 minutes, I had had enough. I was right – he wasn’t the type to force anything. He just reluctantly allowed me to leave.
It was only when I was in our “getaway car” that I let my guard down. Only then did I realise how cold and shaken I was.
It was partly because of the adrenaline, but mostly anger. How many other children has he exploited and abused?
You might think your children can’t be that stupid, but remember this – guys like “K-Boy” will spend weeks or months online manipulating your child.
If it doesn’t work out, he’s untraceable, so he’ll just move on to the next child. There’s nothing much any of us can do about it but protect our own.