Is '16 And Missing' A True Story? The Lifetime Movie Has An All Too Familiar Plot
If there's one thing Lifetime knows how to do perfectly, it's a cautionary tale with a solid dose of melodrama. The network's latest movie, 16 And Missing, which airs on Oct. 24, has a disturbing but plausible premise — a 16-year-old girl who is having problems at home runs away to meet a guy she has been talking to online. She quickly realizes that he misled her about his age and identity, and things take a frightening turn. Since Lifetime often draws inspiration from news stories and real-life criminal cases, I immediately wondered if 16 And Missing is based on a true story.
The short answer is (thankfully) no. The movie's major twist that "unbeknownst to the teen, her online boyfriend ends up having a secret agenda that ties back to her mother's past" is not something that has happened in real life — and I'm sure it would be national news if an FBI agent's child was lured away from home in some sort of revenge plot. Here's the movie's full synopsis from its production company, MarVista Entertainment:
Sixteen-year-old Abbey has become unhappy living at home with her FBI agent mom, Julia, and her new stepdad and half siblings. One night after a family dispute, Abbey sneaks out and heads to Arizona to meet Gavin—the 23-year-old handsome guy she knows only through a chat website. Upon meeting Gavin in person, she immediately notices that he is much older than he looks online. When Julia sees that Abbey is gone, she gets access into Abbey’s social media profiles to track her down and save her before Gavin reveals his true intentions.
Judging by the trailer, the movie quickly goes from "cautionary tale" to mystery-thriller. Check it out below.
The online predator in this movie definitely has a unique and specific motive for targeting Abbey, but the basic idea of a vulnerable and unhappy teenager falling victim to a person he or she meets online is unfortunately a very real problem. It was first brought into the national spotlight back in 2000, when Katie Tarbox published a memoir called A Girl's Life Online, which recounted her experience of meeting a man in a chat room. He claimed to be 23 years old, but turned out to be 41-year-old Frank Kufrovich, who according to People kissed and fondled her after the two met up in a hotel room. As reported by The New York Post, Tarbox is the first person to successfully prosecute an Internet predator, since in 1997, Kufrovich plead guilty to enticing and attempting to entice a minor to engage in an unlawful sexual act and traveling interstate with intent to engage in a sexual act with a minor, for which he served 18 months in prison.
Unfortunately, the problem of children and teenagers meeting up with strangers from the Internet has persisted. In August, YouTube star Coby Persin gained national attention for a social experiment meant to illustrate how easy it is for strangers to lure kids online. He set up a fake Facebook profile in which he claimed to be a 15-year-old who was new in town. With their parents' permission, Persin friend requested and corresponded with several young teens. They quickly agreed to meet up with him, and you can watch the results of his experiment in the video below.
Though 16 And Missing is pure fiction, it stems from a very real, worrisome trend.
Image: MarVista Entertainment/YouTube