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Crime

Tip from Facebook led police to arrest ‘Girl in the Closet’ Lauren Kavanaugh on child-sex charge

  • As a child, Kavanaugh was rescued from a faeces-laden wardrobe she had been locked inside for years. She suffered horrific sexual and physical abuse
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 December, 2018, 5:31pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 December, 2018, 7:11pm

A woman from Texas who became famous as the “Girl in the Closet” after suffering years of starvation and abuse at the hands of her parents has been arrested for having a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl – following a tip-off from Facebook.

A Facebook spokeswoman said its “technology detected a potentially inappropriate interaction” between Lauren Kavanaugh and the child and reported it earlier this month to the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children. Facebook then disabled Kavanaugh’s account.

The spokeswoman did not elaborate on what concerned the company about Kavanaugh’s Facebook page, “The Lauren Kavanaugh Story”.

Lewisville police Captain Jesse Hunter confirmed that the tip came from Facebook but declined to provide details because the information is contained in an arrest-warrant affidavit that has been sealed by a municipal judge.

Police are searching for other potential victims. Hunter said on Friday afternoon that nobody has come forward. The National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children did not respond to a request for comment.

As a child, Kavanaugh was the victim of horrific abuse at the hands of her mother and stepfather. She was rescued from a faeces-laden wardrobe infested with lice in June 2001. She had been sexually assaulted, starved and kept locked in the wardrobe for years. She was eight years old but thought she was two. She weighed just 11.3 kilograms and nearly died.

Her mother and stepfather, Barbara and Kenneth Atkinson, are serving life sentences in Texas prisons. They are eligible for parole in 2031.

Facebook announced in October that the company began using “artificial intelligence and machine learning” to detect child nudity and content that exploits children when it is uploaded.

“We’re using this and other technology to more quickly identify this content and report it to NCMEC, and also to find accounts that engage in potentially inappropriate interactions with children on Facebook so that we can remove them and prevent additional harm,” a Facebook spokeswoman said.

The Dallas Morning News profiled Kavanaugh in an eight-part series in 2013 that became a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Kavanaugh was arrested on Wednesday and remained in the Denton County Jail on Friday in lieu of posting a US$10,000 bond. It was unclear whether she has a lawyer.