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Guest Column: Summoning The Strength To Fight Sextortion

Brandon Guffey: “No shame is worth losing your life over.”

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by BRANDON GUFFEY

On July 27, 2022, our eldest son, Gavin Timothy Guffey, took his life because the shame he felt was unbearable.  Although we often had very open conversations about many things throughout life – as parents and teens do – this was something from which he felt he could never recover. 

The first week after his death, I kept asking myself, “what could be so horrific?” It is the most heartbreaking feeling to lose a child,  but it stings a little more to have a child choose to take his or her own life.  As a parent, you question yourself and all of your actions leading up to the dreadful day.  I not only questioned actions, I even questioned God. 

Gavin gave his life to Christ the week prior to his death and made a public profession of his faith on his last social media post on July 24, 2022.  One of the things he wrote was, “Jesus and His word have given me a high that no other drug can compare…”

He finished his post with <3 , which stood for love in the sign of a heart. 

Less than forty-eight hours later, Gavin entered into a conversation with someone he thought was a girl from another college. On July 26, shortly before midnight, that conversation took a turn – one which shook him to his core. Within an hour and a half, he decided to take his life.  Gavin wasn’t targeted because of his name, money or social status. He was targeted because he was a teenager who fell victim to his own hormones and his need for attention – as so many of our teens do. 

(Click to View)

Gavin Guffey (Provided)

We as adults tell our kids … don’t do things online because they last forever and will stick with you for the rest of your life.  Our country has shown over and over again the lack of grace we offer towards teens when a college scholarship is pulled for something they said when they were fourteen, or when we attack someone’s character for mistakes they made in the past.  I’m here to tell you and every teen out there, NONE of us are perfect – and no shame is worth losing your life over

Gavin wasn’t unlike the vast majority of teens or even adults.  He liked it when a pretty girl told him he was hot and showed interest in him.  He liked it so much, in fact, that he decided to stop playing a game with friends that night to jump on a chat with this girl.  He liked the fact she was willing to share intimate images and that she wanted them from him as well.  I’m not condoning sharing such images with someone online in any way – just letting you know not to think your child is above doing so. 

It can be a fatal judgement.  As soon as Gavin shared his image, he began to be blackmailed for money – and was told “that person” would share the image he sent with all of his friends and family.  Imagine your most intimate image on display for the entire world to see?  I’m 43 and I can’t imagine that shame.  What Gavin didn’t realize – and what even I didn’t realize – is this was a new crime wave happening to teenage boys across the United States.

We were unaware because no one was talking about it.  You see, those that paid blackmailers and eventually blocked them, never came forward because they are protecting their own shame.  I waited to release the true story of what happened to Gavin until November of 2022 because I feared I would interfere with the investigation.

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RELATED | LAWMAKER WAGES PERSONAL WAR AGAINST SEXTORTION

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For up to a month after Gavin’s death, criminals continued to attempt to extort Gavin’s fourteen-year-old cousin, his sixteen-year-old brother and finally me directly once they learned that I was in politics.  It even got to the point that on what would have been Gavin’s eighteenth birthday, I received a message saying Gavin begged for his life. 

These are truly sick individuals and while I understand that the Christian thing is to offer forgiveness, I would be lying if I said I have even an ounce of forgiveness in my heart for what they did to my family.  It’s my job as a man to protect my family and I failed to do so because I wasn’t educated about the dangers online.  I will not make that mistake again – and my mission is to educate everyone that I come in contact with about these dangers. 

I tried to get news outlets to listen to me on a national level.  I made a brutally honest video explaining the events of that night.  I have attended numerous psychiatric sessions and even EMDR therapy to deal with PTSD.  I held my son after he shot himself and felt helpless as the blood left his body.  This is something I will fight to keep from happening to any other parent or teen until the day I die. 

I speak at every opportunity afforded to me, have collaboratively passed a law to protect our children, worked with other states to pass similar legislation, worked with organizations, and continue to work on tools for the future to protect our children. Why? Because I believe social media companies care more about money than protecting our children.  They have the capability to do so now – but they refuse. 

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Political figures on the national level continue to serve the interests of their donors and make no mistake about it, these companies are the equivalent to the cigarette lobby of our generation.  I have met with Meta, spoken to attorneys and will continue to do all that is in my capacity to do.  My message to them is simple … get it in line or you can come offline.  You can’t go to a gas station and look through a pornographic magazine without proving you are eighteen years old, yet companies such as Meta and Twitter (now X) allow pornography to flow freely in name of “freedom.” 

I am a freedom-first believer, too, but when it comes to our kids – we must protect them. 

As I work on this issue, I often I feel as though I am simply stumbling through life day by day.  I am a portion of the man I was prior to this happening and I feel unworthy, unqualified, and unable most days.  It’s the old saying of just putting one foot in front of the other.  I struggle financially due to the strain it has put on my small family business.  I even struggle physically to do simple tasks at times.  The mind is a powerful thing and when it is shaken, it’s amazing how impactful it is.  I say that because I refuse to carry shame.  I refuse to falsely act as if I’m perfect for someone else to think they need to be perfect in order to be effective.  I know it’s OK to not be OK

When all of this happened, I felt I needed to look deep to know how to proceed.  I have two other sons and it is my responsibility to show them how to handle adversity and tragedy when it happens.  That was my first foot forward.  I wanted to drop out of my general election because I didn’t have the fight in me.  Luckily, my wife is truly my better half and refused to let that happen. 

“You are one of the few people that can be in a position to keep this from happening to others by creating a law,” she said. 

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Melissa and Brandon Guffey (Provided)

That was my next foot.  I couldn’t focus on all the things I needed to accomplish and my community in Rock Hill rallied behind me.  While still struggling not to be a basket case in the corner, a 14-year-old within my community – also named Gavin – took his life.  At that point, anger swelled inside me and I finally summoned the strength to get up and get out.  I’m a firm believer 90 percent of success is simply showing up and giving it your all.  That is what I have focused on ever since.  I have helped families across the country fight sextortionists, talked hundreds of kids into going to their parents with their shame, and even talked to a dozen kids that have told me I saved their life. 

That is the fuel that keeps me going.  That is why I speak when I don’t feel like getting out of bed. 

I could not have done any of this myself.  I wouldn’t have had the strength without my family and community behind me.  I wouldn’t have passed Gavin’s Law without my fellow legislators rallying behind and guiding me through the process.  I couldn’t have launched the nonprofit spreading the message that “Tomorrow Needs You” without friends picking up my many shortcomings.  I never want to become arrogant enough to think I’m needed – or ignorant enough to think I’m not.  I couldn’t have helped those teens without the news outlets such as FITS allowing me to share my story with so many others.  I couldn’t have focused on making a difference at all if I didn’t have faith in our law enforcement to handle this issue.  I was at a point where I felt I could focus my anger upon vengeance, or I could focus my pain on prevention.  If I felt the people on the case were not equipped to bring these evil people to justice, I’m not sure I could have accomplished anything.  I couldn’t have done any of these things without having faith in God. 

I write this to simply say “thank you” to all that have supported our family through this tragedy.  I am genuinely grateful.  For all of those that give me praise on passing Gavin’s Law, know that isn’t just me.  It is the people of this great state that came together and we can see what can be accomplished when we work together for a common cause without letting politics get in the way.  When politicians put the people first, we can all make our state better. 

Thank You! <3.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Brandon Guffey (Provided)

Brandon Guffey is an entrepreneur from Rock Hill, S.C. He represents the citizens of District 48 in the South Carolina House of Representatives.

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1 comment

J Monday Top fan August 8, 2023 at 6:26 am

This is both tragic & infuriating. My heart breaks for you & your family. Praying for comfort & healing for all of you & that God would open doors for you to have an even greater platform to create awareness.

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