February 19, 2008

Study: Fears of Online 'Sexual Predators' Are Greatly Exaggerated

Internet Predator
image source: Yello Dyno
Fears that children are at risk to sexual predators on the Internet are greatly exaggerated, according to a study published today in American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association. Janis Wolak and her collaborators at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham conducted the research.

Frank Greve, writing for McClatchy Newspapers, quotes Wolak: "Actually, Internet-related sex crimes are a pretty small proportion of sex crimes that adolescents suffer."

The study is based on two surveys of 3000 youths between the ages of 10 and 17, one each in 2000 and in 2005, as well as interviews with 612 investigators at agencies that deal with Internet-related sex crimes involving minors.

The study debunks a number of widely held, unfounded beliefs about sexual predators upon youth on the Internet:

  • Internet predators are driving up child sex crime rates.

    Finding: Sex assaults on teens fell 52 percent from 1993 to 2005, according to the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey, the best measure of U.S. crime trends. "The Internet may not be as risky as a lot of other things that parents do without concern, such as driving kids to the mall and leaving them there for two hours," Wolak said.

  • Internet predators are pedophiles.

    Finding: Internet predators don't hit on the prepubescent children whom pedophiles target. They target adolescents, who have more access to computers, more privacy and more interest in sex and romance, Wolak's team determined from interviews with investigators.

  • Internet predators represent a new dimension of child sexual abuse.

    Finding: The means of communication is new, according to Wolak, but most Internet-linked offenses are essentially statutory rape: nonforcible sex crimes against minors too young to consent to sexual relationships with adults.

  • Finding: Most victims meet online offenders face-to-face and go to those meetings expecting to engage in sex. Nearly three-quarters have sex with partners they met on the Internet more than once.

  • Internet predators meet their victims by posing online as other teens.

    Finding: Only 5 percent of predators did that, according to the survey of investigators.

  • Online interactions with strangers are risky.

    Finding: Many teens interact online all the time with people they don't know. What's risky, according to Wolak, is giving out names, phone numbers and pictures to strangers and talking online with them about sex.

  • Internet predators go after any child.

    Finding: Usually their targets are adolescent girls or adolescent boys of uncertain sexual orientation, according to Wolak. Youths with histories of sexual abuse, sexual orientation concerns and patterns of off- and online risk-taking are especially at risk.

Update: 2-26-08 Here is a PDF of the paper, Online “Predators” and Their Victims: Myths, Realities, and Implications for Prevention and Treatment by Janis Wolak, David Finkelhor, Kimberly J. Mitchell, and Michele L. Ybarra.

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Posted by abostick at February 19, 2008 12:44 PM
Comments

No statistics exist on how many predators pose as dogs on the internet, I expect. But it's a scandal, and Something Must Be Done!

Posted by: Kip W at February 20, 2008 08:09 AM
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