The publicity about online “predators” who prey on naive children using trickery and violence is largely inaccurate. Internet sex crimes involving adults and juveniles more often fit a model of statutory rape – adult offenders who meet, develop relationships with, and openly seduce underage teenagers -- than a model of forcible sexual assault or pedophilic child molesting. This is a serious problem, but one that requires different approaches from current prevention messages emphasizing parental control and the dangers of divulging personal information. Developmentally appropriate prevention strategies that target youth directly and focus on healthy sexual development and avoiding victimization are needed. These should provide younger adolescents with awareness and avoidance skills, while educating older youth about the pitfalls of relationships with adults and their criminal nature. Particular attention should be paid to higher risk youth, including those with histories of sexual abuse, sexual orientation concerns, and patterns of off- and online risk taking.
- Avoid descriptions of the problem that characterize victims as young children or emphasize violence and deception.
- Be clear about why sex with underage adolescents is wrong.
- Focus prevention efforts more on adolescents, less on parents, and frankly on concerns relevant to adolescents, including autonomy, romance and sex.
- Focus prevention more on interactive aspects of Internet use and less on posting personal information.
- Educate youth about criminal behavior and child pornography.
- Develop targeted prevention approaches for the most at risk youth populations.
- Assess for patterns of risky online behavior.
Source: Wolak, J., Finkelhor, D., Mitchell, K., Ybarra, M. (2008). Online “Predators” and their Victims: Myths, Realities and Implications for Prevention and Treatment. American Psychologist, 63(2), 111-128 (CV163)
Online harassment in context: Trends from three youth Internet safety surveys (2000, 2005, 2010). Jones, L.M., Mitchell, K., Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (2013)
This article explored trends in youth online harassment identified by three YISS surveys conducted in 2000, 2005, and 2010. There was a small but significant increase in youth online harassment from 6% in 2000 to 11% in 2010. The increase in online harassment can likely be attributed to changes in how youth are using the Internet, especially a disproportional increase in online communication with friends by girls, providing more opportunity for offline peer conflicts to expand to this environment.
Law Enforcement Responses to Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crimes: The National Online Juvenile Victimization Study, 2000 & 2006
Wolak, J., Finkelhor, D. and Mitchell, K. J. (2009).
Arrests for online child sexual exploitation crimes increased substantially between 2000 and 2006. In 2006, U.S. law enforcement agencies made an estimated 7,010 arrests for online child sexual exploitation crimes, close to 3 times as many as in 2000. This increase seems to be a direct result of increased law enforcement activity . Arrests for crimes with identified victims increased by one third. Some of the arrested offenders were online predators, but others were family members or acquaintances of victims that used the Internet to facilitate sexual abuse.
Trends in Arrests of Online Predators.
Wolak, J., Finkhelhor, D., and Mitchell, K. (2009).
Publicity about “online predators” – sex offenders who use the Internet to meet juvenile victims – has raised considerable alarm about the extent to which Internet use may be putting children and adolescents at risk for sexual abuse and exploitation. Some key findings of the report are:
• Between 2000 and 2006, there was a 21% increase in arrests of offenders who solicited youth online for sex. During the same time, there was a 381% increase in arrests of offenders who solicited undercover investigators posing as youth.
• In 2006, of those arrested for soliciting online, 87% solicited undercover investigators and 13% solicited youth.
• During the same period that online predator arrests were increasing, overall sex offenses against children and adolescents were declining, as were overall arrests for such crimes.
Trends in youth reports of unwanted sexual solicitations, harassment and unwanted exposure to pornography on the Internet
Mitchell, K., Wolak, J., and Finkelhor, D. (2007).
This paper looks at three particular Internet perils: unwanted sexual solicitations, harassment and unwanted exposure to online pornography and documents trends between 2000 and 2005 across different demographic subgroups of youth. Among the key findings are:
- A decline in the percentage of youth reporting sexual solicitations was apparent for both boys and girls, all age groups, but not among minority youth and those living in less affluent households
- The increase in harassment among particular sub-groups of youth was largely explained by increases in amount of Internet use over the past five years
- The increase in unwanted exposure to pornography was particularly apparent among 10- to 12-year-olds, 16- to 17-year-olds, boys, and White, non-Hispanic youth
Internet-initiated Sex Crimes against Minors: Implications for Prevention Based on Findings from a National Study
Wolak, J., Finkelhor, D. and Mitchell, K.J. (2004).
This paper presents the results of a study designed to examine the characteristics of sex crime victims, ages 17 and younger, who met sex offenders on the Internet and the dynamics of those crimes in an effort to provide a systematic and scientifically based description of Internet-initiated sex offenses committed against young people in the United States. Among the key findings in this report are that:.
- Internet-initiated sex crimes against minors primarily victimized 13- to 15-year-old girls (75%) who met adult offenders (76% over than 25) in Internet chat rooms.
- Most offenders did not deceive victims about the fact that they were adults who were interested in sexual relationships.
- Most victims met and had sex with the adults on more than one occasion.