February 20, 2008

More research debunking Internet predator myth

American Psychologist, the flagship journal of the 150,000-strong American Psychological Association, is tackling the hysteria surrounding sexual predation on the Internet.

This week's issue highlights new research showing that the risk to children - especially young children - of surfing online is greatly exaggerated. Those adults who do interact sexually with minors online generally target adolescents who are confused about their sexuality and interested in sex. In general, the adults are frank with the teens about both their own age and their sexual intentions.

In other words, most adult-child sexual encounters initiated online are consensual interactions and are illegal solely due to the minor's age. Youths with histories of sexual abuse, concerns about their sexual orientation, and patterns of risk-taking are especially vulnerable.

The data come from national surveys of children ages 10 to 17 augmented by hundreds of interviews with Internet sex crimes investigators.

The latest findings echo research presented last year by a panel of leading experts to the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus. See my blog post of June 27, 2007; that research is also available online (here), as is a video of the panel's presentation.

"There's been some overreaction to the new technology, especially when it comes to the danger that strangers represent," said lead researcher Janis Wolak, a sociologist at the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

The full article, "Online 'Predators' and Their Victims," is available here. An APA press release summarizing the research is here. More information on the research project is available at the Crimes against Children Research Center website.

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