• September/October 2001
  • Vol. 2, No. 5

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Two Studies Find Prevalence of Online Child Solicitation

Parents may think that Internet filters and monitoring Internet use protects their children from online solicitations, but two new studies find this is not the case.

Nearly 20 percent of young people who use the Internet regularly received unwanted sexual solicitations, according to a recent survey of 1,501 young people by researchers at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. Of those approached online, 3 percent reported an aggressive encounter. Risk was higher among girls, older teens, troubled youth, and frequent Internet users. Chat room and instant message participation also made children more vulnerable to predators.

Another new survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project gives a broader look at teenage life online and its impact on friendships and family relationships. Of the 754 young Internet users surveyed, 60 percent reported that they had received email or instant messages from strangers, and the majority of those recipients had responded. A larger percentage of boys and older youth emailed or instant messaged a stranger than girls and younger teens. Most instant message users either ignore or enable blocking features when they don't want to hear from someone. Many teens recognized the danger of chat rooms. In the report, the teens noted that one of the most common questions a new chat room arrival will be asked is "ASL?" or "Age, Sex, Location?"

The age-old struggle between youthful independence and parental control applies to the Internet. "Even though they think that the Internet can in some instances lead to harmful behavior, online teens generally are less worried than their parents," write the Pew researchers. "And they do not want limits placed on the information that can be accessed."

In both surveys, online solicitation did not cause concern for the majority of youth surveyed. The minority of users who reported being distressed by an unwanted encounter in the New Hampshire study, were pre-teens (10-13 years) who accessed the Internet from a computer outside the home and were the targets of an aggressive solicitation.

Although child solicitation, both online and offline, is illegal in all States, only a small percentage of cases are reported to the police. In the New Hampshire survey, only 10 percent of sexual solicitations were reported, and most parents and youth did not know where they could report.

"This study provides enough concerning facts for public health officials, educators, law enforcement officers, and child protection workers to add Internet solicitation to the list of childhood perils about which they should be knowledgeable and able to provide counsel to families," conclude the New Hampshire researchers. "At the same time, the concerns are not so alarming that they should by themselves encourage parents to bar children from accessing the Internet."

Access the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 285, No. 23) online at: http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/cv42jama.pdf

Access the Pew Internet and American Life Project report online at: http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Teens_Report.pdf

Related Items

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children operates the CyberTipline for reporting incidents of online solicitation (http://www.cybertipline.com).

Visit the website of the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse for information on its SAFETY NET training and to access its Update article on the golden rules for investigating online child sexual exploitation (http://www.ndaa-apri.org/apri/programs/ncpca/index.html).

See these related articles in past issues of the Children's Bureau Express:

  • "Megan's Law" May Apply in Cyberspace, College Campuses" (July 2000)
  • "Would Megan's Law Work Online?" (July 2000)
  • "Study Examines Online Victimization of Youth" (July 2000)
  • "Courts Issue Rulings on State Versions of 'Megan's Law'" (May 2000)
  • "Pros and Cons of Online Sex Offender Registries" (April 2000)

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