• July 2000
  • Vol. 1, No. 5

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Study Examines Online Victimization of Youth

Youth are prey online to sexual solicitations, unwanted pornography, and harassment, according to a new study released by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).

The report, entitled Online Victimization: A Report on the Nation's Youth, was conducted by the Crimes Against Children Research Center of the University of New Hampshire. Telephone interviews were used to gather information from 1,501 regular Internet users, ages 10 to 17. The text of the report is interspersed with actual testimony from youth, describing offensive situations they had encountered while online. Some key conclusions from the survey are:

  • A large fraction of young people are encountering offensive experiences on the Internet--19 percent sexually solicited, 25 percent exposed to unwanted sexual material, 6 percent harassed.
  • The offenses and offenders are more diverse than previously thought--youthful and female offenders are prevalent; non-sexual threats and harassment are common.
  • Most sexual solicitations fail, but their quantity is potentially alarming.
  • The primary vulnerable population is teenagers.
  • Sexual material is very intrusive on the Internet.
  • Most youth brush off these offenses, but some are quite distressed.
  • Many teens do not tell anyone.
  • Youth and parents do not report these experiences and do not know where to report them.
  • Internet friendships between teens and adults are not uncommon and seem to be mostly benign.
  • More research is needed to track the growth in the number of children whose Internet contacts turn into off-line sex crimes--almost 800 cases nationally in recent months.
  • Survey results should not dampen enthusiasm about the potential of the Internet.

The authors recommend implementing multiple strategies to increase the reporting of offensive Internet behavior, including enlisting the help of Internet service providers and publicizing NCMEC's CyberTipline at: http://www.cybertipline.com. They also recommend that criminal statutes be systematically reviewed to make sure they apply to Internet behavior.

Other recommendations for policy makers and parents include the following:

  • Mobilizing teens to "clean up" the standards of Internet behavior and take responsibility for youth-oriented parts of the Internet
  • Involving youth in planning Internet protection strategies
  • Training mental health, school, and family counselors about Internet hazards, so they can help young people deal with distressing online experiences.

The authors also say that more research is needed to determine why parents don't make full use of filtering and blocking software and to assess the effects of online exposure to sexual material on youth development at different ages.

Online Victimization: A Report on the Nation's Youth is available from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or online at: http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/ResourceServlet?LanguageCountry=en_US&PageId=869.

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