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)
Now Available: Trends in Unwanted Online Experiences and Sexting - Final Report
Kimberly J. Mitchell, Lisa Jones, David Finkelhor, and Janis Wolak
This bulletin summarizes findings from the Third Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS‐3).
Topics include youth reports of unwanted sexual solicitations, online harassment, unwanted exposure to sexual material, and “sexting.”
Read the four bulletins for expanded information on the following topics:
Trends in Unwanted Sexual Solicitations: This is the first of a series of four bulletins highlighting the results of the 3rd Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS). This bulletin documents overall trends in unwanted sexual solicitation between YISS‐1, conducted in 2000, YISS‐2, conducted in 2005, and YISS‐3, conducted in 2010; as well as details about the 2010 sexual solicitation episodes.
Trends in Online Harassment: This is the second of a series of four bulletins highlighting the results of the 3rd Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS). This bulletin documents overall trends in online harassment between YISS‐1, conducted in 2000, YISS‐2, conducted in 2005, and YISS‐3, conducted in 2010; as well as details about the 2010 harassment episodes.
Trends in Unwanted Exposure to Sexual Material: This is the third of a series of four bulletins highlighting the results of the 3rd Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS). This bulletin documents overall trends in unwanted exposure to sexual material between YISS‐1, conducted in 2000, YISS‐2, conducted in 2005, and YISS‐3, conducted in 2010; as well as details about the 2010 exposure episodes.
Trends in Sexting: This is the fourth of a series of four bulletins highlighting the results of the 3rd Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS‐3). YISS‐3, conducted in 2010, was the first of the YISS studies to explore the issue of sexting. This bulletin documents the prevalence of youth involvement in “sexting” as well as key characteristics of the episodes.
Measuring a year of child pornography trafficking by U.S. computers on a peer-to-peer network
Wolak, J., Liberatore, M., & Levine, B.N. (2013)
In this paper, the authors demonstrate that data can be systematically gathered and analyzed to explore the scope and characteristics of child pornography (CP) trafficking on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. Using data gathered via investigative "RoundUp" software, the researchers found that most computers involved in the exchange of CP over the Gnutella P2P network exchange less than 10 images and/or share files for fewer than 10 days. However, the authors suggest that if law enforcement focused on eliminating operators of the small percentage of computers making high annual contributions (100 or more files), the number of distinct known CP files available on this P2P network could be reduced by as much as 30%.
Are Crimes by Online Predators Different From Crimes by Sex Offenders Who Know Youth In-Person?
Wolak J. & Finkelhor, D. (2013)
This paper challenges the view that “online predators” are distinctly dangerous sex offenders requiring specific programs to protect youth. When online sexual communication is involved, crimes by offenders who use the Internet to meet victims are highly similar to statutory rape by offenders who know victims in-person. Comprehensive prevention programs addressing statutory rape would protect young people more effectively.
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 explores trends in youth online harassment identified by three Youth Internet Safety Surveys (YISS) 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.
Sexting: When are state prosecutors deciding to prosecute? The Third National Juvenile Online Victimization Study (NJOV3)
Walsh, W., Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (2013)
In this bulletin, the authors present findings from a sample of state prosecutors who have handled at least one sexting case involving juveniles. About one-third had ever filed charges in these cases, most of which involved the production of child pornography. A small but significant number of prosecutors had sexting cases that resulted in the defendant being sentenced to sex offender registration. The authors conclude that research needs to continue to help prosecutors develop strategies to deal with these complex crimes.
Internet-Facilitated Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children
Mitchell, K.J. & Jones, L.M. (2013)
This bulletin summarizes findings from the Internet-Facilitated Sexual Exploitation of Children (IF-CSEC) component of the 2006 Second National Juvenile Online Victimization (NJOV2) study. The authors present the estimated number of arrests for this crime in the study year and describe characteristics of the cases, victims, and perpetrators.
Increasing Youth Safety and Responsible Behavior Online: Putting in Place Programs that Work
Jones, L.M. & Finkelhor, D. (2011)
In this Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) discussion paper, the authors explore the growing trend of developing programs to promote safe and responsible online behavior among youth. The authors make a case for evaluation of these programs, try to de-mystify the process, respond to common concerns or questions about evaluation, and propose some steps to ensure that programs help youth stay safe online.