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Youth Internet Saftey Survey

Summary: The Youth Internet Safety Survey is a telephone survey of a national sample of 1501 youth, ages 10 to 17, and their parents, to assess the incidence, consequences and risk factors related to unwanted or illegal exposure of children and adolescents to sexual solicitation, harassment and pornography on the Internet and to determine children's and parents' knowledge of how to respond to such episodes.  Interviews were conducted between August 1999 and January 2000.  The survey was funded by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which published a final report, “Online Victimization:  A Report on the Nation’s Youth,” in June 2000. 


The media have focused attention on cases of children being solicited by adults for illegal sexual activities over the Internet.  Law enforcement agencies and parent organizations have also expressed considerable concern about this issue. However, there has been little scientific research to establish parameters about the frequency, type and consequences of such unwanted or illegal sexual solicitations or the related problem of unwanted exposure of youth to pornography on the Internet.  The Youth Internet Safety Survey gathered data on these issues by interviewing a national sample of 1501 children, ages 10 through 17, who used the Internet in the year prior to the interview, and their parents.

The goals of the Youth Internet Safety Survey were to:

1) Determine the incidence of young people receiving unwanted or illegal sexual solicitations, or pornography, over the Internet

2) Gather information about the context of these solicitations

3) Assess young Internet users' knowledge of how to avoid or respond to such solicitations, including their awareness of help sources and their beliefs about the circumstances under which they might seek help or report such episodes, and

4) Ascertain the risk factors for unwanted sexual solicitation and unwanted exposure to pornography


The Youth Internet Safety Survey used telephone interviews to gather information from a national sample of 1,501 young people, ages 10 through 17, who had used the Internet at least once a month for the past six months.  The sample included a range of both “heavy” and “light” Internet users.  Households with youth in the target age group were identified through another large household survey, the Second National Incidence Study of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART 2).


Upon reaching a household, interviewers screened for regular Internet use by a child in the household age 10 through 17.  Interviewers, speaking with an adult, identified the child in the household who used the Internet most often.  They then conducted a short interview with the parent who knew the most about the child’s Internet use.  The interview included questions about household rules and parental concerns about Internet use, as well as demographic characteristics.  At the close of the parent interview, the interviewer requested permission to speak with the previously identified youth.  With parental consent, interviewers described the survey to the child and obtained his or her oral consent.  Youth interviews lasted from about fifteen to thirty minutes.  They were scheduled at the convenience of youth participants and arranged for times when they could talk freely and confidentially.  The survey was conducted under the supervision of the University of New Hampshire Institutional Review Board, and conformed to the rules mandated by research projects funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.  Detailed information about the methodology of the survey can be found in the final report and other publications, listed below.

Summary of  Findings


                     Approximately one in five youth received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet in the last year.


                     One in thirty-three received an aggressive sexual solicitation — a solicitor who asked to meet them somewhere, called them on the telephone, sent them mail, money, or gifts.


                     None of the youth were physically or sexually assaulted by someone they met online.


                     One in four had an unwanted exposure to pictures of naked people or people having sex in the last year.


                     One in seventeen was threatened or harassed online.


                     A small percentage of young people who reported these incidents were distressed by them.


                     Only a fraction of all episodes were reported to authorities such as a law enforcement agency, an Internet service provider, or a hotline.


                     About one quarter of the youth who encountered a sexual solicitation or approach told a parent.  About 40% of those reporting an unwanted exposure to sexual material told a parent.


                     Only 17% of youth and approximately 10% of parents could name a specific authority (such as the FBI, CyberTipline or an Internet service provider) to which they could make a report, although more said they had “heard of” such places.


                     In households with home Internet access, one third of parents said they had filtering or blocking software on their computer at the time they were interviewed.


The survey suggests that youth encounter a substantial quantity of offensive episodes, some of which are distressing and most of which are unreported.  A comprehensive strategy to respond to the problem would aim to reduce the quantity of offensive behavior, better shield young people from its likely occurrence, increase the level of reporting, and provide more help to youth and families to protect them from any consequences.

Publications related to the Youth Internet Safety Survey

Finkelhor, D., Mitchell, K.J., & Wolak, J. (2000).  Online victimization: A report on the nation’s youth.  Report prepared for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (#6-00-020).  Alexandria, VA.  (This report is available through this website and through the website of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, or

Mitchell, K.J., Finkelhor, D., & Wolak, J. (2001).  Risk factors & impact of online solicitation of youth.  JAMA, 285, 23:3011-3014.


Mitchell, K.J., Finkelhor, D., & Wolak, J.  (in press).  The exposure of youth to unwanted sexual material on the Internet: A national survey of risk, impact, & prevention.  Youth & Society.

Finkelhor, D., Mitchell, K.J., & Wolak, J. (2001). Highlights of the Youth Internet Safety Survey.  Juvenile Justice Fact Sheet - FS200104 (pgs. 1-2).  Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

Wolak, J., Mitchell, K.J., & Finkelhor, D. (2002). Close online relationships in a national sample of adolescents.   Adolescence, (37)147: 441-456.

Wolak, J., Mitchell, K.J., & Finkelhor, D. (in press).  Escaping or connecting?  Characteristics of youth who form close online relationships.  Journal of Adolescence.

Ybarra, M. & Mitchell, K.J. (in submission). Youth engaging in online harassment bullying behaviors: Associations with caregiver-child relationships, internet use & personal characteristics. 

For more information, contact:
Janis Wolak or Kimberly Mitchell
Crimes Against Children Research Center
7 Leavitt Lane
Durham, NH 03824
Ph: (603)862-4691 or (603) 862-4533
E-mail: or

Phone: 603-862-1888
Crimes Against Children Research Center
University of New Hampshire 126 Horton Social Science Center
Durham, NH 03824
Fax: 603-862-1122