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
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
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.
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
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.
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
Publications related to the Youth Internet
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, http://www.ncmec.com/
Mitchell, K.J., Finkelhor,
D., & Wolak, J. (2001). Risk factors & impact
of online solicitation of youth.
JAMA, 285, 23:3011-3014.
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
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