Just the Facts, Folks – Online Abuse and How it Happens

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[Part 1 in a 3-part series about Keeping Kids Safe Online.]

According to the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children, one in five children (ages 10-17) has been sexually solicited online and nearly 60% of teens have received an email or Instant Message from a stranger—and half have responded back.

For abuse to take place, online predators need access to and privacy with vulnerable children and teens.

Access
95% of youth (ages 12-17) use social networking sites, chat rooms, or blogs[1], giving online predators tremendous access to minors. Even children under five are going online at least once a week.[2]

Privacy
With privacy and anonymity, predators engage youth across multiple media, from chat rooms to gaming sites to text. In fact, according to one survey, 89% of sexual solicitations targeting youth were made in chat rooms or through Instant Message[3].

Gaming also allows for private interactions. 97% of teens (ages 12-17) play online games and 27% of them game with people they first meet on online.[4]
 
While researchers are still learning about the nuances of online grooming behavior, solicitation may include direct requests for chat, information, sexual activity, in-person meeting, or exposure to sexual materials.
 
Vulnerability
Based on research by the leading experts in child sexual abuse prevention, predators seek youth with a history of sexual or physical abuse; who post sexually provocative photos or videos; who talk about sex online with people they do not know; and/or who feel alienated or alone. Boys who are gay or who question their sexual orientation are also vulnerable if they seek out information and connection online.[5]
 
Predators specifically look for kids who engage in four risky online behaviors[6], all of which are more common than we’d like to think:
  • Communicating with unknown people
  • Sharing personal information with unknown people (More than half of all teens have given out personal info online to someone they don’t know, including photos and physical descriptions.)[7]
  • Talking about sex online
  • Meeting online friends in the outside world

Even youth who are not engaging in risky behaviors can be vulnerable in the “Wild West” of the online world. For instance, 70% of kids (ages 8-18) have encountered pornography online accidently, sometimes by entering a seemingly benign search term as part of a homework assignment.[8]

Equipped with the facts, now it’s time to put together an online safety plan. Stay tuned for part two in this series.

 
Sources:
1. Lenhart A.
www.pewinternet.org, Nov 2013.
2. Lenhart A. Social media and young adults. Pew Internet and American Life Project, 2010.
4. Lenhart A. Teens, video games, and civics. Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2008.
5. Wolak J, Finkelhor D, Mitchell K, Ybarra M. Online “predators” and their victims: myths, realities, and implications for prevention and treatment. American Psychologist, 2008; 63, 111-128.
6. Mitchell, K.J., Finkelhor, D., & Wolak, J. Youth internet users at risk for the most serious online sexual solicitations. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2007; 32, 532-536.
7. Social Media and Young Adults. Pew Internet & American Life Project, Feb. 2010.
8. Generation M: media in the lives of 8-18 year olds. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 2006.
 

 

 


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