'Internet predator' stereotypes debunked in new study
As social networking sites grow in popularity among a younger user group, parents are no doubt concerned about the safety of their children, often citing possible abduction, rape, or something worse as their primary concerns.
However, a research group has concluded that many of these concerns are unwarranted. After phone interviewing over 3000 10-17 year olds in 2000 and 2005, as well as over 600 law enforcement officials, the group determined that what we often picture in our mind's eye as an aging, shady man in his 50's or 60's coercing an innocent young person might not be the case.
“To prevent these crimes, we need accurate information about their true dynamics,” said Janis Wolak, lead author of the study. “The things that we hear and fear and the things that actually occur may not be the same. The newness of the environment makes it hard to see where the danger is.”
For example, in spite of public concern, the authors found that adolescents’ use of popular social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook do not appear to increase their risk of being victimized by online predators. Rather, it is risky online interactions such as talking online about sex to unknown people that increases vulnerability, according to the researchers.
“Most Internet-initiated sex crimes involve adult men who are open about their interest in sex,” Wolak said. “The offenders use instant messages, e-mail and chat rooms to meet and develop intimate relationships with their victims. In most of the cases, the victims are aware that they are talking online with adults.”
“A majority of the offenders are charged with crimes such as statutory rape, that involve non-forcible sexual activity with adolescent victims who are too young to consent to sexual intercourse with adults,” she added.
The pdf of the original paper can be downloaded here.