Link: Online Predator Paranoia

MySpace Banning Sex Offenders: Online Predator Paranoia at Climb to the Stars (Stephanie Booth) (Via a tweet from iJohnPederson.) I think John Pederson tweeted this for other reasons (the flaws in Megan’s Law I think), but I found these statistics particularly relevant to the message we are trying to get across to educators and parents in our Internet Awareness and Safety presentations.

David Finkelhor, in panel Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization: Researchers Present the Facts and Debunk Myths, May 2007

Let me summarize the important facts and figures from this excerpt and the next few pages. The numbers are based on a sample of law enforcement cases which Finkelhor et al. performed research upon:

  • most victims of “online predators” are teenagers, not young children
  • only 5% of cases involved violence
  • only 3% involved abduction
  • deception does not seem to be a major factor
  • 5% of offenders concealed the fact they were adults from their victimes
  • 80% of offenders were quite explicit about their sexual intentions
  • these crimes are “criminal seductions”, sexual relationships between teenagers and older adults
  • 73% of cases include multiple sexual encounters
  • in half the cases, victims are described as being in love with the offender or feeling close friendship
  • in a quarter of the cases, victims had actually ran away from home to be with the person they met online
  • only 7% of arrests for statutory rape in 2000 were internet-initiated

These statistics go a long way toward providing a balanced and nuanced view of what the real dangers are online, especially as opposed to older and potentially misleading studies such as the much quoted youth internet safety survey (the source of the 1 in 5 students are solicited for sex online statistic). The reality is that the students most at risk are those who are naive, low in self esteem, and susceptible to “grooming” (when predators build trust by acting in flattering and sympathetic ways). The issues are of course more complicated than that, but these are eye-opening statistics I wanted to capture and share here.

One Response to “Link: Online Predator Paranoia”

  1. John Pederson Says:

    I’m a long time follower of Danah Boyd and her work around understanding children and online social networks. It’s tough for me to watch how quickly fear appears as a reaction of teachers and parents when talking about anything related to the Internet. It’s become a daily conversation with people I teach in K12 education.

    In my area here in Wisconsin I seem to have come a little late to the party. Law enforcement officers have been in every school district with presentations where they show examples of luring sex offenders in with the technology.

    Thanks for the ideas in the wiki! It helps me rethink my approach to talking with teachers and adminsitrators.