The NY Times reported yesterday that a new report has found that perhaps the series of tubes known as the internet isn’t completely full of and creeps as is commonly thought.
“A task force created by 49 state attorneys general to look into the problem of sexual solicitation of children online has concluded that there really is not a significant problem.”
Just like the common misconceptions that the world around us is incredibly dangerous (razor blades in Halloween candy! Gang members flashing their high beams! Oh my!) and we should all live in plastic bubbles made by the Disney corporation, the internet as a dangerous place narrative has found fertile ground in the past few years.
Now, you wouldn’t know this but this isn’t particularly new. From an unpublished post I had done two years ago…
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children just published a new survey called Online Victimization of Youth. I scanned some of the findings (it’s 96 pages long) and saw some interesting things: The big tag-line for the report is that fewer kids are getting propositioned online but there’s an increase in ‘cyber-bullying’. I’m not sure if those ‘increases’ or ‘decreases’ are statistically significant (for example those reporting receiving ‘distressing harassment’ went from 2% to 3%).
The Internet use patterns (amount of time on the Internet, sites visited, who they interacted with) was pretty interesting and, I think, reinforces the argument that adults are using the Internet as a surrogate parent. That is especially true since almost 80% of these solicitation incidents happen at the child’s home. In less than 20% of cases was the person soliciting sex from minors over the age of 25 and 40% or more were under 18. I’ll admit I know virtually nothing about this field but it seems to contradict the impression of who on-line predators are courtesy of my (highly) reliable local news people.
I also found it interesting that in almost half of the cases, the child being solicited was with a ‘friend or other kid’ when it happened.
Finally, the fact that so many kids didn’t tell anyone because they didn’t consider it ‘serious enough’ might point to the fact that education programs aren’t getting the message out well enough. Although, given the recent MySpace hysteria I’m not sure how you could educate kids without totally freaking out their parents.
I’d be interested to find out what the child-welfare community is saying about this survey.