New survey results reveal the disturbing and harmful behaviors of online predators and sex offenders. Results published in last month’s issue of the American Journal of Nursing showed that two thirds of sex offenders bring up sexual topics during their first chat session with a young adult. The results came from 404 middle school students aged nine to 15, 2,077 high school students aged 15 to 18 and 1,284 college students. Also surveyed were 466 men convicted of either an online sexual offense or an in-person sexual offense, as a way to understand firsthand their perspectives and experiences. In emphasizing the important of surveys like these, Elizabeth B. Dowdell, author of the study and associate professor at Villanova University College of Nursing, stated that “the use of online social networks such as Facebook continues to rapidly increase among all age groups, providing new opportunities for the exchange of sexual information and potential unsafe encounters between predators and the vulnerable young.”
Other findings from the survey show that over 50% of online predators disguise their identity when contacting adolescents online, and most prefer contacting and communicating with girls rather than boys. In terms of youths’ knowledge about sexting, 56.7% of high school-aged girls knew what it was and 46.9% of high school boys understood the concept.
Perhaps the most shocking find of the survey was that of the 59% of middle school students who had communicated online with strangers, 32% of them made arrangements to meet a stranger in person and 3 of those teens had been inappropriately touched or sexually assaulted. In terms of older students, 58 high school-aged girls met someone in person whom they had originally met online. Of those students, 21 said something sexual happened and 7 claimed to have been sexually assaulted and/or threatened. Numbers for high school-aged boys were similar, with 51 teen boys saying they had an in-person meeting with a stranger they had met online. Of those 51 students, 33% said something sexual and consensual had happened while 10 reported being sexually assaulted or threatened.
The thought of even one student arranging to meet a stranger in person is shocking. And even online contact with someone unknown is scary, especially based on the finding that two thirds of predators discuss sexual topics during initial conversations with potential victims. Social networks can be a very open and scary place, and it’s up to parents to know how to protect their kids online from people like this. We may think that cases of teens actually meeting a stranger in person are very rare, but imagine if your child was part of the small percentage of youth engaging in inappropriate and potentially dangerous or harmful activities – both online and off.
What are your biggest concerns for your kids online?