Friday, December 11, 2015

Children vulnerable to sexual predators on the Internet ?

Online sex offender statutes—not to mention press coverage, social analysis, education, parenting advice, and general fretting that goes with them—are built on nothing but fear, reported the Boston Review.
The underlying assumption is that Internet communication is fundamentally different from other means of communication. But not just different, the laws suggest. It is more dangerous. Specifically, it is dangerous to children, and in a particular way: sexually. The stated intent of these laws is to protect children from “Internet predators”—even if those predators are themselves. But as a growing body of research shows, the Internet is not especially sexually dangerous for kids—not more dangerous than anywhere else. 
Online sexual solicitation of minors is rare and getting rarer. A comparison of three successive national surveys of kids aged ten to seventeen found that those receiving such come-ons dropped 50 percent from 2000 to 2010, to just 9 percent. At the same time, “the proportion of such crimes committed by offenders who use the Internet to meet victims is quite small in comparison to sex crimes against children overall,” according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health and Medicine. During the period studied, the mid-aughts, there were 615 arrests for such offenses. Meanwhile, an estimated 14 million young people aged twelve to seventeen were accessing social media sites.
The study is part of ongoing research on online sexual and criminal behavior conducted by the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, considered a foremost authority on such matters. The researchers there also found that adults who meet minors online for sexual purposes “are not different or more dangerous” than those who seek sex with kids they already know, either online or on terra firma.
Contrary to the image of the grizzly fifty-year-old satyr scattering emoticons across the screen like a middle-schooler, hardly anyone is deceiving anyone about their age or sexual intentions. In fact, the only people routinely lying about their identities are vice cops lurking in chat rooms posing as thirteen- or fourteen-year-olds. In the 2010 study of adult-minor sexual contacts through social media, almost three-quarters of the cases originated with investigators in sting operations, closer examination of which frequently reveals entrapment.
Another finding: the dirty old men are not old, the child victims aren’t children, and the sex is usually not sex. The typical online solicitor is a young man, eighteen to twenty-five years old, chatting up a slightly younger person, fourteen to seventeen. Research published by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that only 4 percent of online sex crimes against minors implicated older men. Similarly, models appearing in “child” pornography are mostly adolescents. Sensational coverage notwithstanding, porn videos may be made by the teen models themselves, who are seeking a sense of power and, of course, profit. Pornographic images of very young kids are rare. Not surprisingly, most of the cases of illicit “sex” initiated do not go beyond fingers on a keyboard. In one of those three national telephone surveys—this one encompassing 1,500 ten-to-seventeen-year-olds, conducted in 2005—only four youth had “physical contact [they] would call sexual” during face-to-face meetings with adults they met online.
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