Surprising new findings about online predators

Filed under: Teens, Health & Safety: Babies, In The News, Gadgets

A new study released yesterday suggests that the typical online predator is not who you might think. Rather than an adult posing as a teen in order to gain kids' trust, online sexual predators are often adults who make their intentions quite clear to vulnerable teens.

"The great majority of cases we have seen involved young teenagers, mostly 13-, 14-, 15-year-old girls who are targeted by adults on the Internet who are straightforward about being interested in sex," says Janis Wolak of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

These findings were based on phone interviews with 3,000 kids between the ages of 10 and 17 conducted in 2000 and again in 2005. In addition, the researchers interviewed more than 600 federal, state and local law enforcement officials in the U.S. and researched data from similar studies.

What they found was that online predators pretended to be teenagers themselves in only about 5 percent of the crimes studies. And the kids who were most vulnerable were those who engaged in risky online behavior such as having buddy lists that included strangers, discussing sex online and being rude online. "One of the big factors we found is that offenders target kids who are willing to talk to them online. Most kids are not," Wolak said. Using instant messages, e-mail and chat rooms, sexual predators form relationships that teens interpret as "romances."

The study notes that contrary to popular belief, social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace don't necessarily expose teens to greater risk. It's what the teens are doing online, not where they are doing it. "If everybody is looking for violent predators lurking in the bushes, kids who are involved in these relationships aren't going to be seeing what is happening to them as a crime," she said.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.