Of Abuse & Avatars — And Outrage

At first glance what I’m about to post may seem to be back-peddling on my stance regarding rape (the lengthy debate of which you can follow with these posts); but keep reading, because I think what I’m about to share has a lot more to say about society than what’s presented…

CNN reports on a recent study, lead by Jennie G. Noll of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio, published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics titled Childhood Abuse, Avatar Choices, and Other Risk Factors Associated With Internet-Initiated Victimization of Adolescent Girls. From CNN’s report:

“Results indicated that abuse status was significantly related to online sexual advances, which were, in turn, related to offline, in-person encounters,” the study says.

The authors say there was no direct link between abuse and offline encounters, but that a history of abuse puts girls at greater risk.

Looking at the girls’ avatar choices, the authors found that girls who present themselves provocatively in body and clothing choices are more likely to have had online sexual advances.

That risk is tied not just to an avatar, but to the overall image a girl projects online, they say. On sites that don’t use avatars, such as MySpace or Facebook, simply compiling suggestive photographs or narrative descriptions can increase girls’ vulnerability, they say.

“Those adolescents who may be unaware of how their appearance might be perceived may not, from a developmental perspective, possess the social sophistication necessary to field and ward off sexual advances in ways that protect them from sexually explicit suggestions,” the study says.

“This may be a particularly important lesson to convey to female adolescents who are especially vulnerable to exploitation and victimization, such as those who have been victims of childhood abuse,” it says.

CNN ends their report with the mandatory, “watch your kids!” mantra.

“Caregiver presence was associated with significantly fewer reports by adolescents of online solicitations,” the study says. “As such, the importance of parental monitoring of adolescent Internet use cannot be understated.”

I’m not against such things; I not only believe in such parental involvement, I participate in it with my own children. But, as Diana Hartman notes, this bland bit of advice might actually be counter-productive when it comes to adolescent victims of abuse:

While the study found “caregiver presence was associated with significantly fewer reports by adolescents of online solicitations,” it is also important to note that 62 percent of females under the age of 18 were abused by someone known to them. Furthermore, in more than half these cases the biological father was the perpetrator.

Hartman ends her fine post with this sentiment:

Instead of studying the girls, the authors might seriously consider the best way to treat them.

I agree — but equally important, where’s the study &/or training of would-be victimizers and exploiters?

Once again, the behavior of victims & potential victims is what is scrutinized and therefore held accountable rather than that of perpetrators.

It’s easy to dismissively wave your hand at such a thought, to poo-poo me with a, “Where are we going to get honest perps from?” But that poo-pooing only leaves us with more of this shit.

We keep identifying victims, defining their behavior as risqué and risky (and doesn’t that just stink of judgment and victim blaming), regurgitating that information to dictate behaviors of potential victims (mainly women), and through it all, we turn a blind eye to the culprits — the very people who need to stop/be stopped.

You might not think this has much to do with adults online &/or adults dating, but honestly, yesterday’s adolescents are today’s adults; has that much changed? I don’t think so.

And today’s adolescents are the adults of tomorrow; are we educating them for the creation of a better world tomorrow?  I don’t think we’re doing that either.


  1. very interesting post–really had me thinking. thank you for sharing your perspective. i agree with you—we need to stop studying victims and how they need to change and start using our resources to stop perpetrators.

  2. Hi Cornnut,

    I think the key here is to shift the focus to the perpetrators as a general rule. I’m all for protecting victims, for supporting them, and for keeping potential victims safe; but this consistent focus on what they do does not communicate a societal stand of zero tolerance for abusers/attackers/predators.

  3. Just who do they think taught these young girls to dress or posture provocatively in the first place. If you are taught to be a sexual being at a young age and you are taught that is love, how do you think the girls will behave. I agree with you that the focus needs to be on stopping the perpetrators instead of just doing a study of the victims.

    I am an incest survivor. If God had not put the right adults in my life as a teenager, I could have easily become promiscuous at a young age. Because of those good role models, I didn’t do any of that.

  4. I am the founder and I maintain the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse, so I really appreciate your contribution. Thanks for providing the links so we could read those, as well.

    In my own experience as an incest survivor, and then later an acquaintance rape survivor, I believe a LOT of healing must take place before we can peel the “VICTIM” labels off our foreheads. That reads louder to a predator than any provocative avatar, clothing, etc.

    Thanks for raising awareness on this. I hope you join us for the carnival again some time.

  5. Thanks for hosting the carnival — I agree it’s an important issue for all of us. And of course I’ll submit again :)

  6. Thanks for sharing your personal story, Patricia. It can’t be easy to share & remember it all, but like other survivors, sharing your story means the conversations will continue. And we need to continue talking about this to prevent it and to properly know how to deal with this — as individuals and society.

  7. Enjoyed this post so much that I tweeted it and shared it on my Facebook page. Thank you for thought provoking questions and comments.

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