Last year the Internet Safety Technical Task Force released the Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies, the Final Report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force to the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking of State Attorneys General of the United States, but I wouldn’t have heard of it if it weren’t for the recent article by Michael Castleman at Psychology Today:
Last year, the attorneys general of 49 states created the Internet Safety Technical Task Force to investigate sexual solicitation of children by molesters who troll for targets using sites popular with kids, among them, MySpace and Facebook. The 278-page report concluded that there’s no real problem.
The task force, led by Harvard researchers, looked at reams of scientific data dealing with online sexual predation and found that children and teens were rarely propositioned for sex by adults who made contact via the Internet. In the handful of cases that have been documented-and highly publicized-the researchers found that the victims, almost always older teenagers, were usually willing participants already at risk for exploitation because of family problems, substance abuse, or mental health issues.
The report concluded that MySpace and Facebook “do not appear to have increased minors’ overall risk of sexual solicitation.” The report said the biggest risk to kids using social networks was bullying by other kids.
“This study shows that online social networks are not bad neighborhoods on the Internet,” said John Cardillo, whose company tracks sex offenders. “Social networks are very much like real-world communities that are inhabited mostly by good people who are there for the right reasons.”
The bottom line is, the actual threat to children from sexual predators online is negligible.
So I’m guessing the reason I hadn’t heard of this before was that the findings, though incredibly clear, aren’t willing to be heard & accepted by the population at large. Instead of shouting from the rooftops that the internet is as safe a place as any for children, or even breathing a sign of relief, people would prefer far more salacious, fear-mongering headlines.
In truth, the actual Internet Safety Technical Task Force report says that, “Bullying and harassment, most often by peers, are the most frequent threats that minors face, both online and offline.” Which means parents should be paying a lot more attention to what their children are experiences (and dispensing) at school, with their friends, etc., than they should be about the invisible “they” known as internet boogie men.
From the report:
Much of the research based on law-enforcement cases involving Internet-related child exploitation predated the rise of social networks. This research found that cases typically involved post-pubescent youth who were aware that they were meeting an adult male for the purpose of engaging in sexual activity.
And if you think that’s only gotten worse because kids today are bombarded by internet porn, well, that’s just plain wrong too; from the report:
The Internet increases the availability of harmful, problematic and illegal content, but does not always increase minors’ exposure. Unwanted exposure to pornography does occur online, but those most likely to be exposed are those seeking it out, such as older male minors.
In other words, most kids ignore it, but those (mostly male) youths who want it go for it — just like those meeting with adults or others for sex. Because teens have sex drives, so you’d better be prepared to deal with the issue.
However, the report does not ignore the few times where child molesters have connected with youth online. It says that in the small number of cases, the internet was the first of several steps — the rest of which are no different than how “real world” hook-ups are made. So, if the sexual predator finds prey on the internet & the prey responds, the next step is telephone contact (right under their parents’ noses), followed by eventual meetings in person.
Here’s what the report suggests in terms of advice (I’ve bullet-pointed them, so they are easier to read):
Careful consideration should be given to what the data show about the actual risks to minors’ safety online and how best to address them, to constitutional rights, and to privacy and security concerns.
Parents and caregivers should:
- educate themselves about the Internet and the ways in which their children use it, as well as about technology in general
- explore and evaluate the effectiveness of available technological tools for their particular child and their family context, and adopt those tools as may be appropriate
- be engaged and involved in their children’s Internet use
- be conscious of the common risks youth face to help their children understand and navigate the technologies
- be attentive to at-risk minors in their community and in their children’s peer group
- and recognize when they need to seek help from others.
All of this, though, ignores the basic facts regarding child molestation: Most rapes, sexual assaults, and abuse is perpetuated by someone that the victim knows and trusts.
And I guess that’s the real reason I hadn’t heard of this report & its findings before; people still prefer to pretend they are safe at home, that the unknown danger is “other” and locked outside — or on the internet.