Myth 25: Social networking sites are crawling with predators

onlinepredatorThe State Attorneys General put together a task force to get to the bottom of safety issues related to the internet. The group was called the “Internet Safety Technical Task Force” and it was run out of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. The group found that “Although identity deception may occur online, it does not appear to play a large role in criminal cases in which adult sex offenders have been arrested for sex crimes in which they met victims online.” Wait a minute, isn’t that double talk?

Let’s back up a minute. I have a few questions for the ISTTF task force. Let’s have a little Q&A with their Final Report “Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies” as published on December 31, 2009.

Me: Social networking sites have proliferated over the past 5 years. These sites bring our children into more and more online conversations with perfect strangers every year. Have you seen a proportionate increase in sexual solicitations online?

ISTTF: “Sexual solicitations online have declined from 19% in 2000 to 13% in 2006.

Me: Who are the online sexual solicitors? Dirty old men, I bet.

ISTTF: “Youth identify most sexual solicitors as being other adolescents or young adults between the ages of 18 and 21, with few (only 4%-9%) coming from older adults.”

Me: Do online sexual solicitations freak kids out?

ISTTF: “Youth typically ignore or deflect solicitations without experiencing distress.”

Me: I’m worried that my child is going to be carried away into the night by one of these 4 to 9% of adult solicitors. Don’t you think I should worry about that?

ISTTF: “Though solicitations themselves are reason for concern, few soliciations result in offline contact.”

Me: So to be safe I should try to keep my kids off social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace?

ISTTF: “Social network sites do not appear to have increased the overall risk of solicitation; chat rooms and instant messaging are still the dominant place where solicitations occur (77%).”

Me: I just want to know if it is dangerous for my kid to socialize on the internet. How can I tell?

ISTTF: “Risk appears to be more correlated with a youth’s psychosocial profile and risky behaviors than any particular technological platform.” Those at risk online are also those who are “experiencing difficulties offline, such as physical and sexual abuse, and those with other psychosocial problems”.

Me: So what about your claim that “Although identity deception may occur online, it does not appear to play a large role in criminal cases in which adult sex offenders have been arrested for sex crimes in which they met victims online.” That doesn’t make any sense. If the criminal has been arrested for sex crimes in which they met victims on the internet, how did they do that without tricking the victim?

ISTTF: Only “5% were decieved by offenders claiming to be teens or lying about their sexual intentions; 73% of youth who met an offender in person did so more than once … most victims are underage adolescents who know they are going to meet adults for sexual encounters and the offenses tended to fit a model of statutory rape involving a post-pubescent minor having nonforcible sexual relations with an adult, most frequently adults in their twenties … youth often initiate contact and sexual dialogue.”


So the bottom line is, the internet is filled with all of the same kinds of people that populate our town. Our kids have to learn safe ways of being productive citizens in real life and on the internet. And the good news is, the highest voice in the country has decreed that the internet is just not crawling with sexual predators.

Read “Enhanced Child Safety & Online Technologies: 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“. Yeah, its a pretty heavy title, but the reading of the Executive Summary is a breeze and very interesting. The report also takes an in-depth look at exposure to “Problematic Content” and Cyberbullying which is actually showing to be the biggest most troublesome problem of all.

UPDATE JULY 30, 2009 used this Mommy Myth Buster expose to help inspire the script for this very funny video addressing the same topic.  Enjoy!

5 Responses

  1. You are debunking the myth!

  2. HS girls and college boys. Moms should still worry, but perhaps be more concerned if the boy is at the local community college or stressing over getting into grad school.

    No mention of cougars? I take it that solicitation on is not considered predatory. 🙂

  3. We’ve just done a great video about the REAL stats on online predators and even used some of your stats! You should check it out! In the meantime, keep up the good work!!!

  4. […] an article from Mommymythbuster talking about the Harvard study on Internet predators. And here’s a great New York Times […]

  5. […] On the blog, Mommy MythBusters, Angeline Duran Piotrowski explains that online sexual solicitation has actually dramatically […]

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