Abduction by online predators rare


Contrary to what some people might imply, most kids who become victims
of online sex predators are groomed not abducted.


This article originally appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on October 22, 2007.

by Larry Magid

Last week, 19-year-old Alicia
Kozakiewicz told the House Judiciary Committee about her horrific
ordeal at the hands of a sadistic rapist she met in an Internet chat
room.

The story, which was heavily reported on TV, radio and some newspapers,
is indeed tragic. It happened six years ago when she was 13. According
to some press accounts, she struck up an online friendship with what
she thought was another young girl. Some reports say she was "abducted."

She was held against her will, but she was not abducted in the
traditional sense of the word. I say this not to diminish the intensity
of her tragic ordeal but to point out an important lesson in Internet
safety.

Contrary to what some people might imply, most kids who become victims
of online sex predators are not abducted. They are lured after being
groomed by their predators. And, though any case is tragic, the fact is
that such crimes are relatively rare considering the millions of
children and teens that go online every day. Despite thousands of
arrests of would-be predators caught up in sting operations, tragic
cases like this don't appear to occur very often.

If you sense I'm being vague about numbers, it's because there aren't
any. No reliable, recent studies document the number of child Internet
sex crime victims. We do know that kids are far more likely to be
bullied or harassed by peers than molested by predators, and we know
that the vast majority of kids who are sexually molested know 
the perpetrator from the offline world.

We also know from research by the Crimes against Children Research
Center (CCRC) at the University of New Hampshire that "the reality
about Internet-initiated sex crimes is different, more complex and
possibly less frightening than the publicity about them suggests."

According to CCRC, "research makes it clear that the stereotype of the
online child molester who uses trickery and violence to assault
children is inaccurate." The study reports that "In the great majority
of cases, victims are aware that they are conversing online with
adults. The offenders seldom pretend to be other teens." The study
found that only 5 percent of online molesters deceived victims this way.

In Kozakiewicz's case, the offender was particularly vicious and evil,
but even though the teen had no way of knowing she was dealing with a
sadistic monster, earlier reports on the incident indicate she was
persuaded to run away with him after talking with him hours a night
when her parents thought she was in bed.

Her case points to lessons that both parents and teens should learn.
Becoming a victim is not a result of being online; it's usually a
result of engaging in risky online and offline behavior.

As Kozakiewicz's has pointed out, one obvious
mistake was agreeing to get together with someone she met on the
Internet. Another was engaging in extensive and intimate chat over a
period of time. While not all intimate chat involves a predator, it is
a favored tool of adults who prey on kids. They groom their victims
over a period of time – sometimes months, through sympathy, flattery
and "understanding."

Adult predators use their keyboards to gradually persuade their victims
to enter into a relationship and by the time the youth and the adult
meet up, the young person usually knows the approximate age of the
adult. The notion of a child meeting up with a 40-year-old man who she
thinks is a 13-year-old girl, though not impossible, is statistically
unlikely.

Research helps
isolate certain behaviors that lead to risk. A CCRC study found that
youth who "talk online to unknown people about sex, along with youth
who had multiple unknown people on their buddy lists, were more likely
to be solicited or harassed."

The study also found a connection between a youth's own anti-social
behavior and his or her chances of becoming a victim. "Youth who engage
in online aggressive behavior by making rude or nasty comments or
frequently embarrassing others are more than twice as likely to report
online interpersonal victimization."

And despite all of the recent attention on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, the places where young
people are most likely to get in trouble are through chat rooms and instant messaging sessions.

See also "How to recognize grooming."


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