What increases teen girls’ risk online

A new study in the medical journal Pediatrics found that “a history of childhood abuse and use of a provocative online identity increase the risk that girls will be victimized by someone they meet on the Internet,” CNN reports, and a key factor in reducing risk is “the presence and influence of caregivers.” and a key factor in reducing risk is “the presence and influence of caregivers.” Nothing unprecedented about these findings, but they confirm what the full body of online-safety research, gathered by last year’s Internet Safety Technical Task Force, shows. This study, led by Jennie G. Noll of the Cincinnati, Ohio, Children’s Hospital Medical Center, is one of the first I’ve seen to add avatar appearance to screennames as a way people can intentionally or inadvertently indicate sexual interest to people they “meet” online. As CNN put it, “girls are more likely to experience online sexual advances or have offline encounters if they have previously been abused or have a provocative avatar.” The study “looked at 104 abused [those who had suffered neglect, physical abuse or sexual abuse] and 69 non-abused girls ages 14 to 17,” 54% white and 46% minorities. Among these girls, 40% “reported experiencing sexual advances online” and 26% “reported meeting someone offline after getting to know the person on the Internet. Abused girls were much more likely to have experienced both, the authors found.” Pew/Internet senior researcher Amanda Lenhart later commented that the study in Pediatrics confirmed previous research but left out some other risk trouble spots we need to be aware of – that kids with histories of mental illness and family conflict are equally at risk online. Thanks to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children for pointing this study out.

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