‘Predator’ myths exposed: Study

Despite all that parents hear, "sites such as MySpace and Facebook do not appear to increase [children's] risk of being victimized by online predators," according to a new analysis by the Crimes Against Children Research Center. US society has been overreacting, the CACRC's article in American Psychologist, "Online 'Predators' and Their Victims," indicates. Another myth, the Seattle Times reports, is that "Internet predators are driving up child sex crime rates," when in fact sexual assaults against teens "fell 52% from 1993 to 2005" (US Justice Dept. figures). A third myth is that online predators "represent a new dimension of child sexual abuse," when in fact most Net-related crimes against minors "are essentially statutory rape: nonforcible sex crimes against minors too young to consent to sexual relationships with adults." Another finding by the Center at the University of New Hampshire was that "most [teen] victims meet online offenders face to face and go to those meetings expecting to engage in sex" – they were generally not deceived by the offenders about the offenders' age or intentions (only 5% of offenders posed as other teens). One more myth: that online predators "go after any child." In fact the young people at greatest risk are "adolescent girls or adolescent boys of uncertain sexual orientation…. Youths with histories of sexual abuse, sexual-orientation concerns and patterns of off- and online risk-taking are especially at risk." See also "Profile of a teen online victim," "Online victimization: Facts emerging," and Reuters's coverage of this study. Here's the article in the February-March 2008 issue of American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association.

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