We have all heard reports of online child molesters who haunt websites popular with children and teens; assume false identities; make use of the details on public profiles to entice victims to a meeting; then abduct them. Any parent’s blood would run cold at the thought.
Far more often, however, it is statutory rape rather than abduction that results from online predation .
Research shows that the vast majority of teens who interact with an unknown individual online are aware when that individual is an adult, whether the interaction is via email, instant messaging or a chatroom. Any deception that takes place is more likely to involve love than identity.
If the adult is a predator (typically 10 or more years older than the victim), sex is usually mentioned up front, and most victims who meet predators “face to face” anticipate having sex. As many as 73% of victims have repeat sexual encounters with the predator.
This is not to suggest that our children do not need protection from online predators. To the contrary, what this research reveals is that our children remain vulnerable throughout their teens. A dire warning about abduction will not suffice to dissuade them from dangerous activity.
What is needed is a three-pronged approach, directed at tweens and young teens; older teens; and young people of all ages inclined toward high risk behavior.
Naivete (Ages 12-14)
Tweens and young teens may mimic sophistication. They do not, however, have the maturity to engage in intimate relationships. Nor can they protect themselves against the advances of a predator without training.
Children in this age range need to be educated about the various types of websites that exist, and alerted to the risky situations they can encounter online.
Parents and guardians should clarify that it is wrong for an adult to make romantic overtures toward a child, attempt to elicit a sexual response from a child, or take advantage of a child’s curiosity about sex.
It is important that tweens and young teens be provided opportunities to practice resistance and refusal techniques. Children should be assured that rudeness toward an adult is entirely acceptable in self-defense. Continue reading