- I’d like to put this a little – this issue a little bit in context by thinking about it in terms of a variety of other kinds of threats that we get excited about as a society. And whenever any of these new threats suddenly bursts on the scene like school shooters, I think it’s just absolutely crucial that we characterize them accurately and as soon as possible. Because really, first impressions in a lot of these topics turn out to be the lasting impressions and it’s very hard to change people’s ideas about what’s going on after they’ve gotten one of these first impressions.
- We need those impressions to be accurate, not just to prevent overreactions to some of these problems. But I think also to get people to do the right things prevent the spread of the dangers. Now, on the case of internet sex crimes against kids, I’m concerned
that we’re already off to a bad start here. The public and the professional impression about what’s going on in these kinds of crimes is not in sync with the reality, at least so far as we can ascertain it on the basis of research that we’ve done. And this research has really been based on some large national studies of cases coming to the attention of law enforcement as well as to large national surveys of youth.
- If you think about what the public impression is about this crime, it’s really that we have these internet pedophiles who’ve moved from the playground into your living room through the internet connection, who are targeting young children by pretending to be
other children who are lying about their ages and their identities and their motives, who are tricking kids into disclosing personal information about themselves or harvesting that information from blogs or websites or social networking sites. Then armed with this information, these criminals stalk children. They abduct them. They rape them, or even worse.
- But actually, the research in the cases that we’ve gleaned from actual law enforcement files, for example, suggests a different reality for these crimes. So first fact is that the predominant online sex crime victims are not young children. They are teenagers.
- Our research, actually looking at what puts kids at risk for receiving the most serious kinds of sexual solicitation online, suggests that it’s not giving out personal information that puts kid at risk. It’s not having a blog or a personal website that does that either. What puts kids in danger is being willing to talk about sex online with strangers or having a pattern of multiple risky activities on the web like going to sex sites and chat rooms, meeting lots of people there, kind of behaving in what we call like an internet daredevil.
- There’s almost no victims in the sample that we collected from – a representative sample of law enforcement cases that involved the child under the age of 13. In the predominant sex crime scenario, doesn’t involve violence, stranger molesters posing online as other children in order to set up an abduction or assault. Only five percent of these cases actually involved violence. Only three percent involved an abduction. It’s also interesting that deception does not seem to be a major factor. Only five percent of the offenders concealed the fact that they were adults from their victims. Eighty percent were quite explicit about
their sexual intentions with the youth that they were communicating with.
- So these are not mostly violence sex crimes, but they are criminal seductions that take advantage of teenage, common teenage vulnerabilities. The offenders lure teens after weeks of conversations with them, they play on teens’ desires for romance, adventure, sexual information, understanding, and they lure them to encounters that the teams know are sexual in nature with people who are considerably older than themselves.
- So for example, Jenna – this is a pretty typical case – 13-year-old girl from a divorced family, frequented sex-oriented chat rooms, had the screen name “Evil Girl.” There she met a guy who, after a number of conversations, admitted he was 45. He flattered her, gave – sent her gifts, jewelry. They talked about intimate things. And eventually, he drove across several states to meet her for sex on several occasions in motel rooms. When he was arrested in her company, she was reluctant to cooperate with the law enforcement
authorities. Many of these cases have commonalities with this particular instance. In seventy-three percent of the crimes, the youth go to meet the offender on multiple occasions for multiple sexual encounters. The law enforcement investigators described the victims as being in love with or feeling a close friendship for the offenders in half the cases that they investigated. In a quarter of the cases, the victims actually had run away from home to be with these adults that they met online.