The research now about victimisation on the Internet turns out to be vastly different from what is reported in the media. This is leading me to believe South Africa needs to investigate heavily in researching the impact of Internet and mobile phones on young children and teenagers. So many assumptions are turning out to be false. Here’s a short transcript followed by a video clip of the proceedings. Double click on the video below to gain access to Youtube and the 9 videos in total. You may also want to visit the Youth Online 2007 page for mp3 audio version, and additional resources of these proceedings.

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. 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.

< Remember to click here to view all the videos of these proceedings.

 
  • Though I have tremendous respect for the researchers and methodology behind the report cited, and agree with much of the findings, I would caution jumping to conclusions about the realities of online youth victimization just yet.

    The reason for my caution is that the cases studied in the cited research are cases where the victim knew how they had come into contact with their abuser. Yet this represents only one slice of the larger abuse landscape.

    This is a much deeper discussion than fits into a comment field but let me try to give a quick overview.

    Many victims and their parents will not know what factors came into play to make them a target. The internet connection is rarely made, but many of these aren’t ‘random’; the child was found through online information.

    In these cases the perpetrator probably never communicated with the child online. They simply used the internet as a search tool to find a victim that appealed to them.

    In some cases abusers do their own online searches – it may be they came across a proud grandmothers posted photos of a grandchild, a child’s social networking site that had their photo – or their sibling’s photo, or a friends photo, it could be that the elementary school ‘honored’ the child on the school’s website. They key’s were that enough information could be gleaned to locate the child.

    In other cases, predators can look through virtual catalogs of children already compiled by ‘data brokers’ and simply select a child of interest, within their geographic proximity.

    As a 13 year technology industry veteran specializing in internet abuse and consumer safety I’ve seen first hand the failure of internet companies to effectively track or report the abuse that occurs in their products and services, and the lack of awareness of consumers to the types of crimes being committed.

    The abuse cases where victims understand the internet connection and that get reported to law enforcement is only the tip of the iceberg.