Monday, February 25, 2008

Media skews portrayal of internet sex offenders

In any given month, the news reports the story of Lacey, a 5th grade girl who was sharing intimate facts (as intimate as a 5th grader can be) with a fellow grade-school student from a neighboring school. Through chats, MySpace and text messages, Lacey and this boy have been planning to meet. After lying to her mom about meeting her girlfriends at the mall, Lacey’s mom drops her off. This young girl is then abducted, raped and then found dead in a ravine six weeks later. Come to find out, this 5th grade boy Lacey was talking to turned out to be a 40-year-old pedophile who had been sitting in the park stalking Lacey. This is the “stereotypical” situation but contrary to popular belief, not the typical cast in the screenplay of internet sex offenses.

Researchers from Crimes Against Children Center at the University of New Hampshire recently published a study showing “most online sex offenders are adults who target teens and seduce victims into sexual relationships.” By taking their time, the targeted youth (mainly female), see the relationship as a “romance” or a “sexual adventure.” Many girls also see this as a healthy relationship with an adult which they may be lacking at home.

According to the study’s authors, educational efforts directed specifically at teens might help them understand the negative aspects and incompatibility of a romantic relationship with an adult online. With frank, open and honest discussions of the behaviors that put one at risk of “internet-initiated sex crimes,” parents and educators may be able to reduce teens risk.

The study also showed that a use of social network sites (such as MySpace or Facebook) do not increase teens risk of becoming a victim of an online sex offender, but it may be the other risky behaviors that lead to trouble. Keeping a buddy list on an online chat program (YIM, AIM, Google chat, etc) that includes strangers, talking to those strangers about sex and “being rude” or “nasty” online (which honestly is quite a subjective idea) were all mentioned as risks. Unfortunately for me, simply writing this blog for you, I have put myself at risk; I’m talking to strangers about sex!

What do you think about the full article? Are you surprised to learn that the media isn’t always painting the “correct” picture?

For more opinions, check out
NetFamilyNews’ ‘Predator’ myths exposed: Study
Infocult: Information, Culture, Policy, Education’s post New study hits internet pedophile fears
Boston Public Schools Myths about online predators post
Perpetual Parenting’s post Most Internet Sex Offenders Target Teens, Not Kids


Mrs. Y said...

Thank you! This is just one example of how skewed, sensationist media coverage is creating a climate of terror all out of proportion with reality - all our kids wouldn't be inside playing on the computers in the first place if they were allowed to play outside unsupervised anymore!

Anonymous said...

The media has ruined many lives by portraying "all sex offenders as dangerous" when in fact, as proven already, only about 10% or LESS are really dangerous and those should be the ones we worry about and LOOK for. We need to go back to the Wetterling Act and get REAL with this mess. It has gone too far and legislators keep on going and no one seems to care. I'm not a "friend" of sex offenders but my gosh, this is going overboard when I can view where a young man lives who had sex or chatted online with a teen! Come on! That, to me, is just plain ignorant of what the laws were intended to be. Now it's so diluted I don't care to EVER see it again (the registry).