Saturday, June 02, 2007

just the facts about online youth victimisation

moral panic is well intentioned but ineffective

the cornerstone belief that youth put themselves at risk by sharing their personal information (name, school etc.) on line is wrong

other related beliefs about internet pedophiles lying about their ages, identities and motives, tricking kids into disclosing personal information and then stalking, abducting and raping those children also turn out to be vastly exaggerated

what is the reality?
  • there are almost no victims under the age of 13
  • there is very little violence, abduction or deception involved in online sexual predatory behaviour
  • the offenders lure teens after weeks of conversation with them, they play on teens desire for romance, adventure, sexual information / understanding and they lure them to encounters that the teens know are sexual in nature, with people who are considerably older than themselves
Disclosing personal information on line does not put teens at risk. What puts teens in danger is being willing to talk about sex on line with strangers or having a pattern of multiple risky activities on the web like going to sex sites and chat rooms

So, to prevent these crimes is going to be a lot more awkward, messy and complicated than something as bland as telling teens not to publish their personal information on line

Rather than blaming the internet we are going to have to dig deeper into the real issues of relationships, parenting and social pressures that lead to teens putting themselves at risk. eg. school is boring, how do I get alcohol when I am underage (form a connection with an older person), workaholic parents, no physical places for teens to hangout and have fun, issues like that. It's a complex social issue not a simple issue with simple technological solutions.

just the facts about online youth victimisation (pdf)
download the video or audio of the same thing

Update: (June 3, 2007)
Targeting the Right Online Behaviors
Michele L. Ybarra, MPH, PhD; Kimberly J. Mitchell, PhD; David Finkelhor, PhD; Janis Wolak, JD
Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161:138-145.

Objective To examine whether sharing personal information and talking with strangers online or other behaviors are associated with the greatest odds for online interpersonal victimization

Conclusions Talking with people known only online ("strangers") under some conditions is related to online interpersonal victimization, but sharing personal information is not. Engaging in a pattern of different kinds of online risky behaviors is more influential in explaining victimization than many specific behaviors alone. Pediatricians should help parents assess their child's online behaviors globally in addition to focusing on specific types of behaviors

Online Victimisation of Youth: 5 Years Later (pdf)

3. Focus on adolescent desires for love, romance, and companionship.

In addressing the teens who are vulnerable to sexual solicitations, moreover, it is not sufficient to simply emphasize the dangers of assault, abduction, and rape. Internet exploiters know many teens are susceptible to romantic fantasies, illusions of love, and desires for companionship. Unfortunately exploiters also know how to take advantage of this susceptibility when they form close online relationships with youth (Wolak, et al., 2004). Prevention messages about sexual solicitation need to address this vulnerability. Such messages need to remind teens about how adults who use the Internet to meet and form sexual relationships with young teens are often committing crimes and likely to get themselves and their partners in serious trouble. Youth need to understand how some adults “groom” youth to allay anxieties and encourage sexual activity. Moreover youth need to hear about how relationships between teens and adults they meet online are doomed to failure and disappointment if not worse, and, despite what teens may be imagining, are usually more about sex than enduring love


Graham Wegner said...

Bill, I mentioned some of these findings at the Parent Internet Awareness night I ran at my school. I made the same point that you have identified that these risky behaviours point to bigger issues in parenting and social lives of teenagers - I think I made the comment that kids doing some of this have difficult home lives - a parent's comment back was that was becoming the norm. Even with that in mind, it is still not technology causing the problem, and some of the advice designed to protect kids is actually pointless.

Vicki A. Davis said...

Great post. I'm going to look at the articles and thank you Graham for twitting about it here! This is a great resource for us to read and understand.

We fear the unknown and resist change. We must learn to let change become a lifestyle and move out of the ruts that eventually limit our movement into the future.

Bill Kerr said...

hi graham, vicki,

I did print off and read the initial presentations of the 4 speakers and listened to the whole tape, which includes the discussion and questions from the audience.

My blog post refers mainly to the early facts stressed by Finkelor and Ybarra, who are regarded as the current authorities.

The later qualitative discussion initiated by danah boyd about internet mirroring and magnification may be more important. She is raising some of the issues we really need to talk about.

One point that danah made is that teens see sexual solicitation as just another form of spam (like a viagra advert) and normally delete it. For the same reason teens don't like email (prefer IM, SMS, social networking sites) in part because email is more likely to be full of spam.

Another point she made is that the sort of things happening online are similar to things happening off line but for the first time in history we now have a mirror which records what is happening. Before parents and adults could guess but now we are in the position to know, that the internet is an open book. (Unless we move into encryption, which people might do to protect their privacy.) What are we going to do with this new knowledge? How will we use it? Difficult issue.

John said...

Very good comment Bill, and I daresay, a corageous one. And of course an inconvenient one becuase it suggests a complex answer rather than a simple one (blame the internet).
I guess one of the key steps to addressing the issue is for teachers and principals to have a better understanding of the nature of social software, so that they can discuss how to deal with it sensibly. How to do that? I'd be interested in ideas on this.

Bill Kerr said...

hi john,

mmm ... how to deal with social software sensibly?

my post was an annoyed and limited reaction against some ignorant, bland stuff that has been going around and influencing me as well as others - I need to extend some of that a bit further wrt porn and cyber bullying (not covered in my post)

you are raising the "whole thing", social software - that's enormous

there are a lot of hidden assumptions and traditions that need to be thrown into the mix IMO

we operate in a world of markets - off the shelf products designed for "end users" - FOSS and the evolution of social software is starting to undermine all of that, but it's early days

we are dealing with technology that is disruptive to the normal traditional practice of School - and disruptive technology is not going to go away

paradigm shift is not "sensible", or is only seen as sensible after the event

software can be written to reflect the values of a community, ie. the community and software co-evolve

usenet was unsophisticated and ended in flame wars

slashdot has a community regulated karma system, wikipedia has tightened up as it has become bigger and more mainstream, successful systems have learnt better ways to protect themselves and that they have to protect themselves

we need human mediated software development based on articulated needs of the net savvy teachers

instead in South Australia we got a crude, inflexible technologically imposed filtering system, which I have critiqued earlier

your question is too big for me at the moment (sorry, I'm preoccupied) but i would recommend reading some clay shirky and danah boyd, who have researched and outlined some of the big issues clearly, they both write on the many-2-many forum (archive and home links provided there)