Janis Wolak, J.D.
Kimberly Mitchell, Ph.D.
David Finkelhor, Ph.D.
University of New Hampshire
Crimes Against Children
Research Center
126 Horton Hall
Durham, NH 03824


Professionals concerned with the well-being of children and adolescents are increasingly being called upon to design policies and proffer advice about children's use of the Internet. However, they are often stymied and perplexed as the media offer competing images of the Internet as a tremendous new tool for education and recreation for young people and, at the same time, as a potential threat to their physical and emotional safety. Moreover, as is often the case in dealing with child welfare issues, there are competing images of the nature of the vulnerable population of young people. On the one hand are images of naive and inexperienced children susceptible to exploitation by predatory adults. On the other hand are images of technologically savvy teens whose potential for risk-taking, trouble-making, and hence, trouble-experiencing have been enormously expanded as a result of the Internet. Both of these images may be real to a certain extent, but they have very different implications for prevention and protection.

This presentation will describe finding from a telephone survey of a national sample of youth, ages 10 to 17, and their parents. The goal of the survey was to assess the incidence, consequences, and risk factors related to unwanted or illegal exposure of children and adolescents to sexual solicitation, harassment, and pornography on the Internet. The characteristics of young people most likely to report online victimization will be described, along with the dynamics by which such victimization occurs. The presenters will discuss the incidence of sexual solicitation, unwanted exposure to pornography, and harassment among youth Internet users, and detail the results of an analysis of risk factors associated with these episodes. Risk factors considered will include personal characteristics such as age, gender, race, disability, and socio-economic status; amount and patterns of Internet use; and psycho-social factors such as parental supervision, depression, delinquent behavior, substance abuse, and experience of physical and/or sexual abuse and peer victimization.

The present study provides some of the first scientific information about the victimization of young people on the Internet, the characteristics of the youth at risk, and the dynamics of the episodes reported by youth. The research was funded by the U.S. Congress, through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

A service of the Children's Bureau, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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