Characteristics of an on-line predator and victim

The February edition of the American Psychologist (63:2) has an article surveying the literature regarding, “Online ‘Predators’ and Their Victims.” The authors start by making this assertion, “The publicity about online “predators” who prey on naive children using trickery and violence is largely inaccurate.” (p. 111). So, what is the truth as we know it now?

1. “…Internet-initiated sex crimes–those in which sex offenders meet juvenile victims on-line–is different, more complex, and serious but less archetypically frightening than the publicity about these crimes suggests.” (p. 111-2) The on-line predators are not usually pedophiles and are rarely violent (unless you would believe that convincing a minor to have sex is by very nature a violation and therefore violent.) And yet, child porn is often found with these offenders (maybe more teen version than pre-pubescent).

2. After surveying current literature, crime stats, and law enforcement agencies, they find that most crimes, “involve men who use the Internet to meet and seduce underage adolescents into sexual encounters.” (p. 112). Generally, these men do not deceive the minors about their age. Only 5% pretended to be teens. The deceptions that are present are promises of love and romance. So, the authors suggest these crimes usually fit statutory rape (non-forced sexual contact of an adult with a minor) rather than child abuse or pedophilia. (This assumes that the latter is not as bad as the former???)

3. At the present time, it appears that Internet-initiated statutory rape accounts for 7% of all statutory rape cases. Sex crimes against youth are not increasing (based on a decrease in substantiated child sexual abuse cases and reports of sexual assaults by teens). So, the evidence of marked increase is not yet found per these authors. Of course, this does not account for the marked increase in sex exposure that is very definitely happening. Nor does it account for the increase in children being spoken to in sexual terms by other folks on-line. I would want to assume this is an offense.

4. The victims are rarely young children. Instead, they are teens (and more likely the 15-17 year olds) taking risks with personal information. What actions make these teens vulnerable? Its not so much that they post identifying information about themselves (since a very large proportion do this). Rather, they send personal information to an unknown person, chat with an unknown person (only 5% do this), have unknown persons in their “buddy” lists, use the Internet to look for sexual material, spend time on file-sharing sites, have off-line sexual abuse histories, have same-sex attraction, and/or use the Internet to make threatening comments to others (this is interesting, those willing to attack others on-line are themselves more at risk for being sexualized).

The point the authors are making is that media accounts may focus too much on the younger child victim image and miss the typical offender in his late twenties that is immature and unable to relate well to peers so he pursues younger teens to make him feel more manly. If this is the case, then they argue that our prevention plans should be to increase education regarding the nature and consequences of statutory rape, to focus more on adolescents rather than their parents. This is probably a good idea. However, having parents actually know and track their kids on-line behavior is still the best bet. There is no reason a child needs to be in a chat room. period. And just because it isn’t so much about pedophiles, lets not let our guard down. Statutory rape isn’t any better just because the victim thinks they are consenting.


Filed under Abuse, pornography, Sex

4 responses to “Characteristics of an on-line predator and victim

  1. THANK YOU for bringing some common sense to this issue. On my blog, I have widely stated and criticized that this ridiculous study (which uses dates from as much as 8 years ago!) has only succeeded in creating an irrational false sense of security. The point the authors were trying to make is that these predators don’t hide, they groom. Isn’t that kind of worse? That would mean your child has an emotional relationship with the predator – and this isn’t just a quickie. Yet so many people seem to be breathing a sigh of relief, as if they are saying, “oh, hah, see, I told you so. Predators don’t hide. They aren’t a threat.” What?! The results are still bad, AND the most recent data they have is from 2005 – BEFORE MySpace was as big as it is now… and, if my chronology is correct, before FaceBook was on the map.

    The “results” of the study are still terrible and should serve as a wake-up call to parents to monitor their child’s Internet activity and watch what they do. We make monitoring software called PC Pandora and have always maintained that parents are the first and last line of defense and that – in reality – only they are responsible for their kids. Passing the buck to a law enforcement or scrutinizing a website for not being a safe place is not going to solve anything. Until you are aware and doing your job as a 21st century parent – there is no hope. This study enforces that by pointing out that kids will be kids and they will engage in risky behavior and they will do stupid things (like befriend an older guy and then go have sex with him). In fact, almost every two weeks like clockwork you read about a guy that was arrested for having sex with a teen he met online – but he was arrested after the 3rd or 4th time… obviously meaning the encounters were consensual. If you want to ignore predators, fine – but why would you be ignorant enough to trust your teenager with keys that unlock a doorway to the world? Dumb.

    Anyway, sorry for the mini-rant, but I was so excited to read someone who is smart enough to get it. This is only the predators aspect too… let’s not forget cyberbullying, cheating (which is one of the top reasons kids use the Internet) and the simple, basic complete waste of time on an activity completely devoid of any redeemable qualities or positive skill building.

    Knowledge is power. Monitoring is a way to attain knowledge.

  2. KenS, well said. Grooming doesn’t make it better–it makes it more confusing!

  3. JamieH

    All right, so I have fully read this article, even aloud to my mother, and in which she rubbed it in, but even so, us teenagers may be stupid most times–and yes, we all make mistakes in our everyday lives–and I totally agree that monitoring is good, but here’s the catch: To those of us teenagers who look around us and are aware of things going on, we’re mostly selective as to how we do things and whom we talk to online. I myself have had encounters with somebody who could have been a sexual predator (who was also very clear with the fact that they did not want their real face to be posted around on sites and, instead, gave me images that was of a male model or … I think you get the picture) but ever since then I’ve been careful. I think, to me, it’s all about telling teenagers what exactly to LOOK for in a predator–how they may act online, what they may say and do in conversations and what kind of picture’s they’ll post of “themselves”–and make it clear in a way that will actually drive it hard to homebase. I have been looking around and looking around on sites to see what real characteristics of sexual predators are and how they act online, and I’ve been getting the same message that was argued … about “grooming.” But let’s not forget the Internet can be a very broad space and you do connect with people online–my main message I’m trying to work in here. A friend of mine met her boyfriend online and, of course she’s much older and was probably with a better site than Facebook or MySpace, let him come up into Canada from Texas and visit her. I got the chance to meet him and was shocked that such a person like him would be online–but that isn’t being a predator, now is it? It’s all about gut instincts, really. You either know it feels right or you don’t. If you feel uncomfortable for what that person online is saying, even if it may be slightly degrading or harmful, then obviously it’s wise to remove that person from your “buddy” list. If that online person, however, isn’t saying anything degrading and is fairly nice, caring, understanding, and hasn’t made any attempt to blackmail or attack you, within a certain time period (which I don’t know anything about), then it’s obviously NOT a sexual predator. Being online is also being smart. I’m using a fake name right now, but it will be my real name after a specific date, but nobody knows that. It’s also all about being safe. If there’s somebody you want to talk to and get to know, then let it happen. But in the meantime, don’t let out any information while your talking to that person. See where it goes.

    Okay. I think I’m done with my rant. If you guys disagree, feel free to let me know.

  4. I totally agree with the article and with Ken and Phil, but Jamie I have to disagree with you. When my daughter was 17 her boyfriend broke up with her one evening and because she was upset she entered an online chat room while her father and I were asleep. She met a 22 year old and continued chatting with him for a few months. He flew to our city to visit her. We did not find out until she had gone on several dates with him. By then she was 18. When we did find out, they were determined to continue the relationship so we made a trip to his city and met him and his family. We invited him to visit and took him hiking with our family. He claimed to be a Christian and read the Bible and prayed with my daughter. Although we remained uncomfortable with the age difference, the way they met, and his controlling personality, our daughter married him when she turned 19. Fast forward 3 years into a miserable marriage and she finds child pornography on his computer. The pictures are of skinny undeveloped girls about 13 years old who look a lot like my daughter. My daughter looks quite a bit younger than she is. It turns out he had been using child pornography for at least 3 years before he ever met my daughter, and throughout their marriage. Suddenly the comments he has made to her about wanting her to stay thin and not get cellulite make sense in a very sick way. If I had been using monitoring software, my daughter would never have entered that chat room at age 17 and would have been spared all the pain this predator put her through.

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