Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Internet Predators and Their Prey

Behaviors to Avoid

Young person at computer, involved in a blog
Young person at computer, involved in a blog

Kids can inadvertently encourage Internet predators, and the February 10, 2007 issue of Science News reported the results of a study that defined just how it happens. One in five adolescents with a regular online presence report an encounter with a person they don't know who sexually solicits or harasses them. Of those, certain behaviors act like fishing bait. It turns out that it's not the personal information kids post at specific Websites that make them vulnerable, but certain things they initiate.

Michele Ybarra, from Internet Solutions for Kids, led a team of researchers for two months in 2005 to phone kids nationwide who were between the ages of ten and 17. Most subjects were white and the pool was evenly split between male and female. The team had nearly 1,500 kids in their sample population when they posted the results in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

They found that there were five specific behaviors that stood out among those who had reported an encounter with a sexual predator:

  1. Making contact with people in a variety of online venues
  2. Talking specifically about sex with strangers
  3. Allowing strangers to be part of their personal buddy list
  4. Making rude comments online
  5. Intentionally visiting X-rated sites

The above are considered risky behaviors, red flags to sex offenders trolling for child victims. Often, the child participates in these behaviors while in the company of peers, and a high percentage of those experiencing unwanted sexual attention online reported having serious problems with parents, incidents of sexual abuse, and difficulty with bullies at school.

In other words, kids looking for someone to talk to because they're lonely, scared, or unable to talk with their parents are just as vulnerable online as they are hanging out in a mall. What they say and do alerts predators to how easy it might be to lure them into a meeting, which could result in sexual abuse, or worse. The study did not specify which of these behaviors was the riskiest, but common sense indicates that kids looking at sexual content or talking about sex with people they don't know are possibly open to an encounter who offers them something they're looking for.

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