Contrary to the often cited statistic that one out of five minors is sexually solicited online, a controversial report released this week indicates that cyberbullies are a more prevalent problem than predators on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, and that in the case of predators, “the image presented by the media of an older male deceiving and preying on a young child does not paint an accurate picture of the nature of the majority of sexual solicitations.”
About half of minors who report receiving sexual solicitations online say the advances come from other minors, the report says.
Where sexual interactions do occur between adults and minors online, they rarely progress to physical encounters offline and, when they do, they usually involve post-pubescent minors between the ages of 14 and 17, who are aware before the encounter that the person they are planning to meet is an adult.
The researchers found that the minors who are most at risk of encountering inappropriate content and encounters online often engage in risky behaviors or come from environments that make them more susceptible to risks, such as environments where there is little adult supervision or where there is drug abuse or physical and mental abuse.
“Those who are most at risk often engage in risky behaviors and have difficulties in other parts of their lives. The psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies,” the report says.
The report also says that although cyberbullying is a greater problem than predators, there is no evidence that bullying has increased because of social networking sites and that bullying still occurs more often offline than online, although social networking sites have created another avenue for expressing it.