As Internet Usage Grows, Sexual Offenses Against Kids Have Decreased

from the damn-those-facts dept

We've been pointing out for a while that the supposed "threat" of online sexual predators has been blown way out of proportion, thanks to the press and politicians' desire to create moral panics that allow politicians to make themselves look good while passing useless laws. The Berkman Center, at Harvard, is about to come out with a new study that shows just how big a myth this has been. As the internet and things like social networks became more popular, the number of incidents of sexual offenses against children has dropped. Of course, if you only listen to politicians or read the sensationalistic press on these things, you'd think that was impossible. This isn't to say that there aren't sexual predators out there, or that kids shouldn't be taught to be careful, but just to make it clear that the actual risk is pretty remote.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    jonnyq, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 8:18am

    But not according to Chris Hansen!

    I'm convinced that half the "predators" "caught" would never have done anything wrong if they were baited by the "too good to the true" agent trying to catch them.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 8:23am

    Gotta wonder if all the media 'fear-mongering' is what is convincing predators to not use the Internet anymore?

    Or possibly as kids and adults understand the Internet more as it's adoption increases, they become better able to defend themselves against predators.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 8:36am

    (S)ometimes (M)edia (A)re (R)ight (T)o (A)lert (S)ociety (S)ubjects

    Maybe all the media's talk about the predators have heightened awareness and caused everyone to become more cautious. No that can't be it, you can't give the media credit for anything, it must be something else. I know maybe free music is decreasing the number of perverts, you seem to think that is the answer for everything after all.

     

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  4.  
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    Adam Wasserman, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 8:40am

    Unclear on the concept

    I think that this is missing the point a little bit.

    The study *did not* suggest that Internet-related child abuse is declining as people understand the Internet better.

    One of the direct quotes: "Threats involving the Internet have not overtaken other harmful issues that youth encounter" shows that wheat they are saying is that the Internet *never was* a major factor in child abuse.

    It also says that what little solicitation did exist since 2001 (about the time anyone under 18 started to use the Internet) has been steadily declining. Although this is no doubt (irony alert) due to all of the terrific laws that have been passed "for the children".

     

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  5.  
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    Adam Wasserman, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 8:42am

    Re: *I* was Unclear on the concept

    Oops, I just realized my foot in mouth. Oh well, posting while under the influence.

    To quote the great Emily Litella: "Never mind".

     

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  6.  
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    kash, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 9:13am

    It's a good thing that internet predation isn't as rampant as teen drug use or pregnancy or other worse issues. But I have to wonder at the morality or mentality of waving a finger at the legislators and saying, "See! only a few kids are molested, raped or abducted!"

    How many kids have to go missing before it's alright in Techdirt's eyes to "panic"?

    If on the other hand you're simply pointing at the legislature and claiming it's dull and ineffective, well then, duh.

    Or if you intended to claim that the media in this country are dimwits and prefer to accept the claims of a scholarly written article instead of logically thinking about it, then I agree as well. But then I guess techdirt doesn't really claim to be journalists either...

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 9:16am

    Number One Reason

    for the decrease in sexual offenses ...
    PORN


    Close Second ...
    Adult Dating/Fetish Sites


    And not to be Ignored ...
    Children are sexually active with each other, so why let a creepy old man (or woman ... I don't want to be sexist) touch them inappropriately

     

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  8.  
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    SomeGuy, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 10:01am

    Re:

    The legislature make laws which affect us all. Many of these laws are ineffective or unnecessary, and an ineffective or unnecessary law is a bad law. Many of these laws get pushed through despite being ineffective or unnecessary because someone sets off a "moral panic" and claim that if they don't do something, Bad Stuff will happen.

    The point is that The internet is not a big contributer to child abuses, and the bad laws that get pushed through because of moral panics have negative effects on us all without really doing anything to protect kids. it's not that a little abuse is "alright," it's that we want the legislature to not impose rules on us that serve no purpose and have no impact. If you want to stop child abuses, put your effort where it will matter.

     

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  9.  
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    MAtt, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 10:42am

    Not that I would ever question Harvard, but I don't think this is an entirely valid comparison. It looks like two things are true according to the study (not yet published): Internet usage increased, and sexual offenses against minors decreased. The stock market has also decreased. Blame Internet usage? (Hey, maybe. We no longer have to rely on our fund managers to monitor the stock market for us, but that is another story.)
    FYI - I'm not waving my miniature American flag in the air claiming the Internet is corrupting our youth. My background is statistics and analysis, so I am very interested in whether they can directly link the two.

     

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  10.  
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    Peavey, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 11:00am

    Re:

    I think that what they do on shows like "To Catch a Predator" is outright entrapment, and jonnyq is probably right, most probably would have never done anything wrong if not baited.

    But these guys are dumb asses. Who the hell shows up at a 12 year old's house with condoms and beer in hopes of some friendly kiddie sex even if you do did kiddie porn!?

    What a bunch of idiots. I say they get what they get for being so stupid.

     

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  11.  
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    MKR, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 11:11am

    Re:

    "How many kids have to go missing before it's alright in Techdirt's eyes to "panic"?"

    It's never alright to panic. Panic makes people stupid, and stupid people do things that are ineffective at best, and harmful at worst.

     

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  12.  
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    PaulT (profile), Nov 21st, 2008 @ 12:09pm

    Re:

    "How many kids have to go missing before it's alright in Techdirt's eyes to "panic"?"

    It's *never* OK to panic on this kind of issue. Research needs to be done to determine what the real dangers are that kids face, and to steer them out of harm's way. In this case, the number of children who are abused or disappear in a way to related to online activity with strangers is minuscule compared to the number who are abused and abducted by members of their own family.

    Panicking obscures the real issue and puts more emphasis on fighting a phantom problem (online predators) and allows the real problem (abuse by family members and other authority figures) to go relatively unchecked. That's unacceptable.

    "Or if you intended to claim that the media in this country are dimwits"

    Try reading/watching it some time - the tabloid mentality is king. Media is interested in ratings over facts, and a story on a kid who got abducted by a MySpace contact will always be more sensational (and therefore "newsworthy" in their eyes) than the kid who got sexually abused by their uncle for 10 years. That doesn't mean it happens more often - in fact it's more sensational because it's so rare. The biggest problem with modern media is that they only report sensational stories.

    (For another example - how many "Bittergate", "Joe The Plumber" and "OMG commie!" stories can you remember during the election buildup? How many stories about the real issues and the actual policies of each candidate? The former were more numerous even though the latter was what we really needed to know. The media catered to the lowest denominators, not factual discussion.)

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 12:29pm

    Re:

    Internet usage increased, and sexual offenses against minors decreased.
    ...
    My background is statistics and analysis, so I am very interested in whether they can directly link the two.
    I don't see where they claimed that the internet caused the decrease. The myth has been that the internet has caused an increase. If offenses have actually decreased then that is clearly not the case and the myth is busted. I'm surprised that with a "background is statistics and analysis" (which I have also studied) that you cannot see that.

     

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  14.  
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    Rekrul, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 12:45pm

    It's a good thing that internet predation isn't as rampant as teen drug use or pregnancy or other worse issues. But I have to wonder at the morality or mentality of waving a finger at the legislators and saying, "See! only a few kids are molested, raped or abducted!"

    The problem is that those legislators are acting like bulls in a china shop. They don't care what they destroy as long as they get their agenda across.

    For example, take the recent crusade by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. His office carried out an investigation into child pornography on the net and supposedly found CP in 88 Usenet newsgroups. He then threatened to file charges against several ISPs if they didn't block access to those newsgroups. Most responded by either dropping all the newsgroups that could be used to post files (even though 99% of them have nothing to do with CP), or dropping Usenet access completely. Of course this does nothing to stop the posting of CP, as any user can just buy a private account with any one of several dozen independant Usenet providers. On the other hand, people who can't afford to pay for a separate Usenet account have now lost access to something that used to be included in their service. Is Cuomo going to be issuing refunds to all the subscribers who are now receiving LESS service, but paying the same price?

    Or take the law that was passed a few years ago (which I think was eventually struck down) which said that any web site that had "adult" images on it, had to have proof of the ages of everyone who appeared in said pictures. You may think that sounds reasonable, but who decides what qualifies as an "adult" image? What if I put up an image of a woman in skimpy lingerie that I found somewhere? That could be illegal since I don't have verified proof of her age.

    Or how about the law that made it illegal to show even fictional sexual activity bewteen minors? Not only did it outlaw artwork it outlawed adult actors pretending to be underaged, or underaged actors being portrayed as having sex. Which meant that the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet was technically illegal, since Olivia Hussey was only 17 when she played Juliet and was depicted as having had sex.

    Politicians pass feel-good laws without stopping to consider the consequences.

    Or if you intended to claim that the media in this country are dimwits and prefer to accept the claims of a scholarly written article instead of logically thinking about it, then I agree as well. But then I guess techdirt doesn't really claim to be journalists either...

    How many shootings have you seen reported on the news in the last 5 years?

    How many news stories have you seen about people using their legally-owned guns to thwart a crime in progress, often without firing a single shot?

    The latter happens far more often than the former, but if you only go by what the media reports, you'd think that the only people that ever own guns are criminals.

     

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  15.  
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    nasch, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 1:40pm

    Re:

    The problem is that those legislators are acting like bulls in a china shop.

    You mean very carefully avoiding the shelves full of China? That's right - Mythbusters!

     

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  16.  
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    MAtt, Nov 21st, 2008 @ 2:14pm

    Re: Re:

    I did not mean to imply they think the Internet caused the decrease, nor did I mean to imply they think the Internet caused the lack of any increase. I don't think they found anything at all. It's possible that if the Internet hadn't become so popular the decrease would have been greater. Or that certain types of sexual offenses - ones related to Internet usage - increased, while others decreased to a greater degree, leading to an overall decrease.
    We'll have to wait for the study to be published.

     

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  17.  
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    crystalattice (profile), Nov 21st, 2008 @ 7:38pm

    Maybe "predators" are getting there fix elsewhere

    Wasn't there a study from the Netherlands or someplace that showed a correlation between easy access to pornography and a decrease in sexual crimes?

    Perhaps the prevalence of easy access to porn, dating sites, swingers clubs, etc. via the Internet and elsewhere is simply reducing the need for people to target children.

     

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  18.  
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    chasity, Dec 12th, 2008 @ 12:58pm

    Doing A Study

    i was wondering if anybody could help me out im doping a study in my class about teen age pregnance anywho i hope someone could at lest write to me over My E-mail and help me its ____Chas-baby@hotmail.com______ SO If ANyone See This Please Help Me Out Ha Ha....


    My Name Is Chasity Dupris

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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