Contrary to stereotype, most internet sex offenders are not adults who target young children by posing as another youth, luring children to meetings, and then abducting or forcibly raping them, new research indicates. Rather, most online sex offenders are adults who target teens and seduce their victims into sexual relationships, researchers at the University of New Hampshire say. They take time to develop the trust and confidence of victims, so that these youths see the relationships as romances or sexual adventures.
So it is not the use of social networking sites as such that exposes adolescents to predators, but risky behaviour such as keeping buddy lists that include strangers and talking online to strangers about sex. “Most internet-initiated sex crimes involve adult men who are open about their interest in sex,” says lead researcher Janis Wolak. “The offenders use instant messages, email and chat rooms to meet and develop intimate relationships with their victims. In most of the cases, the victims are aware that they are talking online with adults.” Teens need more help to appreciate the danger of relationships with adults, she adds.
Among the findings of the study:
* Nearly 75 per cent of victims who met offender face-to-face did so more than once.
* Online sex offenders are seldom violent, and cases involving abduction or stalking are rare.
* Boys who are questioning their sexuality may be more susceptible to this type of crime. Researchers found boys were the victims in nearly one-quarter of criminal cases, and most cases included facts that suggested victims were gay or questioning their sexuality.